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« The Mother of the MP3, Or, How A Great Song Helped Up-End the Music Business's Apple Cart | Main | A Look At the Vinyl Resurgence From A Human Point-Of-View »
Jan 16 2015

Why The "Record Store" Is Going To Be Sorely Missed If We Let Them All Die

There's constant talk about audio as a hobby in reference to the purchase of gear (by the way, I'm all Our blogger's current favorite record shop: Princeton Record Exchange, Princeton, NJ for you going out and buying gear, especially from this company ), but there's another side to the hobby of music that has fallen by the wayside: the actual collection and enjoyment of music.

The ever-patient S.O. and myself skimmed through the premiere of American Idol last night ( What? At least I admit I watch it even if the DVR makes it possible to watch a two hour episode in about 35 minutes ). There was one marginally talented superstar-to-be who said she was not only a great singer but was also a writer who had "tons of content." Content. She was sixteen. That's what music has become to anyone born after 1975. Content. Am I the only one who sees this as a problem?


I have an iTunes account. I hate myself for it. I also eat at [ insert horrible fast food restaurant here ] every once in a while. I hate myself for that too, but I still do it. When I'm in a rush or just filled with self-loathing I fill myself with content at [ insert horrible fast food restaurant here ] and then a few days later when I feel better I vow to never do it again.

As I type this utterly mesmerizing opinion piece, I am listening to Good Rat's Tasty via iTunes shuffle on my [ insert gratuitous KEF M500 plug here ] headphones. If you live outside of the New York metropolitan area and didn't go to college in the late 70s and early 80s you probably never heard of Good Rats, and that's sad. The song is part of my 6,000+ iTunes library but I never considered any of the songs in that library to be mere content. Then it hit me: It's all become content. Music has become some intangible file residing on some ephemeral cloud somewhere with little or no connection to the human soul. I should have understood this the day U2 and Apple just put U2's new album in my account without asking me first: The thought process in the New Media Frontier is if U2 and Apple think I should have an album of music then they'll see to it that I have that album. I reject this.

Then I got sad and stared wistfully out the window.

Staring Whistfully Out the Window Segment

My first decent paying gig as a musician came on a Friday night during June of my sophomore year of high school. I made $50. The next morning I walked the two miles to my local record store with my fifty bucks and spent forty-seven of it on music. With the left-over three dollars I bought a pack of cigarettes and lunch. To this day I remember (most) of the records I bought that day. At $4.99 a pop, you could buy a lot of music for $47.00. I even bought some music that sucked, but for the most part it was a good score. I never once considered it "content" or as part of some on-going effort to amass a giant collection of music. It had meaning to me, and the records that didn't were soon forgotten. The preceding sentence will become important later on.

That little record store was Nirvana to me. There was always something good on the stereo, To the best of our intrepid blogger's memory, these four albums were purchased (among others) at the local record shop in 1976. there were always other people there, and the cooler those other people were, the harder I tried to see what it was they were looking at. After the cool people left a row of bins I'd slide myself over and see if I could get a-hold of what they were listening to. It never helped my coolness factor (which has hovered around 3 over the years), but I did get turned on to an awful lot of good music – crappy music too, but you get the point.

Music wasn't universal. It was mine. To this day, no one is allowed to speak when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Mr. Bojangles shows up on the radio in the car. Sometimes it was dangerous, sometimes it was safe, but it was always something I considered mine.

Here's the Point

In this image our intrepid blogger submits for evidence some really good music purchased just recently. The Beatles' albums are the new mono re-masterings. A few months ago I went on a shopping spree at Amazon and bought a bunch of vinyl and CDs. I still haven't listened to all of it. I don't remember everything I bought but I know some of it was pretty good. The problem is I really didn't enjoy the experience much. I felt like, I don't know, kind of like a sell-out to the mega-corporations that are trying to make me live in a way that assures them the most profit.

Clicking the check-out tab on a website and having the UPS man show up a few days later with a box of music is simply not the same thing as going out and rifling through bins and being part of the greater experience.

But now that music has become nothing more than content, and musicians and artists mere content creators, music has become the commodity the middle-men always hoped it would become.

Today we can take music with us everywhere – which ten years ago we all thought was going to be a great thing, and twenty years ago was a Quixotic quest – but has all of this portability made our musical lives nothing more than one endless Our blogger's second favorite record shop: Grimey's, Nashville, TN ride in the elevator of some faceless and bleak suburban office building? I submit it has.

As humans, we tend to take for granted that which we have easy access to (how much more do you appreciate your mom now that you have to drive like three hours to visit her in the home?). The things that are always there for us lose their appeal after a while because they're so... familiar . It's those things we have to put in some effort in to enjoy we find the most precious. Sand is annoying. Gold is sought after.

Call me old, call me tragically unhip, call me a shill, but the simple fact of the matter is I reject the notion that a song-writer creates "content," notwithstanding the change in the language from writer to content-creator .

The next time you're in the mood for some new music, ignore what your streaming service says you should like, ignore what your monolithic mp3 music purchasing service says you should like: Go to your local record store (if you are lucky enough to find one near you) and spend some time browsing and perusing. Allow yourself to experience the entire musical experience: the search, the acquisition and the exhilaration of stumbling across music you maybe never would have bought were it not for the communal experience of being a human being.

I don't consider myself an anachronist, I like progress, but progress that muddles or dilutes art is not progress, it's a sham. The things that are important to us stay with us for our entire lives and deserve to be treated importantly. The things that are important to us shouldn't be dictated by algorithims alone.

Jack Sharkey for KEF

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