The Local Record Store-Going, Going...

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Ralph
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The Local Record Store-Going, Going...

Post by Ralph » Sun Jul 16, 2006 9:22 am

From The New York Times:

July 16, 2006
The Graying of the Record Store
By ALEX WILLIAMS

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SO this is an evening rush?

On a recent Monday, six people — soon enough four, then two — were browsing the bins of compact discs at Norman’s Sound and Vision, a music store on Cooper Square in Manhattan, around 6 p.m., a time that once constituted the daily rush hour. A decade ago, the number of shoppers might have been 20 or 30, said Norman Isaacs, the owner. Six people? He would have had that many working in the store.

“I used to make more in a day than I probably make in a week now,” said the shaven-headed Mr. Isaacs, 59, whose largely empty aisles brimming with punk, jazz, Latin music, and lots and lots of classic rock have left him, many afternoons, looking like a rock ’n’ roll version of the Maytag repairman. Just as troubling to Mr. Isaacs is the age of his clientele.

“It’s much grayer,” he said mournfully.

The neighborhood record store was once a clubhouse for teenagers, a place to escape parents, burn allowances and absorb the latest trends in fashion as well as music. But these days it is fast becoming a temple of nostalgia for shoppers old enough to remember “Frampton Comes Alive!’’

In the era of iTunes and MySpace, the customer base that still thinks of recorded music as a physical commodity (that is, a CD), as opposed to a digital file to be downloaded, is shrinking and aging, further imperiling record stores already under pressure from mass-market discounters like Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

The bite that downloading has taken out of CD sales is well known — the compact disc market fell about 25 percent between 1999 and 2005, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade organization. What that precipitous drop indicated by the figures doesn’t reveal is that this trend is turning many record stores into haunts for the gray-ponytail set. This is especially true of big-city stores that stock a wider range of music than the blockbuster acts.

“We don’t see the kids anymore,” said Thom Spennato, who owns Sound Track, a cozy store on busy Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “That 12-to-15-year-old market, that’s what’s missing the last couple of years.”

Without that generation of buyers, the future looks bleak. “My landlord asked me if I wanted another 10-year lease, and I said no,” Mr. Spennato said. “I have four years left, then I’m out.”

Since late 2003, about 900 independent record stores have closed nationwide, leaving about 2,700, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a marketing research company in Studio City, Calif. In 2004, Tower Records, one of the nation’s largest chains, filed for bankruptcy protection.

Greta Perr, an owner of Future Legends, a new and used CD store on Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen, said that young people never really came back to her store after the Napster file-sharing upheaval of the late 90’s; she has responded by filling her windows with artists like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. “People come in and say: ‘I remember when I was 20, Steve Miller’s second record came out. Can I get that?’ ” she said.

Industry statistics bear out the graying of the CD-buying public. Purchases by shoppers between ages 15 and 19 represented 12 percent of recorded music in 2005, a decline from about 17 percent in 1996, according to the Recording Industry Association. Purchases by those 20 to 24 represented less than 13 percent in 2005, down from about 15 percent. Over the same period, the share of recorded music bought by adults over 45 rose to 25.5 percent, from 15 percent.

(The figures include CD’s and downloaded songs, with CD’s still an overwhelming share of the market in recorded music, 87 percent, in 2005.)

The dominance of older buyers is especially evident at smaller independent stores in metropolitan areas, where younger consumers tend to be more tech-oriented and older music fans tend to be more esoteric in their tastes, said Russ Crupnick, an analyst with the NPD Group, a market research firm.

At Norman’s, which is 15 years old and just around the corner from New York’s epicenter of punk, St. Marks Place, shoppers with nose rings and dewy cheeks are not unknown. But they may only be looking to use the automatic teller machine. A pair of teenagers — he with ink-black dyed hair, and she in ragged camouflage shorts — wandered in one evening recently and promptly froze in the doorway, stopped in their tracks by an Isaac Hayes cut from the 70’s.

They had the confused looks of would-be congregants who had stumbled into a church of the wrong denomination; they quickly shuffled off. Most of Norman’s other customers were old enough to remember eight-track tapes. Steven Russo, 53, for instance, was looking for jazz CD’s. Mr. Russo, a high school teacher in Valley Stream, N.Y., said that he values the store for its sense of camaraderie among cognoscenti as much as its selection. “It’s the ability of people to talk to people about the music, to talk to personnel who are knowledgeable,” he said.

Richard Antone, a freelance writer from Newark whose hair was flecked with silver curls, said his weekly trip to the store is a visual experience as well as an auditory one. “I remember how people admired the artwork on an album like ‘Electric Ladyland’ or ‘Sgt. Pepper’ as much as the music,” he said.

