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The Beginner's Guide to Digital Crate Digging

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Crate digging -- the act of searching for the perfect record in a crate of dusty LPs -- has long since been the audiophile's preferred pastime. Hours are spent sorting through the racks in used record shops. Sometimes your efforts are fruitless, but when you finally find the LP, it's all worth it.

The advent of the Internet has changed the way that many vinyl junkies search for prized LPs. Instead of spending hours weeding through scratched Allman Brothers records, you can type an album title into Google and usually receive a list of results where said album is available for purchase. This new technology has been a major help to those of us searching for the types of records that you just won't find in your average store.

But digital crate digging has its disadvantages, too. Many record collectors want to inspect their vinyl before purchasing it, especially when asked to front a significant amount of money. On the Internet, you are putting your trust in the seller. Sure the seller says that the desired LP is in mint condition, but do you both have the same definition of what constitutes mint condition? There's also the added fear of a record getting lost or damaged in shipping. As an American who buys many of her records from the UK, I have encountered numerous sellers (usually in the Amazon marketplace) that refuse to ship to the U.S. I once had a 12" Suede single go missing only to find it in my local post office's dead letter office when the postman erroneously deemed my address undeliverable. Online record shopping certainly makes your search easy, but actually receiving a purchase can be nerve wracking.

As I lover of '90s UK indie, it's nearly impossible the LPs that I want on American shores. The only store that I've found with a sizeable selection of UK imports is the legendary Mod Lang Records in El Cerrito, California. Located only a short drive from my former home in San Francisco, I found everything from Salad's Drink Me to The Sound of McAlmont and Butler in this cozy shop. But the majority of my used record purchases have been online because I'm just not going to find many British LPs from the '90s in typical American record stores. I'm grateful that many of my favorite bands are re-mastering and reissuing my beloved albums on 180-gram vinyl as I've seen original pressings of records like Pulp's Different Class with asking prices upwards of $300.

Though some sellers won't ship to the U.S., I've found the Amazon marketplace to have the widest selection of used vinyl. You can truly find just about anything in this virtual bazaar. I prefer Amazon to eBay because personally, I hate having to bid against others. But just as it is on eBay, you want to do some research into a seller before forking over your money. I never buy from sellers with ratings of less than 90 percent. I read through the seller's reviews to see what incidents have caused this individual or shop to have a less-than-perfect score. I appreciate customers that leave detailed reviews. If a seller appears to ship out quality records in a timely, secure fashion this is someone that I want to do business with. If the reviews don't show this to be the case, then I move on. My experience with the Amazon marketplace has been fine -- sometimes records arrive in sleeves that are well worn, but as long as the vinyl itself isn't scratched, I'm happy with my purchase.

My other favorite website is Eil.com. This site offers vinyl, rare CDs, press kits, videos and even unique merchandise like lighters and tour jackets. The staff is helpful. I've got a list of records on file with Eil.com and am emailed when and if these rare gems ever show up. I've found that Eil's prices are fair and their product descriptions honest.

Both real world and digital crate digging have their advantages. Without the Internet, I would never have amassed the collection of '90s Britpop records that I am proud to own today.