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The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store
April 24, 2010 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Pitchfork TV presents I Need That Record! (one week only), Brendan Toller's documentary feature examining the plight of independent record stores in the U.S. Featuring Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Ian Mackaye (Fugazi/Minor Threat), Mike Watt (Minutemen), Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group) Chris Franz (Talking Heads), Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers), Pat Carney (The Black Keys), Bryan Poole (Of Montreal), and many more figures of the indie record making/selling scene. Plus the wild animations of Matthew Newman-Long! (previously mentioned)
posted by shoesfullofdust (19 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Happy (belated) Record Store Day!
posted by shoesfullofdust at 2:06 PM on April 24, 2010


I made tea for Ian Mackaye once.

I'll probably watch this later.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 2:38 PM on April 24, 2010


I feel fortunate to live in an area with quite a few decent record shops around. Watching this makes me feel like I should go record shopping right now!

I wonder if there's any relation to the story of college radio. It seems that the two have similar situations and are possible victims of the same sources. It's amazing how many kids come into the college radio station I work at totally surprised that there were things before MP3s and that our library is physical. (These kids also seem shocked that there's more to independent music than Pitchfork.)
posted by kendrak at 3:11 PM on April 24, 2010


From the movie:
"A $10 CD makes a lot of sense to me. It's $10 on iTunes. Sell the physical CD for $10 and give 'em a little artwork and better sound quality, and I think you'd sell a ton more CDs. And the labels are just so resistant to doing that, they just won't do it."
For this and many other reasons: What a rotten business to be part of.

As for college radio: I used to DJ at a college station, and this is how the station survived at the time ('00-02): College market labels sent free discs to the station. DJs at the station doing "regular format" shows were required to play a certain number of tracks from these free discs, and the station regularly reported the play counts back to the labels. Payola sure, but with discs instead of cash.

I should also note that, toward the end of my time there, many of us were regularly bringing in our own downloaded music and forging those play logs.
posted by anarch at 4:16 PM on April 24, 2010


College market labels sent free discs to the station. DJs at the station doing "regular format" shows were required to play a certain number of tracks from these free discs, and the station regularly reported the play counts back to the labels. Payola sure, but with discs instead of cash.

Strange to call that payola. The college station I worked at was sent a couple of hundred discs per week. From those, about five to ten were chosen by a music staff for a six week run on a "playlist." DJs were required to play six cuts of their own choosing from that list, containing about fifty or so discs at any one time, per hour. Nobody got any free discs. The free discs belonged to the station library. Sometimes if the station did not get sent discs considered especially important, the station had a small budget to go to the local record store and buy them. DJs were also free to bring in their own discs. DJs were also free to play the discs which were not selected for the playlist. The station wouldn't have existed without receiving free discs. But they were hardly payola. Most of them were never played (usually because they sucked). And most of what went on the air was not on the current playlist. Six required cuts per hour usually left time for ten other cuts per hour totally at the DJ's discretion.
posted by 3.2.3 at 4:57 PM on April 24, 2010


What?! I'm still mourning the telegraph! I'm not ready for this.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:11 PM on April 24, 2010


3.2.3, that sounds pretty similar to my experience. It wasn't so much the fact that we played the free discs that smacked of quid pro quo, but rather the reporting afterward. The music directors were always very concerned that a large percentage (don't remember the exact amount) of our logs contain tracks from those free discs, the implication being that otherwise they wouldn't keep coming.

That said, the amount of variety and diversity coming out of the station far exceeded any of its for-profit counterparts, so it was still a net gain for the community, even with the string-pulling.

I will miss local record stores. iPod-like devices are great, but the iTunes store is a little too Wal-Martish in its effects. While it is possible for independent artists to get on the iTunes store after paying for a UPC and partnering with a distributor, it's still just on "the iTunes store". Local record shops developed and supported a community of local music, and it was an important addition to playing shows in clubs and putting stickers and posters on telephone poles. And they didn't just use "genius" algorithms to figure out what else you might like. iTunes just can't replace that.
posted by anarch at 6:15 PM on April 24, 2010


DJs at the station doing "regular format" shows were required to play a certain number of tracks from these free discs, and the station regularly reported the play counts back to the labels. Payola sure, but with discs instead of cash.

I should also note that, toward the end of my time there, many of us were regularly bringing in our own downloaded music and forging those play logs.


