Since the first person took two Edison cylinders home to their log cabin and put them in the top shelf of their chifferobe, record organization has been a logistical problem for everyone who collects records. Once you seriously start collecting a musical medium — be that MP3s even — how to organize that musical medium in a way that you can find that right song and record at the right time becomes a full time job (well, at least part time, weekends only).
But there’s very little practical advice on how to organize your records. Each record collector is treated as an island: you figure out how to organize your records on your own, without any guidance. So I’m here to help: I’ve assembled 10 different ways to organize your records, and laid out why a person would choose to organize their records that way, and followed that up with which people will find that method most amenable.
This option is the one that happens in the upside down, the darkest timeline, the version of history where Russia wins the Cold War, your mom and dad didn’t meet, and Bob Dylan died in that motorcycle crash. If you take this option, you are essentially saying that you crave disorder in your life, and you refuse to let logical human emotions and behaviors have any bearing on your day-to-day existence.
Best for: People whose appearance on a forthcoming season of Hoarders is already booked.
Spotify and Pandora and other algorithm based human experiences have taught us that humans like the novelty of having the art they appreciate broken down into tiny microgenres and labels that don’t actually have any bearing on the piece of art itself. So, you could choose to organize your records by genre, though that creates it own problem; how do you classify something like Purple Rain? How do you classify a 12-inch of Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way”?
Best for: If you are a soulless computer program organizing the record collection you got from your dad, Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy.
Alphabetizing something regarding your records is the most obvious and efficient way to organize your records. It’s how libraries are organized, and libraries are the shit (they have free books, and books are also the shit). This method is the province of people who like the obvious efficiency of alphabetization, but want to organize things like a maniac, where Kanye West sits next to Kings of Leon, and not Bill Withers (who’d be next to the Black Keys in this scenario). There is a way to be right, and awfully, maniacally wrong at the same time, and this is it.
Best for: The people who organize like this are like people who stayed in their rooms as the Titanic sank. They’re like “I swear, everything is going fine!” even as they get literally drowned by history.
This is self explanatory, and actually kind of a good idea, until you realize that this means having to remember the exact title of Our Love to Admire, instead of calling it “that sorta crappy third Interpol album.”
Best for: People who like album titles more than they like artist names; people who own Our Love to Admire and want to brag about it.
The High Fidelity nuclear option: you want to appreciate a movie that is actually super misunderstood (people seem to miss the point that judging someone based on what pop culture they like and consume is at least as bankrupt as basing someone’s value based on their looks) so you’re paying homage to John Cusack and his homie who ends up with the cool daughter from Roseanne at the end of the movie by organizing your records based on when you purchased/received them.
Here’s a video to explain this:
Best for: Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, John Cusack, people who have a memory like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, sociopaths.
In this scenario, your records are organized based on the year they came out. This is a cool option, but also creates a weird level of organization conundrum: do you organize your copy of Rumours based on when the album itself came out, or when your club edition came out a couple years later? If you can look past that, and accept that your pressing will be messing up the chronology, this one should garner a lot of respect. This is a lifestyle as much as an organization technique.
Best for: People who are super good at making timelines; archivists.
This is a trend for #shelfie enthusiasts the world over in the book world: organizing your collection not based on size, or genre, or alphabetically, but by the color of the spine. This method would be insane to see pulled off, but I don’t think it’s ever been attempted. I also suspect 74% of vinyl records have a black or white spine.
Best for: People who can see the full spectrum of the rainbow.
Look, a record collection is technically a commodity. It was bought, and it could be sold. What better way to celebrate that copy of Silent Alarm that sells for incongruent $95 on Discogs by putting it as the top slot of your record shelf. Conversely, it could be devastating to be constantly reminded you paid $300 for the first edition of 808s and Heartbreak only to see it’s value crater via a reissue. Though, that could also be a reminder that life is fleeting, and your relative value to society is only dependent on no reissues.
Best for: Business school graduates, Wall Street employees, people who check Discogs for record values as they crate dig, whoever is historically the opposite of Karl Marx.
This is a fun one, but also feels just a shade removed from “not organized at all because I am a lunatic allowed to live among law-abiding citizens”: you organize based on when you’ve listened to the album last. The stuff you’ve listened to most recently goes all the way at the top, those Maynard Ferguson albums foisted upon you by your uncle will go all the way to the back. The challenge, of course, is finding the albums you forgot you own and suddenly decide you want to listen to.
Best for: People who own fewer than 10 records.
This is, objectively, the only correct way to organize your records. Search your feelings: you know it to be true. It’s the way every record store on earth organizes records (after they organize by genre). If you walked into a library and things were organized solely by color, all hell would break loose. If you went to the courthouse to get a copy of your birth certificate, and they had to find it by your relative net worth, it’d take forever. This is how you know which way is right. Clint Black alongside Black Keys alongside Black Moth Super Rainbow. Fiona Apple next to Apples in Stereo. The thought of organizing my records any other way makes me break out into hives.
Best for: Everyone. Literally. Why don’t you organize like this?
Andrew Winistorfer is Director of Music at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard and The Story of Willie Nelson. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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