I spent a lot of time in music shops as a kid. Sifting through aisles of dusty vinyl sleeves, listening to albums using the in-store headphones, discovering new artists and watching the eclectic and interesting people who came in.
I recall when compact disks were the new kid on the block, music shops scrambled to move with the times and in an instant the humble cassette was replaced. However, this shiny mirrored disk also spelt the end of another disk as vinyl soon became something for die hard fans only and charity shop regulars. Compact disk-mans and a jam-packed CD wallets fast became the traveller’s essential item, as opposed to a cassette walkman. For the briefest of time mini-disks were forecast to spark-off a musical revolution however, they seemed to come and go relatively unnoticed.
These days a lot has changed. The internet exists for one, and with this the purchase of music in physical format is becoming less prevalent. During the early millenium I could walk down Oxford Street in London and compare the prices in various shops, but these days finding a decent record store is like discovering a unicorn – you need to know where to look. Within the last decade music stores and High street retailers have been crushed by iTunes, Spotify and other music sharing apps in favour of ‘ready meal’ music.
Did you know that in 2010, there were over 6,500 stores selling music in the United Kingdom, but only 8% of these were specialist music shops. The rest were supermarkets and petrol stations which sold the typical compilation and chart music.
The truth is I download music sometimes because it is easy. I travel a lot and can simply click a button on my way to the airport in order to block out screaming children and Ryanair staff, selling scratch cards (and their souls!). However internet music doesn’t have the same appeal of going into the shop and taking something tangible away. Something which will crease and dog-ear, scratch if treated poorly and ultimately help build a collection to make a music fan proud.
So at a time when retail is exploding, why is the humble music collection being replaced by a hard-drive overflowing with beats and guitar riffs? This boxed machinery whilst absolutely convenient, doesn’t have the same appeal and it certainly lacks sex appeal on suburban shelves!
Whilst the majority of music shops have fallen victim to the lure of instant purchase and streaming, there are a handful of characterful stores that have withstood the test of time.
What is happening now in the music world is very interesting. Music fans appear to be fighting back and the demand for vinyl has seen a dramatic resurgence and popularity. Personally I feel people are sick of having every fad, craze and manufactured band shoved in our faces and we’re ready for a deeper meaning.
What happens when the iTunes music you paid to download, suddenly disappears?
Apple’s iCloud appears to be a safe way of storing your downloaded music, but is your music protected? Once you’ve purchased a collection of tracks, are they yours to enjoy forever? Apparently not as Gigaom writer Geoffrey Goetz discovered when music he downloaded went missing. Here is what Apple’s customer support told him:
“I understand that you are not seeing the songs on the list, I’m afraid to inform you that the items may no longer be available or if they are still available on the store, they have been modified by the content providers since you have purchased them. I understand the inconvenience of this case, however, we won’t be able to make the songs available for you to download again. — iTunes Store Customer Support”
So it appears that the ever changing deals which Apple has with the artist when you downloaded the album, may have expired. Gone with that is your opportunity to play music you’ve paid for again, from your iCloud.
My Top 3 Music Shops
Real Groovy – Auckland, New Zealand
Growing up in New Zealand, this place was Mecca except my pilgrimage didn’t happen once a year, it was a weekly affair. Isles upon isles stacked with vinyl, CD’s, books, posters, gig tickets, memorabilia and just about anything with musical association. From new stock to the pre-loved, you’ll find anything you’re after here. When I visit these days, the shop still looks very similar (although it moved premises) and walking into Real Groovy Records, is like slipping on a comfortable pair of trainers.
Amoeba Music – San Francisco, America
Before first visiting San Francisco, I knew a visit to Amoeba was on the cards. Now every time I return, I’m armed with cash and a bag to carry my purchases in. What I like best about this place is I can buy second hand albums, and not the top 20 (or top 50 for that matter), decent music which has and will continue to withstand the test of time. Plus it’s near The Haight so theres a few oddballs around which makes for excellent people watching.
Audio Gold Hi-Fi London – London, England
I was lucky enough to have found this shop when I walked back from Alexandra park a different route and it is only about 20 minutes from my house. This shop will cause erratic heart beats for any lover of vinyl, which is pretty much what they sell; well that and something to listen to it on. Walls are stacked high with speakers, modern and original record players with weighted arms to prevent bouncing, and vinyl from the abstract to a time when people queued around the block to purchase on release day. What I like most about this shop is there is no pretence at all. Weird and wonderful sounds fill the space and the customer base is diverse. I can happily spend hours in this shop perusing crates of records and they are reasonably priced.
I popped into Audio Gold to ask the owner Ben a few questions, and this is what he had to say:
How long have you owned the shop for?
What trends have you noticed with music fans over that period?
Music fans are beginning to turn their backs on complex technology and returning to enjoying the straight forward process of just putting a record on. People are beginning to resent being constantly sold complex technology with endless additional features.
What are your thoughts on music downloads?
I have no issues with downloads or MP3 tracks. Music in any form is wonderful however, once music becomes a download or in MP3, people have a tendency to play it on portable systems and ill-equipped speakers which don’t do the music justice. I find when music fans put on a record, there is a tendency to take better care and enjoyment from the process. Artists have gone to all the trouble and expense of recording the music, so any catalyst of hearing music is great, just play them on the decent system.
Have you seen a big resurgence in vinyl sales?
Five years ago Audio Gold was an accidental record shop. We had a corner of the shop dedicated to vinyl but now as consumers’ shopping habits and preferences are changing, we are at the stage where we can confidently place orders for a wider range of records, enough to justify an entire shop full of vinyl.
Next time you’re thinking of downloading an album, head on down to your local music shop and spend some time sorting through the racks; take time to fall back in love with the process of hearing music in the manner it was meant. Pay attention to the album cover art, ask the staff what new music they have had in and give it a listen. Any decent music shop worthy of the title will have a set of headphones for you to ‘try before you buy.’ It is important we support local businesses and business owners. Should these wonderful meeting places disappear and the likes of Amazon and the digital giants take over, the soul will be stripped out of an industry already driven by $$$.
It’s one thing to visit a charity shop and stumble across one for the collection, but to have the opportunity to lose yourself in a vinyl emporium and walk out with a handful of musical bounty from Pixies, to The Skatalites and Sam Cooke is incredible.