Twenty years ago, vinyl had gone the way of the dodo—or so I thought. I stashed my 100 or so albums and 200 45s in a peach crate and open-lid cardboard box, respectively, and put them on a high shelf in my garage. Now, I gave next to no thought about the albums sitting next to a stack of greasy power tools. Or, that the garage got jungle-muggy in the summer and colder than a iceberg in the winter.
So when my local coffee shop started playing LPs and only LPs, I went to search out some choice loaners. By 2017, vinyl had made its unquestioned comeback… but my albums, not so much.
One was perma-glued inside its soggy sleeve. Another sleeve looked more fitting for housing a melted Hershey bar than precious wax. Fortunately, most of my albums and 45s made it through my unwitting abuse. But they’ll all need a good cleaning before the needle hits the groove.
Thus as I get ready to search a turntable, I wonder—as I assume many Reverb LP readers do—how to properly store my vinyl in the months ahead. Based on my tale of woe, we all now know what not to do. Here are five tips on how to ensure your vinyl makes it through many musical seasons to come.
The best route to go for storing records is in a bookcase structure. Paul Natkin, the famous music photographer who has worked for the likes of the Rolling Stones and Farm Aid, once showed me shelves he built to house his hundreds and hundreds of albums. With little more than a hammer and nails, shelves cut at Home Depot, and stiff plywood backing, you can go DIY. But take note: A row of records gets very heavy, roughly 35 pounds per foot of shelving. A collapsed shelving unit can cause a vinyl smash of a different, disastrous sort.
Some companies can come in your home to build shelves to your specs, such as Chicago’s Brokenpress Design, which specializes in a sleek mid-century style. I love the idea of incorporating the whole enchilada, including turntable and receiver, into one cozy unit to fit my collection’s size. If that’s cost prohibitive, there of course plenty of shelves from Ikea and other furniture stores. Personally, I would not recommend anything with an open back, as it’s easy for albums to fall out. What’s more, you’re not getting the full degree of protection closed-back shelving provides.
Alphabetize? File by genre? Era? How one organizes records is a deeply personal topic. No matter which method you choose, stick with it. This will keep you from “losing” your records if you’ve got a large collection, says Ray Pate, owner of RPM Music, a Chicago record shop—and an alphabetizer.
“It’s a lot of work but once you do it, it’s a big time saver. If you’re at a party and you want to find something, you just go to the ‘Ds’ and there’s some Bob Dylan—not, ‘Oh, I can find you a Dylan record, but it will take me half an hour.’” He adds that a consistent organizing method avoids the brain cramp of buying something you can’t find a second time… or three times.
The topic is so important that the Library of Congress (not exactly known for its cutting-edge trip-hop DJs) has a preservation page that also covers magnetic tape and those proto-records known as cylinders. It cites a 1976 New York Times article that claims a “pampered record” can live 100 years, easily outclassing some CDs.
Tests showed that records properly cleaned and kept mold free will produce a disc “almost as good after 200 plays as when new, but that a dirty, neglected disk may be badly damaged in less than twenty plays.” Thus even when records aren’t played regularly, pull them out periodically to check for any dirt or mold, and give them a quick cleaning when necessary.
The old adage about guitars here applies: “If you’re comfortable sitting in a room, chances are your albums will be happy as well.” A room with between 35 to 40 percent relative humidity is ideal. And while LPs and singles can take some measure of abuse, they’re not made to sit in a room above 90 degrees for more than a day, Pate says. This especially applies to storage lockers or yes, garages, where there’s no climate control and vinyl can sit unattended for long stretches of time.
"Records belong upright. Treat them like they are books. If you think about a great library of books, you should store a great collection of records with the same care."
Ray Pate, RPM Music
Pate says that stacking LPs one atop another, no matter how many times you’ve seen it in some retro Hollywood music film, is more the makings of a disaster flick. All it takes is one misstep to send the pile tumbling, for starters. “Records belong upright,” he stresses. “Treat them like they are books. If you think about a great library of books, you should store a great collection of records with the same care.”
Just as an engaged reader can learn a lot from a single article, so too can a writer can by reporting one. So, it’s off to the garage for me: gotta do some heavy lifting and get those discs inside.
Lou Carlozo is a Chicago-based record producer, studio musician, and a frequent contributor to Reverb.