Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Show some love for your local record store (again)

Next Saturday (April 17) is Record Store Day and a bunch of indie record stores around the country will be hanging out the bunting for the occasion. You can expect in-store gigs, limited special-edition releases and probably some free lollipops …

Mon, Apr 12, 2010, 09:39


Next Saturday (April 17) is Record Store Day and a bunch of indie record stores around the country will be hanging out the bunting for the occasion. You can expect in-store gigs, limited special-edition releases and probably some free lollipops too.

Per the press release, the stores who’re taking part are All City, City Discs, Freebird Secret Book and Record Store, Road, Sound Cellar, Spindizzy, Tower (all Dublin); Zhivago (Galway), Heartbeat City (Kilkenny and Tullamore), Rollercoaster Music (Kilkenny), e2 Music (Mullingar and Navan), Bridge Stores (New Ross), Third Wave Music (Sligo) and BPM Records (Waterford). Up north, Derry’s Cool Discs and Belfast’s Good Vibrations are also taking part. You can check with the shops to find out what they’ve got planned.

Yep, you’re right, there used to be a whole lot more record stores out there. Once upon a time, we didn’t need a Record Store Day to remind us of their existence because, well, there was nowhere else to go to acquire music. As we have seen again and again over the last few years, record shops have been disappearing from the streets more rapidly than money from the national piggy-bank. Both big chains and small stores have gone out of business, compiling a lengthy blame report as they headed for the hills. High rents, lack of city-centre footfall, changes in music consumption habits, inability to get younger music fans into the shops, the recession, competition from online sources, lack of money… hell, even the lack of a decent U2 album was even cited by some as a reason for the record stores’ demise. We’ll be waiting a long time if a decent U2 album is the fix for the retail sector’s woes.

As someone who spent more years (and money) in record stores than I’d care to remember, the situation saddens me. Excellent record stores and equally fine people behind the counter provided me with my musical education. Tuned-in record shop clerks (yeah, they exist, shoulder to shoulder with the cranky sods who gave that profession a bad name) said that if I liked that record, I’d also like this record and usually, they were right. When I’d no cash in my pockets, I’d take a longer way to get to where I was going rather than walk past a store and not call in. I know from previous posts here that I’m not alone in a fondness for what record stores gave the world. It was – and still is, to be honest – an addiction.

Yet even when you analyse the downturn in the sector, you find that the stores themselves should shoulder some of the blame. When they were the only game in town, too many bad shops thrived and cultivated such bad habits as overcharging customers and persisting in sloppy, often rude customer service. With the arrival of more competitive online stores and other ways to (legally or otherwise) acquire music, many music fans happily abandoned the bricks-and-mortar stores to their fate. Unfortunately, this meant bad times for some decent stores, which is why we’re reached today’s sorry pass.

Like the record industry, the record stores have to realise that their past glory days are over and will not return. Accept it and move on. Purchasing habits for many music fans have changed and they are no longer be able to spend their lunch hour or Saturday morning traipsing from shop to shop. The Kids, the ones who are supposed to save us all, favour other means to acquire music. Indeed, the next time you’re in a record store, count how many in the store are under 30 or, even, under 40 years of age. As Olan O’Brien from All City Records remarked at a Banter discussion back in January, “running a record store is like running an angling shop these days: the customers are all middle-aged men”.

Of course, we need more events like Record Store Day to highlight what a good record store can mean and bring to a community of music fans, but record stores need to realise that this must begin with them. The labels who see the importance of record stores are already onboard – aside from providing exclusive releases for Saturday, these labels have also significantly reduced dealer prices to the shops over the past 18 months – but it’s the shops themselves who have to take the initiative.

Most importantly of all, they have to stress the future as well as the past. It’s all very well to wax nostalgic about what it was like back in the day, but this schtick really only appeals to those seeking to relive past experiences and doesn’t entice new customers to step up to the plate. It’s up to the shops to sell and position themselves as places of value to those music fans who don’t currently view stores as an important part of the infrastructure. That’s where the rebirth will begin – if there is to be one.