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Things to Remember when Diggin’ in the Crates


The BeatTips Community (TBC) Thread of the Day: Diggin Tips


Diggin’ in the crates can be an arduous task, to say the least. But without some kind of “system” or approach, diggin’ can be down right intimidating. Recently, TBC member sigmundfred started a thread for diggin’ tips, so here in this article I wanted to share some of the replies as well as my own.

From TBC Member Sigmundfred:

“I’m just new to the diggin’…
and want to know some basics tips to choose record wisely (all type of music, classical include)…
hahaha right now, it’s often the chick on the cover who guide me … LOL…
nah… the year, the disc compagny, the persons who work on the project, etc…

Other question, do you listen to all the record you bough entirely or do you skip to severals points of each song and let luck be your master?”

From TBC Member BrandonF42088:

“First of all I must state than I am not an master digger by any means. I am however able to find records with samples I like that have the certain tones and moods I want.

Things that I look for when I am digging for records are like you said, the year it was recorded (I usually go for records for the 60-70s but have found some ill cuts from the 80s as well other decades*) , the record label, the people that are playing on the record and who produced the record. I also will buy a record if I like the cover if its for a decent price. To be honest you never know what you will find until you listen to the record and I find lots of little gems in records I had low expectations for.

*I know DJ Premier has flipped some really ill samples from the 1910s. Just some food for thought.

When I dig I go to a few spots: the chain stores (Amoeba, Rasputin, & Streetlight) I usually rock the dollar bins and buy anything that looks good from the 60s and 70s I have found lots of good records in the dollar bins and in fact some of my favorite beats I have made are from dollar bin records.

When I want to buy rare records and originals I go to a few local spots around my area. I keep a ongoing list on my phone when I go digging in certain spots so I sometimes know exactly what I am looking for. I have had the most success on finding what I want on ebay. I have also found private dealers on forums that have annual auctions where you can bid on tons of rare records from their collection. I must give warning that buying records on ebay can be a dangerous expensive habit. When I buy expensive records I check the data bases: Popsike, GEMM, and Music Stack to make sure I don’t spend too much.

Always check the record you are buying before you buy it in a store to make sure it isn’t totally scratched up or even broken. Also beware of warped records because they will sound bad and pitched up an down the needle goes over the warped area which will sound weird and not something you generally would want to sample.”

From TBC Member Smellypants:

“I have never sold records back to a record store, nothing wrong with that, but I’ve gone back to records I’ve deemed useless before and found like a dope drum break, groove or even just one shots etc.

I think the more you dig and make beats the more your ear develops, it allows you to hear things you might have previously overlooked, and as ones chopping skills improve your more likely to use a sample that you might have considered too challenging before.

I’m no master digger either but I have never ever had a problem finding ill records and ill samples, and I frequently dig in thrift stores, to start off keep your eyes open for the record label, artist, year pressed and even album cover, if you start to get into the whole digging thing you’ll find good stuff, do research online, listen to music on youtube, some people have entire channels dedicated to listing drum breaks and such, it may seem overwhelming at first but digging is a win win for me, I think you can extract value from almost any record so don’t worry about it too much just get ya hands dirty, you’ll make distinctions as you go.”

Here’s my reply:

As for what to look for? Absolutely you want to check:
The Front and Back Album Cover

The album cover is obviously the first thing that you see and the first “clue” that draws you in. I’ve seen some horrible, crazy looking LP covers for albums that have had MASSIVE gems (from phrases to drum sounds) on them. However, I’ve also seen some exquisite cover designs that yielded equally valuable music. And I’ve also seen some really great looking album covers with less than stellar source material. Ha, but generally speaking, in my years of diggin’ for records, I’ve found that you can’t go wrong with any cover with a beautiful lady from the 1970s on it, or a pic of drums (and bongos), or a mean looking group in a field of grass or some other scene like that.

