Watching the Record Store Crumble
Written By Patrick Ortiz
Music has come a long way over the many years of its existence. A lot of us get caught in the trap of assuming that the beginning of music coincides with the first recorded band or musician, which supposedly took place on April 9, 1860 and was of a “woman singing the French song ‘Claire de la lune.’” People were performing music way before the advent of the recorded song. Back in the days of slavery, the workers would bellow songs to one another in the fields as a way of communicating and expressing themselves. They would also incorporate a call-and-response method where one singer would start a line and the others would follow. This and a bunch of other techniques were refined over the years and served as a major base for blues, jazz, and other forms of music. However, we don’t have much proof about the pre-recorded area of music, so the addition of this technology is very beneficial.
Over the years, the record player evolved in many ways in order to increase functionality, ease of use, and sound quality. The first actual records were made around the later 1890’s and more sizes were created throughout the early 1900’s. The designs of the record player also altered drastically throughout these times as well. They went from having large, gaudy horns and wooden cabinet-looking bases to shrinking to smaller metal units. These was the most popular avenue to listen to music for people in the 50’s and 60’s. The image of a lava lamp, Grateful Dead poster, and record player in the corner is synonymous with this era
Then, just when people started getting used the vinyl record, the first reel-to-reel tape recorder was designed in 1935. This became the popular way to listen to the latest jams, especially after the creation of the Compact Cassette in 1962 from Phillips. Once one of these systems was installed into cars, the boom was uncontrollable. Now you could listen to music wherever you go. This technology reached its tipping point in the late 80’s but cassettes are still being produced today.
Just like the evolution of the audio formats, the locations and how we buy the latest album, cassette or CD has changed drastically as well. It just makes sense that, paralleling the spike or boom of a product or service, there will be avenues to get that product to the masses as directly and quickly as possible. Think of the demand of frozen yogurt and the fact that there is now at least one shop in each plaza. It is a simple but effective business strategy of supply and demand.
Record stores (or shops) were a fun place to hang out for teens and young adults to chill and exchange ideas and discover new music. It’s like when the casual coffee shop boom happened, everyone started having casual business meetings and doing work at the local Starbucks.
Interestingly, the first record shop was created way before you might think. I know I have images of Zeppelin and Pink Floyd fans riffling through the crates of freshly printed vinyl’s. But, the first record shop was actually founded in 1894 in Wales. Spillers Records was opened by Henry Spiller and is considered to be the oldest record shop in the world. As with the nature of supply and demand, as records fell victim to cassettes and CDs triumphed over cassettes and so on, the record shops began carrying the various audio formats, but the name “record shop” remained permanent and still is used today.
As with most other things, major record labels and companies began to notice the growing popularity of record shops and decided to capitalize on this business venture. This meant that privately owned “mom and pop” shops diminished significantly as stores like Velvet Music, Tower Records, Sam Goody, and others took over the domain. This may have been an underlying reason for the increased popularity of record shops in the later 90’s and early 2000’s.
There are inherent symptoms that accompany the advent of increasingly advanced technology; a major one being a social disconnect and the desire for instant gratification. With a vinyl record back in the days of when Dark Side of the Moon came out, consumers were getting much more than just music, they were getting an entire story both aurally and visually with the artwork on the covers and pamphlets as well. Not only was it difficult to compose music and play instruments, but the recording process back then was significantly more complex than it is today. Therefore, each project was treated like a precious gem to these artists and that feeling translates to the consumer.
Even when I was younger, going out and buying a CD of my favorite band was a personal experience as I was able to read about the band’s thought process while listening to the music. This personal connection between fan and album has essentially gone by the wayside and the days of even full-length albums have been replaced by Eps and singles. Today, a half-assed song can be cranked out in an hour or less and can be on an overwhelming amount of streaming services in ten minutes. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great time to be a music fan with literally millions of songs and artists available at your fingertips. But, the popularity of the streaming era is leading to the collapse of the physical and tangible album.
This was originally brought on predominantly by companies like Napster that allowed consumers to download, mostly illegally, thousands of songs in a matter of minutes. Having your favorite songs in your ears whenever you craved it was great sure, but what there were a lot of drawbacks. Naturally, this led to the crimpling and ultimate dismantlement of traditional record companies who were drastically losing money in this age of musical piracy. This new era gave rise to the “bedroom musician,” the ones who record a song using their own equipment and self-market their track. There is no need for the middleman: record labels, producers, or the record stores. This set labels into a mass hysteria and they needed to formulate a new plan to mold the “modern musician.”
This meant that we began seeing more and more talentless clones of the same musician that began clogging up the airwaves. As a society, the way music, news, and other media is channeled has set on a collective amnesia, we can’t remember what happened even a few hours before or what we enjoyed about a particular song. We have allowed the McDonald’s culture seep into our music, something that at one time brought people immense joy and even purpose.
With years of this becoming the norm, we are now nostalgic for pure and meaningful music again. We want to hear every ounce of emotion within the musician, feel the record in our hand and get back to appreciating music as the artform it is meant to be.
Can the record industry be saved? Check out next week’s Bonamassa blog to find out!