Huh, my station must have been lax. Some free discs went directly to the station, but others went to individual DJs or shows. (Metal bands targeted those of use who played metal, and so on.) For your standard off-hours freeform show, there were no requirements whatsoever, though station members did systematically go through new CDs and mark them as particularly worth playing (or not), and we did of course log what songs we played. I'll admit that by my last show, I was playing almost exclusively off of mp3s too, even when we had the albums in our library. It was quicker for me to lay out and preview a show at home than it was for me to go through the library, grab stacks of CDs, and make sure I was happy with the tracks, etc. The was particularly the case when I had complicated shows planned out, or shows that focused on a genre with short tracks. For anything with songs 7min or longer, I liked to play the actual CD or record, solely for the fun of it.

Personally, I'm both worried about the future of music stores and guilty of buying too much music elsewhere. I love browsing through stacks of CDs and records, and getting recommendations from the owners (often themselves local musicians or DJs) or buying something because it was playing in the background and I enjoyed it or because it had an awesome cover or because I saw a poster for a show where they were opening for a band I already liked. When I buy stuff online, I don't seem to run into new, awesome music as much. It happens occasionally, but shopping online is a targeted experience, and for me, at least, not as serendipitous as browsing for fun. But, realistically, I rarely listen to the actual CDs after I've bought them. I either rip them at high or lossless quality or download copies of the same (because I'm too lazy to rip them.) Most of the music I hear comes from my (nice) computer speakers or my mp3 player, not a CD player.

I've got the same worries about bookstores: I've run into a lot of great books completely by accident. Not because I was looking for them, but because they had a neat cover, or a great title, or they happened to be next to something I was looking for. Kindles and their ilk don't have the dominance that mp3 players do, yet, but the convenience of not carrying around stacks of books will, I think, eventually outweigh the tactile experience of reading (and the durability of paper) for most people. And that will probably be somewhat true for me as well, no matter how much I love the actual physical books.

I don't have an answer, but when we lose our independent book and music stores, we'll have lost something much more than the things they sold, and I haven't run into anything that provides the same sense of community or the same serendipity that these stores do. (Additionally, recent articles have made me worried that iTunes and amazon are almost as bad as the traditional music industry at compensating musicians; at least when buying things from small labels in local stores, I knew most of the money was going to people I liked.)
posted by ubersturm at 6:38 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


i'm sorry.
i know record stores are cool. i understand the beauty of great record stores as gate-keepers. and the library-lust of dipping into those endless racks. still...

fuck it. it's over. it had its flaws. new systems are coming into play. they'll have flaws too.

i'm not saying there isn't a special flavor to visiting a good record shop. i'm not saying it will be approximated by the next media den. the next point of musical/cultural interest will be rife with its own wonderful foibles. i'm just saying that record stores are dying of natural causes.

don't worry. there'll still be good music. and good ways to find it.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:53 PM on April 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


don't worry. there'll still be good music. and good ways to find it.

Yes, but Apple Computer will be taking all the money the stores used to take and there won't be a place for somewhat dysfunctional people who really love music more than anything else.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:59 PM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


(...to make a living...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:59 PM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't have an answer, but when we lose our independent book and music stores, we'll have lost something much more than the things they sold, and I haven't run into anything that provides the same sense of community or the same serendipity that these stores do.

As I get older it has become much clearer to me how convenience kills the sensory. I remember very distinctly the smell of my local record shop as a teenager, and the day I bought John Cale's Music for a New Society on vinyl because it was used and cheap, and taking the first chance on random EPs (Codeine's Barely Real; Burning Kingdom by Smog) that I still listen to sometimes. The bootleg live albums with xeroxed covers that Denver's Wax Trax used to sell mixed in among the other CDs; keychains and bumper stickers for sale at the counter; bearded store clerks who smelled like cigarettes.

Of course es_de_bah is perfectly right; there will always be good music and good ways to find it. And isn't broader access to more varied art, through the magic of the Internet, a good thing?

I don't know. I wonder about that one. I'm a little weird (especially for my generation) in that I don't like downloading music. Something about it feels too quick and easy, and it makes me depressed—I just tap on some buttons and a few seconds later someone's artwork is streaming into my ears. I can't really afford to buy new music too often, but I still go to the record store. I like going and talking with the people there, and the serendipity (ubersturm's word is a good one) that flipping through the racks affords. I like that when I do come home with a new CD or record, I have not only the art itself but also the story and feeling of where I bought it, my conversation with the cute woman at the counter about Pavement b-sides or whatever, how I was feeling at the time, how that record came to accompany my life.

I don't know what to do about any of these changes. I wonder what will happen. If the record stores, used bookstores, newspapers, etc. continue to thin out as they seem inclined, I only hope that what replaces them will allow for the same stories and smells and feelings and moods. The iTunes Store, speedy and clickable as it is, doesn't have me totally convinced.