Next, no matter what’s on the front cover, the back cover is crucial!!! This is where you’ll find musician, producer, engineer, and studio credits. Who performed on the recordings is just as important of a clue as who produced and engineered them, as well as where they were recorded. It’s worth getting familiar with the popular music producers and song writers of the 60s and 70s. Also, regardless to where your musical sensibilities lie, get familiar with the regional and global sounds. This way, when you’re not familiar with any of the names of the performers, you’ll be able to get a sense of the feel and direction of the album based on where the music was recorded. This is particularly important for soloist without their own band, because the musicians performing will likely be drawn from a pool of local session musicians. And there was a distinct difference between session musicians around the country. (For example, between the 1960s and 1970s, a distinct style and sound can be heard in New York and the North East; Chicago/Detroit; the South East: Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi; the South West: Texas; and the West: Southern California and Northern California.)

The Label

Of course the label is an important indicator as the album cover; even more so when you’re trying to determine to the sound and scope of music and the style and tonal quality as well. I great reference point is to check for the household names like Atlantic (went major in ’67), Motown, Curtom, Buddah, Salsoul, CTI, Stax, Blue Note, ATCO (a subsidiary of Atlantic specializing in soul), V.L.P., Columbia, etc. Each label had a specific kind of artist roster, and each label used its own unique production and recording “system”. Thus, getting to know the labels and their corresponding output goes a long way, when you’re diggin’. But be careful not to just get stuck looking for the “known” labels, because in the ’60s and ’70s (lesser in the ’80s), there were lots of smaller indie labels (with “one-off” recordings and the like) to go along with the household names.

After You Get the Records Back to the Lab

After you’ve gathered your records and you’re back at the lab and the REAL diggin’ begins, the number one thing to remember is PATIENCE!!! I always recommend giving every record that you get at least one full listen. This can be painstakingly slow, especially if you’re early into diggin’, but trust me, patience in this regard pays off big time for two reasons: (1) you will undoubtedly be able to catch gems that you would have otherwise missed; and (2) regardless of what you actually find, you are doing MusicStudy—listening to and learning more about music; in particular, you’re learning new musical patterns and textures that go into your individual musical well of ideas.

One more thing about given each album a full listen: PLAN your listening sessions. For example, literally take each album one song at a time. Look at the song length of the album and listen throughout the duration. You can stop while you’re listening, especially if something immediately moves you to create a beat. But remember EXACTLY where you left off, and do not check the next song on the album until you’ve listened fully to the previous song. On most albums of the late 1960s through mid-1970s, there are usually 4 to 5 songs on each side (remember, 8 songs qualified for an album then). So if you plan to treat each song equally, your listening sessions will be less daunting… Also, keep this in mind: A full listen of an album allows you to get familiar with the music direction of the LP. This is helpful not only because it will guide how you listen (screen, survey) the album, it will also help you learn more about how to create consistent music themes of your own.

Aside from Patience, It’s Important to Keep an Open Mind.

With each new record, you never know exactly what you’re going to get. Sure, certain clues (such as the aforementioned album cover and performance credits) will give you an idea about what to expect, but what you expect and what’s actually on the record doesn’t always pan out. This is one reason to have an open mind: to accept the record on its own musical terms before you sample it.

Another reason that it’s important to keep an open mind before listening to your records deals with your mood and intent. Let’s say that you’re in a grungy, hard core mood, and you’re looking for bass parts and “dark” sounds. What happens when you drop the needle on the record and you hear a bunch of harps and bright strings? An open mind let’s you shift your mood and intent and go where the source material takes you. Now, I’m not saying that you have to abandon your mood or your creative intentions. I’m pointing out how helpful an open mind can be, especially when you’ve already got your mind made up about what you’re going to do sounds that you’ve yet to hear. When I first started out diggin’ for records, I would bypass a lot of good source material, just because it didn’t fit my predetermined ideas. What I later learned was to let the music “talk to me.” Instead of trying to dictate to the record what it had to be, I learned how to see/hear what it could be. This was a turning point for me, not only because it broadened and strengthen my sampling approach, but also because it led me to listen to music much more closely and carefully. And this helped me to understand the different ways that certain types of arrangements and sounds could be manipulated to fit my style and sound. Further, it also helped me to learn how to better craft riffs and phrases using a keyboard (live instrumentation)…which I then, of course, sample. (In The BeatTips Manual, I discuss composition in great detail.)


*Click here to read the full “Diggin’ Tips” TBC Thread

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Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual