The Jazz.com Blog
April 21, 2008 · 3 comments
Some people might think that the day of record stores passed a long time ago. They would be wrong. Saturday was (believe it or not) the official Record Store Day. Was this merely the belated celebration of an endangered and soon extinct species of retailer, destined to join the neighborhood blacksmith and milkman in the pantheon of failed professions? Or can the record store be saved? Is it worth saving?
Jazz.com’s Mark Saleski offers his thoughts below. Readers are invited to share their own views by adding their comments or emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org. T.G.
My index finger pulled one more album toward me and there it was – a bright yellow backdrop illuminated Miles Davis' hunched-over body, trumpet in its “business position.” The adrenaline shot through me very much like the first time I listened to “Jean Pierre” on the radio. In a little used record shop on a side street in Brookline, Massachusetts, I'd finally unearthed a copy of We Want Miles. Life was good.
Life is still good – but a lot different. As independent record stores banded together this past weekend to celebrate Record Store Day, it seems like a good time to reflect on the future of music sales and promotion, and what it all means for the casual fan, music lover, and the musicians as well.
The current thinking is that physical record stores will be fully replaced by online sales. To a certain extent, this model is gaining momentum. Just recently, iTunes passed WalMart as top music retailer. Tower Records has disappeared. The selection of music at your average Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and Borders has dwindled considerably. Inventory policy seems to be turning this into a self-fulfilling prophecy – I've pretty much given up finding anything at those locations as they never have what I'm looking for.
And yet, here we have independent stores gathering together to point out that there are a couple of things missing from the online retail world: knowledge and culture.
Sure, there's plenty of information out there on the Internet, and “smart” software can recommend music you might like, but that's no substitute for a store clerk who has spent years mining the Coltrane vaults.
Culture? Can Web 2.0 replace the feeling of sifting through the bins with a group of like-minded people. I suppose it can, but a future where people never leave their houses seems like no future at all. There are over 2,400 operating independent music stores in this country. On Saturday afternoon, I popped into my local shop to discuss with a friend of mine the merits of Dave Douglas, his upcoming live record, and oh by the way, how was that Peter Brotzmann & Han Bennink show you went to? There was a CD that I was looking for, and the store didn't have it in stock. Eric made a recommendation of some group I'd never heard of. It was fabulous stuff. Yes, all of this can be done on the Web, but should it?
The future of music sales is changing so rapidly that it seems foolish to make any concrete statements as to the final outcome. Yesterday I listened to an interview with Adam Duritz, singer of the band Counting Crows. He was plainly astounded and frustrated that the major labels can't see the opportunities afforded by the Internet. Smaller labels seem to “get it,” and do take advantage of viral marketing, MySpace, and the like. There are some pretty inventive business decisions being made out there, including bands releasing exclusive content for games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero. My inner-Luddite cringes at this but hey, I see what they're trying to do.
Obviously, you're reading this article on the Internet, once part of the future and now fully established as a part of our everyday activity. Jazz.com is doing something at the cross-section of the future and the musical past. Whether people realize it or not (depending on how old they are), the online sales phenomenon has switched us back into a singles-oriented music culture. That's exactly how music was sold before the album came into being. So here we are writing about individual tracks, because that is were we seem to be headed, back to the future.