Still, here I am—the night here is wet and cool, and the stars are shining outside, and I am inside typing these words on the Internet. Hither do we wander.
posted by cirripede at 12:12 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's the song when Part 2 starts, over the opening animation?
posted by bardic at 12:15 AM on April 25, 2010


That's I Need That Record by the Tweeds. Find it here Yellow Pills: Prefill Numero 004. Continue digging here.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 5:25 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


and the library-lust of dipping into those endless racks.

They are not really endless, though, whereas the internet pretty much is.

People sometimes go on about record stores as if they were magical places where the bargain bins brim with autographed Coil releases, and yet whenever I go to any of the shops around here, I just see a lot of overpriced records. I still like them and sometimes buy from them, but they do not strike me as a necessary part of life as a music fan. No matter how much hype you give to authentic, independent, community-shaping brick-and-mortar stores, you still need to show that the kids nowadays are in fact worse off for spending their time and money elsewhere. What if, instead of languishing in some digital wasteland, they buy their music online to save money so they can go to more shows, get more instruments, make more music? (Of course, this only applies to those who actually pay for music every now and then.)

On a related note, does the pressing-plant CEO actually believe that the vinyl resurgence is a reaction against the bad sound quality of CDs and MP3s? Maybe he should do some market research. I like that he takes pride in the work his company does, but come on, the increasing popularity of vinyl is a product of nostalgia (and in the case of young people like myself, nostalgia for an era they have never experienced), fetishism (limited editions, collectability) and even financial considerations (collectability again). To the extent that aesthetic considerations enter into it, they have more to do with packaging than sound quality.
posted by Syme at 5:58 AM on April 25, 2010


Remember the great community that came with live music before we had these rotten Victrolas? Hearing music was a real treat and couldn't just be demanded on a whim! The audio quality of a live performance is so much warmer and vivacious than these lifeless wax cylinders. Damn convenience and progress to Hell!
posted by pashdown at 8:02 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


They are not really endless, though, whereas the internet pretty much is.

Depends on what you want. I think the film tried to make a point of this, but the majority of vinyl releases have been re-released on CD or digitized for the internet. I suppose if you only want to listen to new stuff, then you're good.

It's really a matter of choice and aesthetic I think. I like records. I still buy them. I still buy CDs. I make a point of buying them from local shops, bands, or small distros. I like supporting the "scene" - locally or nationally. Maybe it's because I mostly buy punk records? I don't know. I know a lot of people have some guilt about not buying stuff, and I don't think there needs to be any sort of penance or anything, but attitude of "records are dying and you're wasting your time" seems like sour grapes to me. Does the internet have everything you want? Great. Have fun. Does my buying Heino LPs affect your enjoyment of music? I really doubt it (unless you're within listening range), so let me be.

One thing this vinyl/cd vs. internet debate has brought to light is how much money is wasted and squandered by the recording industry. (Sort of like what the publishing world is going through right now with e-books.) So many mouths need a bite of that apple.
posted by kendrak at 8:36 AM on April 25, 2010


i love record stores. i've now spent over half my life in them. i bought my first punk 7"s at 2nd Ave Records here in Portland. Todd, who rang me up, he stills works there. i see him at shows and the grocery store. We always talk and see how each other is doing. When i go into 2nd Ave he asks if there is anything i want to hear, or i'll ask him what new metal albums he's been digging. he'll say "well chris, what have you been listening to? you want something in the same vein?"

at a sunn show 4 or 5 years ago i told Todd that he was the guy who rang me up on my first record purchase. he said that this was probably true for half the people in the venue that night. i thought that was great (even if inaccurate since no one here in portland is from portland, but i understood what he meant.)

i don't go anywhere without checking out the local record stores if i see them. you never know what you'll find or who you'll meet behind the counter. i feel like if you tell the person behind the counter in a cool record store that you're from out of town you get the greatest, funnest insider tips to their town...go eat here, check out this bookstore over there, this place has the best coffee, there is a show at this venue tonight so come check it out, etc. i personally find stuff like this invaluable and will be really bummed if it ever disappears completely.
posted by rainperimeter at 11:17 AM on April 25, 2010


Some of the comments in this thread would make my boss very sad (he appears in the documentary in "The Internet" section at about 5:50). This disdain for the music business is disdain for just that -- the business. There's still plenty of us out there doing this for the love of the artists, and the love of the music -- whether you buy it in the record store or download it.
posted by pfafflin at 10:28 PM on April 25, 2010


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