Rarely is a record just a record to a DJ. There are many names and terms DJ uses to describe their records. Wax. 12-inches. 7-inches. 45s. Dubplates. Acetates. But the name that seems to sum up the relationship some DJs (myself included) have with vinyl is "black crack."

Unlike digital music, which can be duplicated an infinite amount of times, vinyl carries with it the fun, and frustration, of scarcity. The exhilarating hope of being able to find something great that has been hidden away or forgotten about fuels a vinyl addict's desire to collect. In more frustrating ways, the fear of missing out on a hidden gem keeps the addicts returning to record store stacks again and again.

So if vinyl records truly are as addictive as crack rocks, then nothing turns a vinyl lover into a fiend like a record store with a deep selection of new and used records.

This Saturday, in small record shops around the globe, music lovers will turn out in droves to support Record Store Day. For many of those customers, the coveted treasures will be the rare vinyl releases, many of which will only be available in specific stores on this specific day.

Some of the Record Store Day releases are the definition of the word "limited." As few as 100 copies in total have been made for some of these records. Many Record Store Day releases will only be available in a few lucky shops around the world.

Whether they're trying to get their hands on one of the 4,000 copies of Nirvana's "Hormoaning" on 12" or Daedelus's ultra rare (150 copies) 12" on Ninja Tune, Record Store Day seems to bring out the vinyl enthusiasts everywhere. On Record Store Day, we're all crack addicts.

If you listen to the mainstream media the number of vinyl buyers continue to grow (or at least the existing vinyl buyers are picking up a lot of wax). 2010 was wax's best year for sales since 1991.

But for all the newcomers to vinyl or the casual buyers, what about the days that aren't Record Store Day? What about the days when the ultra-rare or extra special records are NOT on the wall right in front of you, but instead are buried amongst crates and crates of used Barry Manilow and Herb Alpert albums?

How do you get your fix for more quality black crack, especially when there often are not audio snippets to listen to like when shopping online?

Have no fear. DJs have been digging through mounds of used records for generations, long before iTunes gave every song a preview. While a lot of digging relies on experience and some luck, there are good lessons to be learned about how to effectively dig for wax in a record store.

To help pass along some of those lessons, I've asked three of the best digging DJs that I know with direct ties to Champaign to all weigh in on digging for wax in actual record shops. DJ Bozak and DJ Spinnerty have both relocated from CU to San Francisco, and continue to spin regularly in the Bay. Meanwhile, DJ Limbs has moved on from being a force in Champaign's hip hop scene to being a regular fixture in Chicago's DJ scene.

Here's what these three DJs with very dusty fingers had to say:

DJ LIMBS

When you go digging in a record store, what are you looking for?

Most of the time it's stuff I've never heard before. After that it's classic jams I've been looking for, "status items" and stuff from labels/artists I like. The joy to me is the straight unknown/weird/obscure things that will hopefully surprise me when I get home.

What makes a great record store for digging purposes?

How the store builds its collection (which distributors, collectors, other stores and cities/neighborhoods they pull from) is the foundation! After that, a listening station and a person there who knows the collection well helps the experience. Organization is also good but the potential of great finds is more important to me.

Do you remember the first time you went digging? Around how old were you? How do you approach digging differently since then?

I was 14 or 15 at Gramaphone Records. I felt intimidated to be in the store, and I didn't know what to get. I ended up getting something I had on CD plus some records recommended to me. My approach has changed drastically since then! Now I have an on-going list of stuff I've been looking out for, a ton of artists/record labels/years in mind to connect dots with. I judge album covers differently. I have a portable turntable that I sometimes bring along. And I try to go with people to share knowledge and opinions with.

What makes actually digging in a record store better than other ways of finding music? What are the drawbacks to digging in stores?

Interacting and building relationships with the store folks (usually getting really dope recommendations from them). The mindfulness and nostalgia of the whole process and "feeling" the media. Rolling through and bumping into friends. Walking. Feeling cool. Most of my digs nowadays are social gatherings too.

Drawbacks include my allergies flaring up cause of all the dust, not being able to preview music and spending more time/money than the doing it digitally.

Most DJs these days have at least been influenced by digital technology, if not migrated to a digital setup completely... How has technology affected how often you dig in a store and how you dig in stores?