The lost generation of young shoppers — for whom a CD is a silvery disc on which you burn your own songs and then label with a black marker — will probably spell doom for Norman’s within the next five years, said Mr. Isaacs, the owner. Several of his downtown competitors have already disappeared, he said.

Some independent owners are resisting the demographic challenges. Eric Levin, 36, who owns three Criminal Records stores in Atlanta and oversees a trade group called the Alliance of Independent Media Stores, representing 30 shops nationally, said that businesses losing young customers are “dinosaurs” that have done nothing to cater to the new generation. Around the country, he said, shops like Grimey’s in Nashville, Shake It Records in Cincinnati and Other Music in New York are hanging on to young customers by evolving into one-stop hipster emporiums. Besides selling obscure CD’s and even vinyl records, many have diversified into comic books, Japanese robot toys and clothing. Some have opened adjoining nightclubs or, in Mr. Levin’s case, coffee shops.

“Kids don’t have to go to the record store like earlier generations,” Mr. Levin said. “You have to make them want to. You have to make it an event.”

But diversification is not always an option for smaller stores with little extra space, like Norman’s. Mr. Isaacs’s continued survival is due in part to a side business he runs selling used CD’s on Amazon and eBay. He buys them from walk-in customers who are often dumping entire collections.

Unlike the threatened independent bookstore, with its tattered rugs, dusty shelves and shedding cats, indie record stores in danger of disappearing do not inspire much hand-wringing, perhaps because they are not as celebrated in popular imagination as the quaint bookshop. (Record geeks can claim only “High Fidelity,’’ the book and movie, as a nostalgic touchstone.)

Still, the passing of such places would be mourned.

Danny Fields, the Ramones’ first manager, points out that visiting Bleecker Bob’s on West Third Street in the late 70’s was “like experiencing the New York music scene” in miniature — it was a cultural locus, a trading post for all the latest punk trends. “Dropping into Bleecker Bob’s was like dropping into CBGB’s,” he said. (You can still drop into Bleecker Bob’s.)

Dave Marsh, the rock critic and author of books on popular music, noted that rockers like Jonathan Richman and Iggy Pop honed their edgy musical tastes working as record store clerks.

“It’s part of the transmission of music,” said Mr. Marsh, who recalls being turned on to cult bands like the Fugs and the Mothers of Invention by the clerks at his local record store in his hometown, Waterford, Mich. “It seems like you can’t have a neighborhood without them.”
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Lark Ascending
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Post by Lark Ascending » Sun Jul 16, 2006 9:49 am

I have to admit that I buy my CDs from the big chains (HMV and Virgin) as they very often have sales on. When visiting London yesterday I did buy a couple of CDs from Harold Moores Records, an independent shop just off Oxford Street but a lot of the stock was more expensive than at the majors so the bulk of yesterday's purchases came from the aforementioned.
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Post by paulb » Sun Jul 16, 2006 10:11 am

I recall back in 1981, Metronome Records opened uptown new orleans, Magazine street, it was the hip place to be and shop It opened down the street from Wharehouse Records, and Met put them out of business.
Metronome lasted at least to 1986, when Tower Records opened a big store on decatur in the french quarter, and thus Metro Records went ka-puff.
Tower openeda uper floor room dedicated solely to classical, very well stocked. In the late 90's it reduced the room to 1/3 the size, and if you visit today...well pre katrina I mean, the shelves were quite thin, many minor composers not even represented.
Maybe with the new Virgin Records opening a mega store 2 blooks away put a dent in its classical sales. The 3rd floor classiacl at virgin was quite impressive in 2000, but 1 yr later it was reduced to an 'assortment". You could be sure to find Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture for sure, but don't get too picky.
I guesss post katrina both stores, if they are still there, are suffering huge losses on their leases.
We have a Borders and Barnes and nobel here in BR, but there's nothing I need from either, even if there was, I 'd go straight to amazon.
I've been buying on amazon for 4 yrs now. At one time I use to buy Tower online. But that was before I knew of the incredible bargins /used on amazon.
If I don't find used I go straight to Caiman's listings. Which has been my main source for the past 4 yrs.
But with my collection complete for the most part, I rarely place. Maybe a cd every 3 months.
My nephew has one of those Ipods and downloads all his pop music. I don't even think he owns a cdp.
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Post by Ralph » Sun Jul 16, 2006 10:55 am

Note that the article I posted above doesn't even mention classical recordings where purchases are still relatively strong (but often online, not at stores).
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Post by RebLem » Sun Jul 16, 2006 2:34 pm

