Buying Records in Record Stores is Cool

Buying Records in Record Stores is CoolI put a lot of thought into the music I listen to. There’s a lot of music I really love, and I feel guilty if I neglect one of my favorites for too long. But I also feel bad if I’m not seeking out new music. And I feel obligated to actually listen to everything I add to my collection. I’ve concocted a smart playlist that makes sure I give new stuff at least a few spins before it drops off the radar.

So I’m vigilant about what I add. I’ll sample just about anything online, but if I’m going to add it to my library I have to be determined to give it a chance.

These days, I do most of my music listening on my phone. And I’m feeling increasingly less attached to physical media. I appreciate the convenience of downloads. I’m hoping that they’ll soon include more detailed “liner notes” and higher audio quality, but in a lot of ways I simply don’t care.

I still listen to CDs in the car because plugging in the iPod and getting it going is kind of a hassle. A few months ago I had a fidelity revelation when I replaced my retail copy of Wilco (the Album) with an MP3-sourced CDR that I compiled with the best of the band’s post-YHF material. After listening to the real CD version for several months because my three-year-old is obsessed with “I’ll Fight,” the lossy version sounded noticeably worse. To me. The kid didn’t care.

So when Spoon‘s new album, Transference, came out this week I was pretty sure I wanted it on CD. I could tell from the streaming audio that there’s a lot of texture on the album and I didn’t want to miss out on any of it. Despite the fact that Amazon MP3 had it on sale for $3.99 and I subscribe to emusic with a plan that gives me 30 songs per month, I stopped by my local independent record store, Laurie’s Planet of Sound in Lincoln Square, and forked over my $14.99 (+ $1.54 Cook County sales tax) for an album I could’ve easily gotten much cheaper (Amazon’s current price is $7.99 for the CD).

Does this make me a dumbass? Maybe.

But here’s the deal. I like Laurie’s Planet of Sound. I think they add value to my neighborhood and I want them to stay in business. I like being able to pop into a record store every once in a while and flip through the cheapo bin and take a look at that Velvet Underground singles box and be (briefly) exposed to whatever abrasive racket the employees are blaring at the moment. That’s fun for me.

I don’t hang out in record stores nearly as much as I did when I was in my teens and twenties, but my life would be quantifiably shittier if I didn’t have the option to do it when I felt like it.

So that—to me—is worth the 100% markup.

When I got home, I immediately ripped the disc (with EAC/LAME -V0), and I still haven’t actually listened to the CD. But I’m already glad I bought the physical copy for a couple of reasons. First, I now know that the cover photo is by William Eggleston, the Memphis photographer who took Big Star‘s Radio City cover image. It looks like my Uncle Scott sitting in my grandparents’ living room, and it’s nice to know it really was taken in 1970.

Secondly, I like reading liner notes. Lyrics, thank yous, where stuff was recorded, who the engineers were, all that. I find it interesting that the only band they thank is the Ponys. I wonder what’s up with that. Did they loan Spoon a guitar or something? Who knows! Sure it’s dorky, but that’s part of the fun of being an obsessive music nerd. Guilty as charged.

Finally, on the bottom of the last page of the liner notes is an all-caps declaration that seemed written for me, right now, at this precise moment in my life, justifying all of the baloney I’d been mulling over on my walk home from the record store: “BUYING RECORDS IN RECORD STORES IS COOL.”

Now, personally, I don’t really need Spoon to make me feel good about myself. But I’m hoping their message gets through to a few of the people who start Googling for torrents the minute they hear about an upcoming release.

I’m certainly not going to preach against filesharing, especially since—because of Glorious Noise—I get a lot of promos for free. I remember what it was like to be a kid and not have enough money to buy all the music I needed to hear. For every retail LP or cassette I owned as a kid (the bulk of which came via the 12-for-the-price-of-one clubs), I had ten badly dubbed tapes of tapes. I thought high-speed dubbing was the best invention ever, ha ha.