The digital dig has saved me money and time but it also cluttered my collection with some crap and there's always the feeling that someone else is clicking the same link. So going to a record store helps balance that out, but technology also helps me dig for records online. My favorite stores are kinda far so I usually need a free afternoon. I used to get a lot of vinyl through the internet when local stores just didn't have them. Now that I found some stores that carry really cool stuff I wouldn't necessarily stumble on when clicking, I go there and holler at the store folks. Having gigs that are all vinyl and when I'm in beat making mode keep me coming back too.

Does interesting cover art have any impact on you while you're digging?

Both interesting and really basic cover art! Some of the illest tunes are on records where the cover's just the singer's face and some Times New Roman looking font. Sometimes the most psychedelic, awesome cover art is the best thing about the record and the music doesn't grab me. It's usually a good bet to at least investigate cover art you dig...try to see what the band looks like from there, what instruments they play, where/when it was recorded...and best of all just listen to it!

What are some of the best finds you've picked up while digging in a store?

There's this Sequins 45 that I love that I found recently. A couple dance mania and twinight classics too. I found this awesome Studio One 45 at Exile On Main St!

A lot of people know how to find big tunes they already know when they're in a used shop. What advice would you give someone to discover a great record that they never knew of before coming into the shop?

Well nowadays, there's an app for that. But if you don't have a smartphone, bring a friend, a portable turntable, a record collecting related magazine, and a lot of time. Digging to me is a slow cumulative skill that's hard to put a finger on. When jumping in without a list of stuff you're looking for, you're working with whatever you can recognize involved with the record and your visual taste. Those can really be hit or miss.

Over time though, you start connecting dots between years, labels, artists, session musicians, location and can increase the chances of finding new stuff you like in a shorter time span. It's best to have a friend there so they can put their two cents in on first listen too, cause sometimes the desire to find a gem makes doo-doo sound good.

What is the most valuable thing you've learned about digging since you started?

Share the wealth (records/source knowledge) and buy less at a time!

If you're willing to disclose to the public, give us your top 3 favorite stores you've gone digging at:

#1 - Out of the Past Records (Chicago)

#2 - Groove Distribution (Chicago)

#3 - Domino Sound Record Shack (New Orleans)

Honorable Mention #4 - Furniture Lounge (Champaign)

 

DJ SPINNERTY

When you go digging in a record store, what are you looking for?

This has actually changed a lot over the years. My first digging expeditions were in CU at places like Goodwill, WILL/WEFT record sales, a couple stores that used to be up on Green Street. Mostly looking for stuff that hiphop had already gone on to sample like Isley Brothers - Footsteps In The Dark or Quincy Jones - Find One Hundred Ways or Dynasty - Adventures In The Land Of Music.

Through that process of looking for stuff other people sampled, I'd come across stuff that I maybe wasn't familiar with but upon first listening would think "woah, someone NEEDS to sample that." Those moments are actually what initially got me into making my own beats. These days I'm mostly looking for soul/blues ballads that I can listen to at home or might fit nicely in a Tarantino movie.

Do you remember the first time you went digging? Around how old were you?

I was probably like 16 or so.

What makes a great record store for digging purposes?

Listnening stations. Old fart behind the counter. Stacks of unsorted 45s. A really large collection. A bathroom on premises - you're gonna be there all afternoon. Maybe a few animals crawling around the stacks.

What makes actually digging in a record store better than other ways of finding music? What are the drawbacks to digging in stores?

I've had some of my best digging finds by being open to listening to the random record with a funny title or interesting artwork. It's a pretty random process sometimes to be honest with you. The record I sampled for Feels Like Rain I came across in the middle of a stack of random un-sleeved 45s underneath the main shelves of a store here in SF and I paused for a moment on it too look at the weird label artwork and figured "why not take a quick listen"

Most DJs these days have at least been influenced by digital technology, if not migrated to a digital setup completely... How has technology affected how often you dig in a store and how you dig in stores?

A lot of the stuff I'm looking for when I'm digging just isn't available digitally. Some group from the 50s that was a little local band that gathered all their money together to put out one 45 - these guys aren't on iTunes. Being that I do play gigs with Serato now, I have shifted my digging focus almost strictly 45s. Bringing a box of 7"s along w a digital setup works out really well. I've taken to riding my bike to some gigs!

Does interesting cover art have any impact on you while you're digging?

Mucho. Being open to listen to something that just grabs you for whatever reason is a big part of the discovery mode.