Ralph wrote:Note that the article I posted above doesn't even mention classical recordings where purchases are still relatively strong (but often online, not at stores).
Who the hell is Steve Miller? I Googled it, and found they are celebrating their 30th anniversary. Its like my nephew asked me a question a while back about who the Cubs' traditional rivals were. He thought it was the Mets, having heard of the 1969 season when they snatched the pennant from the Cubs in the last month of play. I told him that the Mets had only been in existence since 1961 and that meant they hadn't been around long enough to be anyone's traditional rival, and that the Cubs' traditional rival was the St. Louis Cardinals, mostly because St Louis had always wanted to be Chicago. (Astronomers will tell you Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are failed suns, too).

I ask again. 30 year anniversary? WTH is Steve Miller? Now, if you offered me a complete Little Richard, a Bill Haley retrospective, or a whole mess of Roy Orbison, you'd have me. Maybe someone should stop trying to get back the people who left in the last 15 years, and start rekindling the interest of technophobes who don't know how to download and aren't interested anyway. But they'd need to get the record companies to cooperate. They are holding jewels in their vaults, while the infrastructure they need to market their stuff is crumbling. I recommend they start by doing whole series' of "The Complete Recordings of [insert your favorite deceased artist here]." And "The Complete 20th Century Recordings of [insert you favorite living artist here]." Either that, or sell the stuff in their vaults to the artists themselves, or their estates. Piss or get off the pot. Time is a wastin'.

And maybe we could all help by refusing to vote for politicians who insist on extending copyright protections through dead artists' great-great grandchildren's generation. They way they are going, the Bible will soon be copyrighted, and genaeologists will be tracking everyone back to St Paul to establish his descendents' right to bucks everytime a Bible is sold.

We need to start making this a political issue. Anybody game?
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Post by anasazi » Mon Jul 17, 2006 11:03 pm

It's really kind of funny. The last 20 years. I remember visiting Chicago on occasion, and would always count on a visit to Rose Records on south Wabash street. Times can change fast can't they?

Personally, I would love to return to a real store and browse. A store where the music playing might be Stravinsky or Mozart, and where the store clerks might know just a little bit about what they are selling. And mostly to rub elbows with other music lovers who shared my interests. But now I'm left to browsing Amazon.com for my music. Marginalized.
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Ralph
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Post by Ralph » Tue Jul 18, 2006 9:11 pm

I went to Chicago in October for over a decade to take a moot court team to a national competition. Rose Records was always high on my list.
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anasazi
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Post by anasazi » Tue Jul 18, 2006 10:45 pm

Ralph wrote:I went to Chicago in October for over a decade to take a moot court team to a national competition. Rose Records was always high on my list.
Yes, that fabulous third floor at Rose - nothing but classical. And imports.
All the CSO recordings in one bin, one wall was nothing but opera...

Then, just down the street a couple of blocks was Carl Fischer music. For my constant craving for new piano music, that was just the thing. I always left Chicago poorer, but much happier guy.

By the way, what IS a 'moot court team'?
"Take only pictures, leave only footprints" - John Muir.

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Post by RebLem » Tue Jul 18, 2006 11:32 pm

anasazi wrote:
Ralph wrote:I went to Chicago in October for over a decade to take a moot court team to a national competition. Rose Records was always high on my list.
Yes, that fabulous third floor at Rose - nothing but classical. And imports.
All the CSO recordings in one bin, one wall was nothing but opera...

Then, just down the street a couple of blocks was Carl Fischer music. For my constant craving for new piano music, that was just the thing. I always left Chicago poorer, but much happier guy.

By the way, what IS a 'moot court team'?
I used to go to Rose's at least once a month (right after the payday that my rent didn't come out of). Oh, the delights I discovered there! Karel Ancerl's Mahler 9th on the budget Crossroads label for $5. Mogens Woldike in the last 6 Haydn Symphonies. The Solti Ring, and the Furtwangler studio Die Walkure. Up on the escalator, down on the elevator, then to the El Stop a half block away.

But then I moved from Hyde Park to Wrigleyville, and a few years after that, Tower Records came to the North Side. I did most of my shopping at Tower after that, visiting Rose maybe 2-3 times a year. Rose went downhill, and was eventually bought out by Tower, but it was never the same.
Don't drink and drive. You might spill it.--J. Eugene Baker, aka my late father
"We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."--Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S. Carolina.
"Racism is America's Original Sin."--Francis Cardinal George, former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago.

