I love garage sales. There’s just something about the atmosphere generated by 10 or so people milling around some stranger’s garage or front lawn; one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
You feel a sense of excitement as to what you might find. Will you find your holy grail of albums/clothes/books? Or will you take a chance on something you’ve never heard of before? Have you ever dropped $2 on that old, slightly scratched record of a band someone once mentioned you might like? Then rushed home and stuck it on to see whether you wasted your money or not? If you get it right, it’s momentously satisfying. It’s a new favourite album, and even though it is several years old, it’s brand new to you. And that’s all that matters.
I recently had this experience, and it was better than you could ever imagine. Garage sales are one of those rarities in life that always seem to happen, but never around you. Whenever I meet friends for drinks/coffee/brunch, they talk about how they went to an amazing little sale their neighbour held on their front lawn. It’s an experience that never seems to happen around me. But as I was walking into uni one day, I saw it; a little cardboard sign with those magical words scrawled in black permanent marker.
I ducked in to have a look around. They had a crate of used records sitting in a dingy corner, so naturally I gravitated towards it. There were a bunch of old disco records from the 80s, including a copy of Lionel Richie‘s Dancing On The Ceiling. I snagged it. Then, I saw something a little different.
Months earlier, a friend told me about an album they owned that might be up my alley. They couldn’t remember the name of the album itself, but the band was Have/Hold, a Melbourne indie rock group that had supported We Lost The Sea on their Australian headline tour.
The conversation had strolled own a different avenue, and the recommendation slipped from my memory. But it all came back to me when I saw what was staring up at me from that little grey milk crate. That’s right, Have/Hold’s only LP, which turned out to be called King Salt. $10 was the asking price, so I gritted my teeth and took a chance on the thing. Stuffing it into a paper bag, the host of the sale gave me a funny look, clearly not expecting anyone to buy it. They were a small band, and the price tag was a little high for a used record at a garage sale. Still, I was happy with my purchases. Lionel Richie and this small Melbourne four-piece accompanied me into my English lecture.
The day stretched ahead, lengthened by the anticipation of new music. Lectures came and went, and the evening stretched across the sky by the time I was home and at my record player. I slipped King Salt out of its sleeve and stuck it on. The crackles of the vinyl filled the room, and the opening keys played on a piano echoed through the silence. By the time the guitars smashed into the soundscape, I knew this album was going to be great. My head was bobbing, and my fingers furiously fluttered messages of excitement and gratitude to the friend who passed on the initial recommendation.
It’s always a beautiful moment when a risk pays off, and the added excitement of finding new and awesome music only enhances this. If turning on Pandora or Spotify Radio is exciting for the prospect of finding new tunes, then you should try trawling used records crates. Nothing beats the feeling of discovering a new band through this thrilling game of chance and judgement. It’s a gamble of sorts, but not in the life destroying way. If you don’t like an album, you haven’t completely lost. Pass it on to a friend, or even use it to bulk up your vinyl collection to make it look more impressive (this isn’t cheating, I promise).
Macklemore reminded the world that thrift stores exist, but that’s mostly regarding clothes. People often ignore used or second-hand vinyl, which is a shame. It can be difficult to get into the vinyl game considering the immense price of new records. But second hand stock can be ridiculously cheap, without a massive hit to quality. It’s ~aesthetic~ without the wallet murdering price tag.
A personal anecdote proving how amazing second hand vinyl crates can be: I once found an original pressing of Slint’s Spiderland, my favourite record of all time. Not a single scratch on it. So I may be a little biased towards used vinyl crates, but you too may find your holy grail.
Unexpectedly great music may emerge from the unlikeliest of places. Spotify has browse/recommended features, but typically picks music that’s well known, or pretty recent. Pandora is a little better in catering to the discovery scene, with the radio-esque nature of the service making it a lot harder to fall into the rut of sticking to the same playlist day-in day-out. Apple Music has a surprisingly comprehensive, diverse selection of user- and Apple-curated playlists and radio.
Service notwithstanding, these are all determined via algorithm, using your existing tastes. It tends to feel predictable, objective, obvious. Your listened to Kanye West, so you’ll also like Nas or Busta Rhymes; you like Radiohead, so surely you like Muse or Coldplay (really, Spotify tried to sell this to me.) It’s hardly organic, let alone challenging in its recommendations. I frequently put on Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist, but it rarely yields tracks I have any interest in listening to more than once.
I get it, and the limits of technology present a pretty good excuse, but that’s why I implore you to rely on more than just these services. Visit local record stores, talk with people who are into similar kinds of music, check out playlists that have been curated by a real life human and not a cold, un-feeling algorithm (*cough* our very own The Soundtrack *cough*). People are willing to talk about and recommend music they love, and sometimes explorations into genres you may never have considered can yield unexpectedly pleasant results. Music blogs and websites cover a wide variety of genres, a godsend to those wishing to expand their horizons.
So get out there and start your musical adventure today.