What are some of the best finds you've picked up while digging in a store?

Roy Ayers - Golden Rod was the first record that I picked up while digging and the dude played it on the store system and I just freaked out. Still a favorite.

All the records I've sampled - not really trying to name drop those tho :)

My buddy Nate found an extra copy of Bobby Bland - When You've Come To The End Of Your Road that he was nice enough to let me buy while we were digging together recently. I had been looking for that LP for years.

A lot of people know how to find big tunes they already know when they're in a used shop. What advice would you give someone to discover a great record that they never knew of before coming into the shop?

Tell the shop owner a record that you already know you like, they can often grab stuff deeper down the rabbit hole for you. Also, listen to whats playing in the store - when the stars are in alignment, it'll be just what you're looking for.

 

DJ BOZAK

When you go digging in a record store, what are you looking for?

I just look for stuff that catches my ear. If I like it, I will likely fit it into a mix CD or a set. So basically worthy additions to the collection. I used to buy anything that I thought was good when I played much more often. Now I am a bit more choosy. I had a point in time when I was "digging for those drums, yo" then "the ill jazz sample". You know, just sort of trendy digging. Now that I have refined my tastes more and don't have specific needs (needing a drum loop to work with) it's more about the song as a whole. Now, If I hear an insane loop on a crap record I will still consider it. I recently bought a record of really spooky percussion hits and have subsequently used it in my own stuff. But 65% of the time I'm going to the record store to find something interesting I don't know about. 35% or so of the time its to grab a particular release. That last 5% is to find a production need.

What makes a great record store for digging purposes?

Hmm. I guess a store that hasn't been picked through. As well, I like shops that buy everything they can get their hands on. This usually means they have a good amount of stock and are less likely to spend time to determine if every record is worth more then the sticker price they have on it. You can find specialty shops owned and operated by "diggers" and they have nothing but heat - but you also pay a premium. Its a trade-off as you know the likelihood of going home with something great is super high. Conversely, the shops that aren't so in the know may have nothing for you - but - that's also the shop where you are going to find $150 records for possibly $1 or less. And there lies the rub. You hope to find the record store that has a staff that knows whats up....but only to a degree. You want them to be able to offer selections to you but you don't really want them to know what the records are going for on ebay. These stores are extremely few and far between.

Other than that a staff you like hanging out with. If you are going to be there for 5 hours at a time and your going to go twice a month for 5 years you want to be able to forge relationships with these people. Getting bathroom privileges when it's an "employee only" commode is crucial.

Do you remember the first time you went digging? Around how old were you? How do you approach digging differently since then?

I was probably 18 or 19. Back then I had no records and no know how. I was eager to have records but also sort of blind to what I was looking for. I was in the formative stage where you are coming home with knowledge more frequently than a bag full of records.

I was more eager to buy records back in Illinois as I had more space. Here I am hesitant. Plus I DJ less and everything is more expensive. And ebay happened. Before I was more mindful of acquiring something for a particular use. Now I'm more mindful of it's place in my collection. Does it make sense? Does it fit in well? I'm more aware of my limitations - I can't have it all. So is this a crucial record that I will want to enjoy on vinyl? Or is this a song I'm really into and want to hear all the time now, but I won't really go to listen to it in 3 years? If that's the case I will just get an MP3.

What makes actually digging in a record store better than other ways of finding music? What are the drawbacks to digging in stores?

Its taking the scenic route. It may be quicker to go get what you want at the grocery store if you go down Main Avenue. You are there and back in moments. But, if you take the long way you get to pass by the farmers market. You don't know what the farmers will bring, maybe nothing you want, but they may bring something you haven't had in ages and forgot you loved so much. As well, they may bring something to market you never knew about. If you have the spare time to kill, it behooves of you to make the occasional trip as the overall process is very rich and rewarding.

But, you have to be open to the fruit it bears. Maybe you are not the type of person who doesn't mind leaving a shop empty-handed. But maybe you are the type of person who finds the conversations, the quirky people, the weird happenings, and the relationships to be worthwhile despite leaving empty handed. There are no drawbacks to digging in stores other than there is less to find now compared to 6 years ago. You just got to look harder though.

There are far less traditional stores while there are seemingly infinitely more options that take advantage of digital means. Online stores, audio streaming, digital formats, p2p, blogs. So, I would say the accumulation of all of these digital gains have created a scenario in which a traditional store is a much more difficult endeavour to undertake and sustain. I don't think there is much argument to that. I don't think it's as simple as "mp3s killed record stores". To that I am unsure. I think its more like webstores and their low overhead killed actual mom and pop shops (and the big boys).

