In the interests of full disclosure for those who read this blog and don’t know exactly who I am, I work in the music industry. Prior to the job I currently hold, I worked for various music retailers in several different positions. I’m pretty fortunate to be able to work in a field that I love. Even if I hadn’t chosen this particular career path for myself, though, record stores would still hold a very important place in my life.
As a kid, I tremendously looked forward to accompanying my aunts and uncles to buy records. I started out going to Carl’s Record Shop in Brooklyn, a tiny one-man operation on Church Avenue. The store itself was probably small as hell, but when I was 4 or 5 years old, I’d walk in and feel as though I was swimming in music. Of course, it helped that Carl, the proprietor, always let me pick out a 45 which I could take home for free (what I didn’t know at the time was that Carl was boffing one of my relatives).
By the time I was in junior high and high school, Carl’s had closed and my music-buying options had opened up. There was Sam Goody’s in Kings Plaza, and The Wiz across the street from there. If my folks had let me (or if I’d had the money to spend), I would have spent hours in those places, just browsing the racks and looking at album covers. Later on in high school, I discovered Tower Records-specifically the cavernous location on 4th and Broadway in Manhattan. Walking into that store was like friggin’ Utopia. Not only was the store filled with damn near every record ever made, but the employees were super cool and most were willing to actively engage you in discussions about music. This was obviously long before a forum like this one existed which allows me to talk about music with just about anyone without actually having to get off of my ass and walk or drive to a record store.
Later on, while a record store employee and later a manager, I was able to talk music with my customers and co-workers, and I got paid (well, not much) for it! Getting money to do something my 16 year old self would have done for free? You couldn’t get much better than that.
Of course, times have changed. The record industry has fallen on hard times. The internet has pretty much given everyone a one-stop shop to talk about anything they want, and the discovery of hearing a song at a record store for the first time has largely been replaced by going on Youtube or a band’s website to hear music, OR going on a torrent site and hearing a leak of an album two months before it’s scheduled to be released. There’ll never again be a moment like the one I witnessed in late March 1997, when the store I worked at opened up and there was a line of people 2 blocks long wanting to buy The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Life After Death”. Slabs of vinyl and shiny plastic discs have been replaced by computer files for a lot of folks. Still not MY preferred method of purchasing and listening to music, but who am I to argue with convenience? We live in a lazy society. Sorry, I had to get that dig in.
I still believe there’s a place for the record store in our 21st century world. 300 million CDs were sold in America alone last year, so there’s obviously still a demand for those shiny little round things. A new generation is discovering vinyl, as sales in that format have increased significantly over the past couple of years. Audiophiles and music junkies will always want a place to congregate where they can talk about whether “Sticky Fingers” is a better album than “Exile on Main Street” or whether Michael is better than Prince. While there’s no Sam Goody or Tower anymore, there are still a handful of national chains that sell music, and more importantly, there are local chains or independent record stores staffed and run by people who actually give a flying fuck about music. You can’t beat the stimuli-aural, visual, olfactory (I swear there’s actually a record store smell) that being in a record store-a REAL record store, not a Best Buy or WalMart-provides.
Tomorrow is Record Store Day. While I would hope that you make record-buying a regular part of your life (seriously, if you don’t, then why are you reading this blog?), this is definitely a day that you should go out and show your support, as a music fan, for the folks who give their blood, sweat and tears to deliver that music to you and engage you in passionate (if not always intelligent) discourse about it. There’ll be tons of releases from big-name artists that are exclusive to this day and exclusive to independent retail, so hopefully you’ll not only have incentive to go into your local record store, but you’ll also have incentive to pick up a thing or twelve.
Without record stores, I can certainly say that my life would be a lot different-not only from a professional standpoint (obv), but even moreso from a personal standpoint. I’m sure many of you reading can say the same.