To put this post in context, I recently wrote a story in Aberdeen’s Evening Express newspaper about the potential closure of One Up, the city’s sole independent record store. One Up has been dealing with the same difficulties faced across the board, not just by indie record stores, but the music industry as a whole. I had discussed the issue with One Up’s co-owner/manager Fred Craig and wrote the article in the hope that people, knowing that their local independent was under threat, would pull their fingers out and make a special effort to give One Up their custom again.
It has been pointed out to me that many music fans nowadays know exactly what they want to buy, and getting it from amazon or downloading it on itunes is both cheaper and faster than going into town and getting it from the shop (if they are even willing to pay for it at all). Why should they not only make the effort, but lose a few quid as well?
Also, it’s a sign of the times isn’t it? Survival of the fittest, adapt or die, things have changed for the better. Are independent record stores, hell, even huge, corporate record stores part of a bygone age? Are they deserving of the scorn given to 8-tracks or the cassingle, to be loved only by creepy purists needlessly clutching at a past best forgotten?
We music fans have it made post Web 2.0. Even I, writing on the side of the indie, seriously rate Spotify, last.fm, The Hype Machine, music blogs (much like the one you are reading), podcasts and the myriad other ways in which discovering music has become a simple, effortless joy. They’re all brilliant, fantastic services which have introduced me to some incredible music and with regards to last.fm, what music nerd wouldn’t love their own automatically compiled weekly chart or knowing what they’re all-time most listened to Top 10 was?
I am as guilty as anyone for relying on Spotify or amazon to get my music in these cash strapped times but the truth is, ultimately, no website, blog aggregator or streaming service will ever replicate the sheer fucking brilliance of browsing in a quality record store.
The ambience, the music playing in-store, the vinyl and second hand sections, signed albums and merch and most importantly, passionate staff who know their stuff, are just some of the things that indies offer that you can’t get elsewhere. Whilst the idiosyncratic and autonomous nature of blogs lends them personality and taste free from the constraints of the industry’s PR system, 90% of them are written by snobs and charlatans, or are devoid of any charm or personality. The snobbish record store worker (as depicted here and here) has become a cliché, mainly because, well, it’s true. But you know what? The men and women who continue to find employment in this ailing industry do so for a reason: they know their shit and continue to work, despite the uncertain future and low wages, because they love music (OK, maybe they love belittling Beiber, Bublé and Sting fans as well, but stay with me here).
Sad as it may be, the immensely smug feeling that washes over you when a record shop worker compliments your purchases is second to none. There are other small pleasures to be found within your humble indie too. Without indies you’ll never get to experience the fun of discovering an obscure gem of a record that you only bought because it had a funky cover. Or discovering that rarest of jewels (depending on where you live), a local band that’s actually pretty damn good! Or having a favourite band or artist play a free instore gig (I have seen both one of my favourite bands, Sons & Daughters, and one of my favourite singer/songwriters, King Creosote, play sets wedged in front of
One Up’s tills and the experience was, simply, brilliant).
If you are sitting there thinking to yourself, well, I only listen to music on my iPod anyway, to you youngsters who have never even owned a CD, I say this: you’re missing out. Even if you just buy an album to take home and rip, having your own tangible music collection is a lovely thing. It’s like making a mix CD or Spotify playlist…it’s just not got the same warmth or fun as making a mixtape once had.
Finally, if my rambling is still just shouting into the void at this point, then watch High Fidelity or Empire Records. Both these movies are love letters to the record store and, I hope, could convince even a fervent p2p user to give their local indie a go.
Let’s not make these films period pieces. It doesn’t have to be a choice between old and new, we, the music fans, CAN have our cake and eat it. You just need to support your local record store. Go into your local indie this week and buy two albums, one you want and one for entirely whimsical reasons (the aforementioned funky cover say, or whatever’s playing in-store, or something staff recommend you, or something local, bloody hell, even a sodding remix or, god forbid, a b-side album, whatever). You’ll thank me.
Kyle Reid has been a music fan since a CD single of “Boom! Shake the Room” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince came into his possession in 1993, a fact he is neither ashamed of, nor apologises for. He spent the majority of his teenage years, and his pocket money, in One Up and hopes to continue to do so. You can read his blog, here, and follow him on twitter, here, if that’s your kind of thing.