Fugu

Post by Fugu » Tue Jul 18, 2006 11:33 pm

I rarely buy at a store any more. Just buy online and mostly SACDs now. Of course the good old days was when BMG Music club also had new releases of classical all the time and you had boxsets at great prices. Can't find that now. Anyone still a member of BMG?

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Post by Gary » Wed Jul 19, 2006 12:00 am

Fugu wrote:Anyone still a member of BMG?
Never was. Incidentally, as recently as a year or two ago, I was sent some promotional materials from the Musical Heritage Society, which I didn't join. I was surprised that they were still around.
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anasazi
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Post by anasazi » Wed Jul 19, 2006 1:20 am

Fugu wrote:I rarely buy at a store any more. Just buy online and mostly SACDs now. Of course the good old days was when BMG Music club also had new releases of classical all the time and you had boxsets at great prices. Can't find that now. Anyone still a member of BMG?
I'm guilty. The funny thing is that once, a long time ago, BMG offered a deal. Two CDs every year - for life, if you bought the featured selection.
Heck, I can't even remember what it was I bought now, but I'm still getting two free CDs ever year. It's just getting harder and harder to find something form them I want. No, not baby's first Bruckner, no not the softer side of Schoenberg, no especially not Paganinni Adagios.

Also, they have an alternate plan. You can get them to not require you to return anything. You first have to offer to quit first. ;-)
"Take only pictures, leave only footprints" - John Muir.

Fugu

Post by Fugu » Wed Jul 19, 2006 8:03 am

The best way to go with BMG is now www.yourmusic.com

You get a cd a month for $5.99 including shipping.

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Post by Ralph » Wed Jul 19, 2006 10:16 am

Fugu wrote:I rarely buy at a store any more. Just buy online and mostly SACDs now. Of course the good old days was when BMG Music club also had new releases of classical all the time and you had boxsets at great prices. Can't find that now. Anyone still a member of BMG?
*****

Actually, one of my cats (Kimmy) still belongs to BMG. Since it's simple to decline automatic shipment online there's no work involved and she only buys when they have a big sale. That allows me to get CDs I want but haven't purchased at Tower including some very new releases.
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Post by Richard Mullany » Sun Jul 23, 2006 12:48 pm

I dropped my BMG membership a long time ago because it was so hard to find something I really wanted. They sent me offer of a lot of freebies just for re upping and I couldn't find any for free even let alone for purchase. I've been with Musical Heritage for forty years or so, going way back to 10 inch LP's. I buy very few recordings anymore; Too many sitting around unplayed now.
But recently they offered a couple of goodies. The symhonies and most of
the orchestral pieces of Sibelius with Barbirolli/Halle Orchestra. JB has a way with Sibelius that appeals to me more so than most other conductors
except Monteux. The other release is vol 2 of great opera recordings of the past, from Nimbus. The sound is of good quality and the singers are choice, Rosa Ponselle, Galli Curci, Flagstadt. A "Nessun Dorma" by John Mc Cormack I find worth the price of the whole set. By the way the sets are about twenty bucks each; the Sibelius on five CDs and the same for the opera, good value I think.

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Post by CharmNewton » Sun Jul 23, 2006 1:53 pm

I'm still a member of the BMG club. I joined in 1986.

I think they've done a pretty good job balancing more saleable items like collections and big name artist releases against more esoteric fare. And they've had some fabulous sales in the past year. I was able to purchase Kertesz'z Dvorak cycle for $14 and Haitink's Bruckner for $24, both with free S&H.

I don't spend as much as I once did, but for the same reason as many other collectors--I've acquired a large collection in 35 years. I still get excited by new releases by artists like Hilary Hahn or Robert Barto (in his Weiss series for Naxos), but I've gotten more selective.

John

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Post by Nashvillebill » Fri Jul 28, 2006 2:25 pm

you know, As I read this article I really just have to laugh. The's indie retail stores are basically complaining that no one wants to come in their stores and buy stuff. The problem is not that people are not wanting to buy cd's, its that there is no reason any more to go to a record store when you can get your music instantly via download. Part of their problem is they aren't creating an envronment that draws a young croud. Why would I want to go talk to some employee in a record store and get his opinion when I can take 5 mintues and look online to find the same info, listen to it, and decide wether I like it or not.

I like that they mentioned Grimey's here in nashville. It's one of the best record stores I've been in and the fact that they have a club only helps to bring people out and actually spend time in the store. Plus they sell indie music, local music, have really good artist support etc.

The whole digital revolution in music will eventually work into retail, but that is only if they are ready to change and adapt. The term the writer used "dinosaurs" is correct. They have to realized they're selling music... not cd's.

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