…While emptying your wallet or purse.
If you’re just starting out on your vinyl journey, read on to learn what record fairs are, where to find them and what you can expect to find once you’re there.
What are record fairs?
Just as antiques collectors go to antique fairs and stamp collectors go to philately fairs, music collectors go to record fairs – to buy records.
These are events, held at weekends, where record dealers set out their stalls and hordes of music lovers flick through their wares, hoping to bag a bargain or snare a collectable item they’ve been after for years. With any luck, both!
Expect to pay a small admission fee.
Then you’re in a room with tables spread out, with crates of records on them.
Some smaller record fairs only feature a handful of dealers, while some of the larger ones attract dealers from all across the region. Depending where you are, you may even find there are sometimes traders from other countries – this is easier on mainland Europe than it is in the UK!
And although they’re called record fairs, they don’t just sell records. You can expect to find CDs there too, and perhaps other formats.
Get there early, if you can – ideally when it opens. If you turn up half way through, or near the end, you will have missed out on something. Maybe the only copy in the building of that one thing you’ve been after for years, or something or other at a bargain price.
Where are record fairs held?
Record fairs are held in countless towns and cities, in many countries.
They are held in anything from modestly sized community halls, to hotel conference rooms to massive exhibition centres – basically, anywhere where people can hire rooms to hold events!
Don’t worry if you don’t live in one of the biggest cities, as record fairs are often held in smaller cities and towns, too – wherever it’s possible to hire a suitable venue. As long as enough people live in the surrounding region, there may still be one in your town or region.
Where can you find out about record fairs?
In the olden days (“Shut up, grandad!”), music collectors had to keep an eye out for adverts in local newspapers and music collecting magazines.
Nowadays, the companies organising record fairs have websites and social media profiles, so it’s much easier to find out about them, including ones away from your home area. You can also follow them or sign up for their mailing lists, meaning you need never miss a record fair in your home area again!
Search online for ‘record fairs [your town/city/region]’, then add the info to your calendar/reminder app.
What genres can you expect to find there?
Some adverts say ‘all kinds of music’ or ‘all tastes catered for’ or similar, and maybe that‘s true, but unless the publicity says something different, the focus is likely to be on rock and pop music in the very broadest sense.
But it depends which dealers are there, and what they sell. Some dealers specialise in one area, but many others buy whatever they think they’ll be able to sell.
So that’s not to say you won’t be able to find any rare reggae, soul, classical or jazz records or anything else of a specialist nature, but unless the fair is being advertised as such, it’s a case of pot luck, really.
If you contact the fair organisers in advance, they may be able to advise you.
How is a record fair different to a record shop?
Normal high street record shops sell brand new copies of records and CDs obtained from the respective distribution companies. You can be certain that, if you want the latest album by global superstar XY, they’ll have it. They can also specifically order things for you if they don’t have them in stock.
Secondhand record shops sell, well, secondhand records. You can’t be certain in advance they’ll have a specific title. You just have to look through the racks and see what takes your fancy.
Record fairs are like a load of secondhand record shops under one roof! Which they are in a sense, as many of the traders will also have their own shops, or sell records online.
This means you can’t normally go to a record fair with the specific intention of buying the latest album by global superstar XY. The only way you’ll find it is if someone’s already bought it, decided it’s rubbish and then sold it to the dealer!
But some things sold so many copies that there’s a good chance you may find them. Not just classic albums, or even mass market albums, but bands and genres which became popular, then less so, as tastes changed. And also chart hits which had a short shelf life.
The best approach is to go along with an open mind, and see what you can find.
How much will the records cost?
Prices at record fairs are not comparable with those in high street shops. When you go to a high street music shop, you know pretty much what new records and CDs will cost.
The price of secondhand records and CDs, on the other hand, depends on supply and demand, and also on their condition. If you go to secondhand record shops, or use online buying and selling platforms, you will be familiar with this concept. Record fairs are exactly the same. After all, the traders are largely the same people.
The greater the demand, the higher the price.
The greater the supply, the lower the price.
If a record has been well-cared for and is in pristine condition, expect to pay more for it than you would for a scratched, worn copy in a tatty sleeve.
But don’t panic – you can pick up lots of items for just a few pounds (euros, dollars etc). Think how many vinyl albums somebody like Phil Collins sold in the UK in the 1980s. Any that haven’t long since been ground down for use in roadbuilding can probably be yours for the price of the bus fare to the record fair!
Of course, some will be noticeably more expensive than normal new records or CDs in the shops. Think debut independent releases by artists who later went on to have greater success, or even become global superstars. Also rare first editions, limited edition coloured vinyl pressings, or editions from different countries, which sometimes had different cover artwork or featured different tracks. Some of the prices may even be as eye-watering as peeling onions while trying to pass a particularly compact stool.
Set a budget in advance, and stick to it. Buying records is great fun, but not being able to afford to eat for a month isn’t!
Other things you may find
At record fairs, you can sometimes find things you won’t ever be able to find in your high street record shop, such as promos and, erm, ‘other items’, if you’ll forgive me for being so coy.
As record dealers buy people’s record collections, and people with big record collections are by their very nature hardcore fans and completists, they often have this, erm, ‘type of item’ in their collections. You can even sometimes find brand new, unplayed copies of these, erm, ‘things’.
So depending on the type of music and artists you’re interested in, it’s certainly hypothetically possible to leave a record fair knowing that, later that evening, you’ll be listening to music which you theoretically shouldn’t be able to.
Hopefully this article has whetted your appetite for record fairs, if you weren’t already hooked. Just remember to go to a cash machine first, and turn up early! It’s a great buzz leaving the building with bags of sought-after or obscure records and CDs – even though you may have a tinge of regret at the emptiness of your wallet or purse.
The frustrating thing is that although you can expect to pick up some great acquisitions for your collection, there’s always the niggling worry of what you’ve missed because you were thumbing through the wrong crate at the wrong time.
Main photo: Leigh Cooper/Unsplash