Tuesday, April 21

The Record Store: A genuine loss or rose-tinted nostalgia?

. Tuesday, April 21


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So this Saturday is the annual Record Store Day organised by the Coalition of UK indie stores (the grand term 'coalition' and 'indie' really don't belong together do they?). This celebration of all things vinyl and alphabetised has led to a wave of commentators decrying the death of the record store. They don Grim Reaper hoods and look upon teenagers with access to Megaupload and spit bile on them. The stats do tell a bleak tale though, 540 stores have closed for business in the past four years alone and even consumer giants like Zavvi are drawing their last breath. Whilst this is all terribly sad and indicative of a Terminator 2 style scenario where the machines are taking over is it really as terminal as people are making out?

Yes, record stores are on their way out and a day of in store performances and a new Tom Waits single is not going to change that but (whisper it) does it really matter? Sure, there are record stores I love- Rough Trade East is beautiful, Jumbo and Crash in Leeds are fantastic and Liverpool's Probe another- but I can count the number of records I have bought in there on one hand. Yet I don't feel my musical upbringing has been in any way infringed by doing the large part of my purchasing in HMV or on Amazon. The simple truth is that if an album is £8.99 online (or indeed, free) or more expensive (as they tend to be) in the credible record stores people will take their trade to the cheapest vendor. You may get more satisfaction knowing you've helped out the independent trader but when you're unemployed and scrabbling money together to pay the rent an ethical copy of 'It's Blitz!' is going to be little more than a kick in the teeth.

One of the points that is brought up during nostalgic memory wanks by people like Paul Morley and Stuart Maconie is how the guys working in a record store would be a fountain of knowledge, a running tap of recommendations and a beacon of new music. Go to him and all your 7" desires will be met. However with Myspace, Spotify and sites like Metacritic you no longer need a man looming over a counter to tell you if something is good- you have instant insight at your finger tips. This wealth of information and access to literally every genre of music can only be a good thing for musicians with an open mind and a willingness to experiment. Think about it, if everyone in a city depends on their music being available from one or two independent record stores then the owners of those shops are essentially able to subject a whole generation to their own taste. That's unhealthy and in taking the power back and placing it in the hands of the fans you allow them to dictate their own musical upbringing. Who says Radiohead doesn't sit next to MIA? If you want to mix dubstep with psychadelia in a playlist then go do it. Every step we take towards financial ruin is a step towards an enlightened musical youth in my eyes. It might be nihilistic but surely the ride will be more interesting than every young kid in Liverpool being handed a La's record and his cousin in Manchester getting The Stone Roses debut.

I don't want to see people passionate about music unable to make a living from it (as a freelance journalist I feel their pain) but we must step away from seeing the internet as a big scary monster in this scenario, a wolf coming along to blow the piggy's small shop down. I'm sure when the gramophone was replaced by the record player somebody with a monocle and a pipe stated it to be the end of music, the same way people feared for society when Elvis started shaking his hips. The way music is distributed, consumed and listened to has changed. If history has taught us anything it is that you have to roll with the punches and evolve at every opportunity.

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