Feature: Are Your Local Record Stores On the Verge of Extinction?
By Claire Klodell, Contributor
“There’s an app for that!” is the go-to punchline for every man or woman over the age of 60, and they aren’t really lying. In the midst of an age where Apple seemingly has a monopoly on technology, phones captivate a form of reality. Last year, for example, multiple people relied on an imaginary plant to remind them to drink a healthy amount of water. There are apps that calculate your daily calorie intake, exercise, and heart rate.
The music industry has been taking advantage of this online utopia to maintain a broader audience. Many of them profit with a concept called “freemium” which is a membership that is free with unbearable advertisements, or ad-free with a monthly subscription. Apple Music and Spotify cater to the college demographic with their personalized playlists. Businesses and offices lean more toward Pandora, and anyone with too much money to spend uses Tidal.
While online music is captivating the wandering minds of music junkies, are our local record stores on the verge of extinction?
Record stores are like the grandparent we’ve always wanted - the one who doesn’t get into politics at the dinner table, and knows more about the world than you ever will. They are businesses which sell nostalgia and cater to audiences of all ages - a musical library, essentially. As soon as you walk in, walls beyond walls of infinite albums instantly hypnotize you. Some even expand their merchandise beyond records and sell cassettes, CD’s, clothing, pins, and posters. ACRN had the opportunity to speak with a few around Ohio, and see how they coexist in this digital age.
Haffa’s Records should not be a foreign concept to anyone who remotely enjoys music in Athens. Open since in the 70s, the only people who are older than the store itself are the townies. Located on West Union Street in the midst of a college town, Haffa’s appeals to the college crowd by “having a little bit of everything.”
“It’s just cooler to have something to show for it,” Haffa's claimed about owning a physical copy opposed to an arbitrary one.
Native to Columbus, Ohio, Spoonful Records is a family-business owned by Amy and Brett, whose father occasionally helps him out from time to time.
“'Spoonful’ is a shout out to the great Willie Dixon, who wrote many blues songs, including "Spoonful," with the line "It could be a spoonful of coffee, could be a spoonful of tea." We like it because it refers to everyone's tastes and people's desire to satisfy their cravings,” Brett added.
Everybody’s Records reigns supreme in Cincinnati, Ohio and aspires to uphold an all-inclusive reputation among their customers.
As new forms of technology are continuously evolving, so has the way Everybody’s Records does their business.
“When I first started, all of the orders were hand written. Now, it’s all on computer. It seems folks are now more informed on new releases, so questions have gone down. Theft is also down due to bootleggers on streets and illegal downloads. We do not receive promo material for new albums anymore. Those used to be that something would come in daily, but now, it's like hitting the lottery if we get something,” the store explained.
While the store is located minutes away from the University of Cincinnati, they are finding trouble appealing to the college demographic.
“It's somewhat difficult,” Everybody’s vented. “We mostly depend on social media, which we are not great at, and word of mouth.”
Adam from Haffa’s believes music industries have every right to strive for competition, but acknowledges how it’s a “pain in the ass.”
“You can listen to anything, at any time you want without really wasting money. It’s easy,” he replied in regards to competition for college students against competitors like Spotify.
Record Store Day, also known as “RSD,” is an international holiday for not only record stores, but their devoted customers. For Everybody’s Records, RSD is a necessity to draw in new patrons.
“RSD helps by bringing new folks in to pick up the special releases. I would venture that ninety percent of the new customers will return to buy music here. It gives us an opportunity to win over new folks not only with stock but service, so it's ideal due to that fact,” the store added.
When it comes to online-only exclusives released by artists, Everybody’s wasn’t feeling it. They passionately believe that holding a physical, hard copy of the music you’re listening to is all part of the holistic experience.
“You are physically involved in playing an album - from feeling it slide out of the sleeve, dropping the needle on it, watching it spin and losing yourself in it, pulling out the liner notes and reading all about the production. The artwork is in itself. From an artist’s perspective, they win with up-front payment for exclusive rights, but they should make it available to order as CD or LP. Some folks are put off by it. They want physical copies. Plus, if they make it limited, it's an instant collector’s item.”
Spoonful maintained a very similar approach.
“Music retailers have to have something to sell. And many small record stores release local artists on vinyl or carry their CD's and tapes. For example, we have ten vinyl releases on the Spoonful label. Lost Weekend has put out several local bands, and then there's Plaid Room and Colemine in Loveland, Ohio. Right now, it's the larger retail chains that are in a position to press exclusive vinyl albums of bigger artists. Barnes & Noble exclusively carried the clear vinyl version of Bowie's Black Star for a hot minute. But I don't think that's really working for them day-to-day,” Spoonful confessed.
“The independent stores are so much better and more interesting. All over the United States, you can pop into any independent record store and find a totally different selection. Every store is vastly different. It's about opening yourself up to the plethora of musical expressions found in the world, not honing in on one's favorites,” Spoonful declared.
Spotify may reach bigger audiences, but vinyl collectors are hearing a much wider variety of music.
Oscar Wilde posed the iconic belief in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying that, "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” Everybody’s Records believes the latter of this argument, which is that art imitates life. Essentially, music is art, which is inevitably influenced by real events. Perhaps, this is why they feel so compelled to treat a vinyl as if it belongs in The Louvre.