Friday, October 20, 2006

Steve's post

Next up is Steve who writes Heavy Metal Addiction. He is a brave soul because this is the second time he has volunteered to guest blog here for me.

The Death of Music Retail

by Steven Angulo

If you have been keeping up with the news regarding Music Retail, then you might have seen that the legendary Tower Records has gone out of business. For those who don't know, Tower owed a lot of money to various creditors and clients and the chain had tried to hang on. With major competition from online stores, downloading, and large "big box" retailers (Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc.), Tower was sold to the highest bidder and the doors have started to close around the country.

The closest Tower Records to me was in Burlington, MA, just North of Boston. I'd say it was close to a two hour ride from Pawtucket, RI so I never went there for music. Every Halloween, I take the the ride to Salem, MA to take in the ambience of the season in the historical town famous for the Witch hysteria that gripped the early settlers of our nation. Without fail, I would always pull in to the Tower on the way home just to see if there was anything there worth picking up.

People have spoke about Tower Records and described it as one of the most sacred places for music lovers: the unique decor, the competitive pricing, the surly but knowledgeable staff. The one detail I have read about over the years was Tower's unique selection of music, a supermarket for albums spanning every genre. The chain carried everything from the latest releases to the most obscure oddity. If they didn't have it in stock, they could acquire it for you and always at a decent price.

A local Tower store became a meeting place for music junkies of all kinds. In certain parts of the country, especially Los Angeles, police directed traffic in and out of the parking lot. There were lines just to get inside and numbers to take for special releases. Once inside, you were able to connect with people of the same musical tastes and still be enlightened to something slightly outside of your expertise. People flocked there, people lived there.....and now, people just don't go there anymore. It's far easier to "point and click" our way to music through downloading or shopping online. It's also easier to buy that new CD while grocery shopping at a Wal-Mart or Sam's Club. The human element has been taken away and the music retail business has taken the hit.

Like I said, I never went out of my way to visit Tower Records, except that one trip a year. I don't have the connection to it that others may have but the situation got me thinking. I thought about all of the independent record stores I frequented over the years: 2 Guys Music, Listen Hear!, Good Vibrations, The Record Store, Rock City.....all are gone. I thought of the chain stores that have come and gone: Record Town, Tape World, Strawberries (still around but half have closed), Coconuts. These were some of the "hallowed halls" of my childhood and teenage years and now few remain.

I went to Newbury Comics in Warwick, RI this past Saturday because I hadn't been in a long time. At 2pm on a beautiful Saturday, the store would be packed. Parking spots near the store were scarce and you would have to walk from an adjoining parking lot for a supermarket, which was also packed. Sadly, this day I was able to park in the first spot and count no more than 8 people in the store: myself, my wife, three employees and three other customers. After browsing quickly, my wife and I headed for the door and she commented how it just wasn't the same. We talked about how you could spend hours inside and talk to complete strangers about music, how it was fun to go bin diving for that used CD that was the elusive jewel of your collection. We remembered the electricity in the air: people shouting to each other over the music, discussing albums, recommending bands, etc. It's definitely not the same anymore. The fun seemed to disappear, the electricity gone.

So what is it? What has slowly destroyed the music retail business across the country?

Here are a few possible answers:

1. Time - Today people are in such a rush. People are looking for the easy way to buy new music (downloading/buy online) and spending an hour in a record shop is not something they can afford. A record store is about exploration but there is no time for that anymore. Go to, find your album, put in your credit card.....done! Three days later your CD arrives at your door and you forgot you bought it.

I also think that many people don't make time to actually sit and listen to music. Music has become background noise: something to listen to while driving, or doing housework, or having on when there is nothing on television. Most people I've talked to don't sit and LISTEN anymore, they don't take the time to absorb an album, it's seen as idle time.

