Saturday, April 18, 2009

High fidelity

Independent music retailers--record stores, in other words--are going the way of the dinosaurs. Why bother going out of the way to a local shop to get a CD when an online store doesn't require leaving the house and the big box store is just up the street? (Or, for some, why bother buying music on physical media or paying for it at all?) Plus, either of those places are likely selling the music for less anyway.

Today is Record Store Day. The day is intended to celebrate music and get people out to support these shops. It's a noble attempt to save places I don't want to see disappear, but as with newspapers, I wonder if fighting to keep record stores relevant is a losing battle.

In my formative years as a music fan the record store was king because it was the place to find the CDs or vinyl that the big corporate retailers didn't stock. The selection was greater. These were the places to go to make special orders, find import and out of print discs, and take a chance on something because you could pay less for a used copy.

In high school it wasn't unusual for my friends and me to spend the better part of a weekend day or evening perusing the racks at Gem City Records, CD Connection, and Second Time Around, among others. At college I found a small local shop within walking distance of campus and was already well aware of the big record stores near Ohio State: Magnolia Thunderpussy, Used Kids Records, and Singing Dog Records, most notably. Shops like Wuxtry Records in Athens, Georgia; Waterloo Records in Austin, Texas; Newbury Comics in Boston; and Amoeba Music in San Francisco were mentioned reverently in rock magazines and considered musts if ever in those towns. (I've been to Waterloo a couple times and have one of their t-shirts. I've been to Athens once briefly, but the closest I made it to Wuxtry was their shop in Decatur.)

As romantic as the record stores may have appeared, what with stacks upon stacks of discs amid the rock poster plastered walls, they could also be places of great unease. Record store employees and owners can be some of the most judgmental people you'll ever willfully give money to. I stopped going to the local shop near my college because I tired of the owner's peering eyes while I browsed and withering critiques of my purchases.

Big box retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City didn't do any favors to the independent stores. They carried some of the stuff that the indie shops specialized in and undercut them on prices. These monoliths may have weakened the record store business, but the internet will probably be what finishes off all but the stoutest. When music e-tailers came on the scene, just about anything you could want was available and didn't require meeting the record store clerk's approval.

I still drop by the Columbus shops from time to time, and when I go out of town I try to visit a local record store or two just like knitters will seek out local yarn shops. It's not the same as it used to be, but there's always the promise of finding some treasure I didn't know was awaiting me.

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At 8:03 PM, Anonymous LittleWit said...

This reminds of the film Empire Records. I am sure you have seen it at some point. :) I am so far off the music scene I wouldn't even know where to start looking these days.


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