And I can’t say anything bad about Amazon. Cheap prices, overnight shipping, no sales tax. If you’ve got Amazon Prime, the shipping is free. What’s not to love? Best Buy, Target, and Walmart all pretty much suck for music, but if you’re in there and you see an Elton John hits compilation for $8.99, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

And digital distribution is fine too, whether it’s via emusic, iTunes, or directly from a label. Whatever.

All I’m saying is that every once in a while, you should try to make a point of stopping in to your local record store. If you’re broke, look through the used bin. If you can afford it, buy a bunch of stuff. Do it while you can. These places aren’t going to be around forever.

Image via dk presents…

10 thoughts on “Buying Records in Record Stores is Cool”

  1. the only thing going out of business faster than local record stores are local guitar retailers. Of course,if you want shitty service and no setup or support, there’s always guitar center

  2. You are not a dumbass. It is great to support your local record store…

    i’d call you a dumbass for not buying vinyl…it sounds so much better and a good amount of records come with the actual cd or download now which is a great deal most of the time.

  3. Wow. I’ve always been treated great at Guitar Center. It’s the locally owned guitar store where I’ve experience either contempt or a feeling that I’m completely wasting their time. Jake’s piece reminds me of something that I recently experienced at a record store and wrote about but have yet to submit. Let’s just say that Jake’s experience is more positive than mine.

    And anyone who calls me a “dumbass” for not buying a format that they support holds no weight, other than proving they’re an elitist prick.

  4. I will soon be visiting Streetlight Records, a small local chain, and I will gladly plunk down more than I would pay online to keep the ship running. Last time I talked to one of the managers there, he said they were doing OK, making most of their dough through orders online. Nice, but nothing beats standing in the store and flipping through the offerings. It’s definitely worth the extra cash.

  5. As much as I do get warm feelies every time I hit the one real record store left in my town, I make that trip less and less. Over a year between my last two visits.

    Problem is that it is LESS convenient than downloading in too many ways. I have to make a special trip and set aside time to go there. When I get there there is no guarantee that what I want will be in stock. When the new Dinosaur Jr came out I went in twice looking for it and eventually bought it on CD at a Big Box. And while I like to chum it up with the store owner, who’s always got the scoop on new releases and and cool new bands, I can get a lot more of that type of advice online via my favorite sites. Plus, I can preview that music at will before I buy.

    I still feel like I want a physical CD on those occassions when I really really like a particular album. I want my favorites to be pieces of 3 dimensional reality that I can touch and feel and rip if I want. For all the rest I’m just as happy to download, especially if that purchase is excluding a major label or conglomorate and going strait to an Indie or to the Band.

  6. The “big box” stores in my town have pretty much ruined me on the store-bought experience. There is one really good brick&mortar store in town (Megatunes on Whyte Ave) and I darken their door about once a month to check out what’s new and maybe pick up tix to upcoming smaller-venue gigs. Got tix there for TV on the Radio, Elliott Brood, and Joel Plaskett in the last year without paying the Ticketbastard “convenience fees” and enjoyed the experience.

    If Megatunes doesn’t have what I’m looking for (usually your “mass-market indie” releases like Wilco et al) or if they’re asking something silly, like $20+ per disc, then I’ll go to to fulfill my 2-CD-a-week habit. But my life would definitely be less colourful if the brick&mortar store went out of business. More than once I’ve heard something playing in the store that I never would have thought to check out on my own.

    I hope there’s a niche of local and off-the-beaten-path music that will sustain the local record shops against the loss-leader big boxes or the spectre of legal (or illegal) file downloading. But I guess we’ll see.

  7. One word: Used. I was in my local record shop today, and they claim their business is better than ever. And they love it that they no longer have to answer questions from stupid people who don’t like music, as those people no longer have reason to come in.

  8. I am the same I always try and support my local store RPM – there are only around 300 independent records stores left here in the U.K.

    I still regret selling all my vinyl

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