Vinyl Record Shopping with Matt Kessler of Too Many Records
Everyone at Amoeba Records knows Matt Kessler: the DJ spinning vinyl in the back, the cashiers -- even the manager stops by to catch up with Matt and ask about why he's moving back to New York and will no longer be haunting the hallowed halls of this legendary Hollywood record shop.
Matt isn't just a regular here, he also runs the YouTube channel Too Many Records, which he has grown to over 22,000 subscribers. On his channel, he talks everything music and vinyl records, which he's been into since 2012 and before the "vinyl revival." With one planned exception, he's published a video pretty much every single Wednesday for 4 years. It's a lot of work, but he loves the community he's built, and is an expert at what he does.
There's a lot more to this hobby than at first look: Matt makes me promise to consult him before buying a turntable.
The record players that plague instagram? "If they don't have a properly calibrated tone arm with a counterweight, they could be damaging the records," he tells me, a mistake he made on his first turntable, and wound up damaging most of his records which began to skip after only a few plays.
How to Shop for Vinyl at Amoeba Records
Matt has a method to his madness for shopping at Amoeba, starting at the new arrivals, circling around two the two staff pick tables, and scoping out the different sections and records on the walls.
What's really impressive, though, is how he's got an encyclopedic knowledge of what's valuable or rare, what's not, and how to value each individual record.
When it comes to valuing records, "older isn't always better," he says. Factors like quality of recording, whether or not a record is a re-press, and whether or not it is a "color variant" -- it is a different color other than black for the actual vinyl record -- all alter what a record is worth.
Matt spends hours here, sorting through the bins to find missing treasures, then will go on Discogs (an online record marketplace) before he checks out to see if he actually guessed the value of the records correctly and if they're worth buying.
As we finished up our record shopping, I asked Matt the question I'd been dying to know the answer to: what was his white whale? The record that got away?
He had two answers, of a record that "got away" -- Zero 7's album The Garden which heavily features Jose Gonzalez, one of his favorite songwriters -- and one he'd always wanted: a box set of Pearl Jam: Benaroya Hall, an entirely acoustic live performance that goes for something like $1,500.
"So much about being a record collector is the FOMO," he says.
Pressing Records and Hosting Festivals
After my Vinyl Record Education 101, we head to the bar Sunset and Vinyl, a speakeasy hidden on top of a 800 Degrees Pizza that spins records that somehow Matt hasn't been to during his time in LA (and since he's moving to New York, I had to change that as I am the self-anointed Keeper of Cool Bars out here.)
When we settled down on a couch that looked like it was stolen from a 1960's garage sale with our drinks, I interrogated him about Too Many Records Fest, the first festival he threw.
"I just decided to sell a bunch of my records, and invite bands I loved to play," he said. "A few people even flew out to be there."
Too Many Records Fest fans buying records
Creating a community is not a small feat, but Matt's been committed to building Too Many Records in different ways. This year, he even took the step of not only educating the world about records and sharing his love for them -- he started pressing his own.
His first pressing was Fort Vine's 'STAY MAGICAL,' and right now he's in the middle of accepting orders for his next pressing, Vermilion Club. (There won't be a re-press, so go get yours now!)
Matt approaches pressing vinyl with the same passion and attention to detail that he does every other aspect of his channel, and walked me through the intricacies of how the audio file specifications need to be just right in order to press an album that actually sounds rich and nuanced on vinyl. Even the design is important, embodying the music itself.
"We go to screen to screen to screen all day every day," Matt says, "so sitting down and listening to a vinyl record should be an escape from that."
Vinyl is Inconvenient, but the Experience is Everything
"Vinyl is inconvenient," he tells me. But when he finally upgraded to his first "real" turntable -- a wood grain Pioneer -- he "never felt so close to the music."
When you're hearing every texture and nuance of a song, imperfections and all, the listening experience transcends all of that.
"Every listen is different," he tells me. "Every album changes with time."
That's why Matt has Too Many Records, and why it will likely stay that way.
Subscribe to Too Many Records on YouTube.
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