It all started with The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, Buffalo Springfield and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Since the sixties I’ve been an obsessive consumer of music — first on vinyl, then cassette and for the past 30 years on CD.
My selective collection of 1,000 or so CDs balances the classics of my youth with an ever-expanding array of new artists representing mostly indie rock, Britpop and Americana along with the exceptional pop star or rapper.
The essence of my obsession is not entirely clear. That is to say, the attraction could be emotional, physical, aural or some combination. In truth, more than actually listening to the music, the most satisfying moment comes in shopping for the coveted CD among the record store racks.
The hunting and gathering, that’s what I live for. Which is why it was so painful to see my local independent record store, Dimple Records in Sacramento face the same demise as other brick-and-mortar retailers — the inability to compete with convenient, cheaper online sources.
ADAPT OR DIE
One by one music retailers are facing the consequences of the evolving dynamics of music consumption. Whereby successful booksellers have become hubs for arts, culture and community events, and add coffee shops, meeting spaces and related product lines, record stores seem only to embrace the past.
With few exceptions, there are no cross-promotions with local music venues or artists, with pubs, eateries or coffee shops, or with local schools and colleges. Record stores display little creativity in expanding their product lines. An obvious example would be to tease and appease collectors with attractive and essential CD cases and stands. Then again, convenience never appeared to be a point of emphasis. None offer complimentary wi-fi or customer bathrooms to extend browsing time. Worst of all, though, is when record stores squander their single greatest advantage over online buying: personal service.
Whether with Tower Records, which began in Sacramento and went on to rule the retail music industry worldwide before going bankrupt; Virgin, another massive multi-national retail failure; and recently the independent chain Dimple, I can count on one hand the number of times a clerk asked if I needed assistance, shared interest in a purchase, or acknowledged me as a regular customer.
FACE THE MUSIC
California’s music retailers are an endangered species. Still alive, though, are Boo Boo Records in San Luis Obispo and Amoeba Music in San Francisco, Berkeley and Los Angeles. Both operations continue to prove there are enough music patrons to support creative retailing and quality customer service.
Though the breed of music lovers who still appreciate both hearing and holding the music of their favorite artists is shrinking, the appeal of CDs is as likely as the cyclical resurgence of vinyl albums to be resuscitated. For confident and adaptable record store owners, life will go on. With the full backing of obsessive, possessive music consumers like me who appreciate a personal, tactile shopping experience.