2. Price - One of the biggest problems by far. Why is it that you can buy a brand new release on DVD, a two-disc special edition with tons of bonuses, for $19.99 and feel like you got a great deal for your money but you buy a 10 song CD for the same price and feel ripped off. The labels have set the prices too high for wholesale and the retailers jack the price to off-set the loss. I remember going to a store in the local mall a couple of years ago and the regular price for a single CD was $21.99!I could go to a used section and get two CDs for that price!

Even used CDs have gone up in price. I used to buy used discs for $5.99-$7.99 at most stores in my area, now the range is more from $8.99 to $14.99. Retailers have seen the light: there regular stock doesn't move due to the price but the used stock does, why not jack up the used prices?

3. Selection - I defy anyone to walk into a local Best Buy, Wal-Mart, or large retail music store and try to find AC/DC's FLY ON THE WALL. How about any Billy Joel album released in the late '70s/early '80s? Maybe any Pink Floyd release besides THE WALL or DARK SIDE OF THE MOON? Gone are the days of retailers stocking full band catalogs, we are now subject to countless greatest hits compilations and budget releases. Unless the band has a new album, there isn't much to choose from and even then there might only be a few copies of that new album. I looked in the Aerosmith section at Newbury Comics, I counted three different greatest hits CDs, two live releases, and a copy of 9 LIVES. Where was TOYS IN THE ATTIC? Or even PERMANENT VACATION? No wonder the masses flock to the Internet, they can find what they want!

4. Customer Service - I was going to ask the clerks at the desk if they had a CD in stock but I didn't bother. The clerks were too busy chatting about their dates so I didn't bother. The times I have asked a clerk for assistance in music stores, I ususally get the blank stare, the "I don't know", and the obligatory check of the computer. This usually results in a more puzzled look on the clerk's face and no CD. I remember a time when the people who worked at a record store were knowledgeable about music. Maybe not fluent in all styles but at least they could communicate with the customer. That was one of the allures of Tower, they had excellent staff that were experts in there department. You could go up to the Jazz dept. and find someone working there with a deep appreciation for Jazz. Same for Classical, Country, and Rock. Today, if an employee even says "Hi", you're lucky.

5. Quality - You here the single, you rush out and buy the album. First song is the single you enjoy, the other 10 songs suck. Is it the same band? People have gotten hip to the label's game of taking no-talent hacks and celebritites, making a record with a catchy lead single, and then the rest of the album is bad filler. If more artists/bands took the time to work on their craft and release better material, I believe that people might go into a record store more often. Once you get screwed on a $20 disc full of bad tunes, you're probably not going to get fooled twice.

Just so everyone knows, I am not usually this cynical about Music Retail. I go to record stores every week and actually make purchases. I still go to stores and browse, sometimes I'm there over an hour or two. It's my hobby, it's what I do and have done since an extremely young age. I guess I'm just frustrated with that the old paradigm is dying a slow death because I still enjoy physically shopping. It will be a very sad day when the last of the music retailers shut down and all we have is the Internet, the human element will be gone and the sensation of physical discovery will be lost.

That said, I'm off to Ebay to snag the new Krokus album because no store in my area has it in stock!


Blogger Metal Mark said...

Thanks for guest posting, Steve. It's weird how things are changing. I don't use the local record store as much as I did just a few years ago. They are getting in less new indie metal releases and you right about uses cd's costing more. Three years ago I could go in and get several good used cd's ar $5-6 a piece. Now it's more like $7-8 a piece and I tend to skip them and wait for a cheaper copy off ebay.

8:07 AM  
Blogger FreeThinker said...

Ta-ta Tower, hello iPod!

8:09 PM  
Blogger :P fuzzbox said...

In many ways downloading and big box retail stores have taken the soul out of buying music. I still prefer going to Ralph's Records and Tapes in Lubbock. Even though the city in their infinite wisdom made them move their trademark pink Caddy a few years ago. The chain stores just don't get that people look for local music that may not sell in other parts of the country.

7:45 AM  

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