Technology has helped in that I don't have to spend all the time tracking down this guy in NY who is the most in-the-know about a particular emerging genre or (fill in the blank). I remember, to learn about beat juggling I called up record stores that advertised DJ equipment in the back of The Source as no one around town knew about it. With the Internet I can learn whatever I want whenever I want. There is no scenic route. I suppose you could argue the opposite and that it is only a scenic route - just up to you to meander.

But typically, you do a Google search and boom, you have what you want. Its great in that regard. But to get back on topic, I dig less due to all the circumstances that led to the point where there are fewer record stores.

I think there are a lot of people that take advantage of technology and build lists of things to look for but I don't really do that. I don't go to record stores armed with anything I have gotten from the net. I just show up and look. I am probably slightly more aware of more records due to YouTube surfing. So maybe I will know that there is this record by so-and-so because I listen to the video. But that's not really any different then hearing the song on the radio and looking for it.

Does interesting cover art have any impact on you while you're digging?

Yeah for sure. Its more a visual thing than anything else really. A lot of shops don't let you listen (sad) so you have to go off that. Of course the artists themselves, the year, the instruments, the label, the producer, all of this is prob more important. BUT artwork can offer some clues. You know a psych record by the art most of the time. I will buy based on a cool cover regardless of the contents. I like lookin' at cool shit!

What are some of the best finds you've picked up while digging in a store?

Two sealed copies of Ramp. Some test press Chicago house on D.J. International that never got full manufacturing (as far as I can tell). Three promo copies of the album that Biz Markie got sued to high hell over due to sample clearance issues. I don't think it got manufactured in full in that state - or maybe it got pulled from the shelves. That started the whole sample issue back in the day.

The promo for Low End Theory by Tribe (its got the sticker). Some private press Chicago funk heat (The Pharoahs). The group later mutated into Earth Wind and Fire. Man I can't think. I've had a lot of records over the years. A bunch of stuff that no one would care about if I listed it, like all the boogie. Ha!

A lot of people know how to find big tunes they already know when they're in a used shop. What advice would you give someone to discover a great record that they never knew of before coming into the shop?

You just got to try things out and give them a chance. Listen to as much stuff as you can in the shop. If the prices are good buy anything your gut tells you to buy. If it is a used shop its likely that they will buy it back (for less) but at least you can get something for it if you end up not liking it. Don't judge a book by its cover. Lame covers have heat inside too.

What is the most valuable thing you've learned about digging since you started?

Get to know the staff and the other shoppers. Good people! Plus, you know right off the bat you are into the same stuff. Besides forging relationships you can get some great suggestions from them on stuff you may have overlooked. It's more fun when "going to dig" is a thing you build your day around. Go to the shop dig, mingle, see whats new with people, talk politics, etc. It's like going to the bar, but better.

If you're willing to disclose, give us your top 3 favorite stores you've gone digging at:

- I have some friends out here in SF who are WAY more deep into digging than me. At least half of the records I have that make them ask what it will take to get that record off my hands have come from my Dad's shop: Backbeats in Rantoul. These are records that were in the racks or on the wall too so don't think he gives them all to me. (James Mason "Rhythm of Life" and West Coast Experimental Pop Art Band No. 2 come to mind.)

- Groove Merchant in SF. It's so crucial because the owner (Kool Chris) and staff (DJ B-Cause and Jon from Sweater Funk) are just great, great people. The stock is good and it's a great place to find out what's going on that weekend -- where the bbq is and who is coming to town. They always have stuff I don't know about and are always up for pointing me down an interesting path. Not really a place where you can find rares for cheap, but the flipside is that they also do cool stuff like team up with Ubiquitty records to put out a limited edition handmade 45 record box complete with 20 sick 45s inside.

- It's not a store and I don't know if it's good anymore but I used to get a ton of stuff from the WILL record sale. I think one year I got 25% to 35% of the entire CTI catalog in mint condition (subsequently scratched them to oblivion - Wish I didn't do that). But yeah, if you can deal with the crazies and the B.O. you can find some stuff there. I found The Rockers Soundtrack in the easy listening section. Not really super a mega rare record...but still. It was 50 cents