Schoolkids Records in Chapel Hill, NC is closing, after 33 years in business. Apparently the store isn’t getting enough foot traffic, which is insanely difficult to believe considering it’s on the main drag of a massive university town that has a thriving music scene. There was little competition here as far as I can tell, but somehow they’re unable to survive even in the midst of over 30,000 college kids who, by all acounts, listen to music quite a bit. I guess the problem is that these kids aren’t actually BUYING anything in stores. Whether you can blame the high prices of CDs or the ease with which people can quickly download the music that they want, brick and mortar record shops are quickly crumbling. (cough)
I wrote a post awhile back about how the indie music scene didn’t need SEO…my point was that independent music was, so far, mostly disconnected from mass media coverage and, as such, remained true to its very spirit. In this post, I stated that people should personally get up off their arses and seek out new music by actively searching for it without going online, by getting their music news through word of mouth, or by showing up at the local punk rock club for a night.
As I was moaning about Schoolkids closing, even though I haven’t shopped there since 1995 and that was to buy a cheap poster, I started to think about something: has our industry actually been a contributing factor to the demise of my beloved physical record shops? I freaking think so (at least I do at THIS moment) and here is why:
If you do a search for most bands, and let’s take Grinderman as an example since I am such a Nick Cave fan (although I can’t tell my mom the name of their new single (like she’d ask) since it’s got a dirty word in it that rhymes with wussy), you’ll likely see tons of results for their videos on YouTube, their MySpace page, their Wikipedia entry, their Amazon listing, and their actual website if they happen to have one. Nick is well represented in the SERPs, to summarize. You can hear and watch the videos for free, and you can listen to new releases for free. If you happen to buy from iTunes, you can quickly grab a digital song or album and the whole thing’s done in less than a minute. Gone are the days when you accidentally buy an Assuck cd because it was mistakenly put into the Avail section, the store was closing, and you ignored the record clerk who said, looking at your other purchase of The Smiths, “boy you’re all over the place aren’t you!” Your main concern now is that when you got the download of The Mission‘s Deliverance, it was actually Tower of Strength which you don’t really like and now you’re out 99 cents. Record shops are closing because of people like you. And me…ok and yes, the photo of Grinderman is only necessary in order to show you how insanely cool Nick Cave is. Sorry.
Seriously, why would you leave the house and go out, in PUBLIC, to risk the flu and ebola and lice and panhandling punk rock kids with $100 nose rings, not to mention having to be chatted up by an overweight and unwashed college dropout wearing a faded and hole-ridden Pixies tshirt who only works at the record store to meet chicks that look like Kim Deal and get a 10% discount on bumper stickers, when you could sit at home in your salt-bagel-encrusted chair and stay safe? Thus, you order online and this record store clerk gets fired, the store owner tries to keep the shop open by showcasing crappy local bands until the landlord sues him for back rent and the only bands they can book are ABC and The Lick Stick (ok I made that one up), and then it all truly goes straight to hell and the next time you show up for your used record fix, you’re greeted by a giant padlock on the door.
When I saw Polyphonic Spree a few months back, the lead singer made a great statement at the end about buying their t-shirts and robes (yes, robes and let me just say YIKES) because they didn’t make a lot of money on CDs anymore and needed the support. Whether or not that’s true isn’t my concern of course. I like the idea behind finding other ways to keep these artists going. He also pleaded with the audience, in his cultlike manner, to support other bands as well by going to shows and buying their assorted rubbish there. For the record (HA!!), I did not buy a robe from P. Spree, since that would just be stupid. I did, however, buy a tshirt in a wildly unflattering shade of light blue.
It’ all evolution, of course, but it does make me a bit sad. This certainly won’t mean the end of music, of course…just maybe the end of walking into a store and spending hours poring over the bins to find something amazing. And what I do for a living is partially to blame.
Ch ch ch ch changes…