If the story of the demise of HMV in the UK has managed to fly past you, the record shop is in dire straits and is in possibly the worst shape ever. I have already blogged two different lengthy articles covering HMV and its alternatives, but there is hope in the form of the Record Store Day movement in the 'States, who have recently chosen musician Jack White as their spokesperson to extol the virtues of going into a record shop.
Just for the record, I have bought quite a few Jack White records over the years and I until this article I was not even aware that he even had his own record label, much less his own record shop. Anyway, the synopsis of his post is that people should stop interacting with people on screen because it's never going to be as good as face to face chats or watching movies together with people in an art house cinema.
So here's what I think his argument boils down to:
Get to chat to people
Listen to music before you buy
Easier returns policy
However I can pretty much sum up the alternatives as well.
Have to travel to the store
Dependent on store's opening hours
Have to share my shopping experience with less than savoury patrons
Often a higher price
Limited range and formats
Knowledge from store staff hit and miss at best
The argument itself preys on the personal preferences of discerning music lovers and I suppose this isn't really a bad thing. After all, this is a passionate post to kindle a response to support their movement. However, I cannot stand for a lack of logical arguments, with parts of it is verging on troll bait, such as:
"There's no beauty in sitting for hours playing video games"
Well I suppose there isn't, but insulting your fans for their choice in entertainment is not exactly a wise move, Jack. After all, music and video games are entertainment - if they entertain for a few hours or a few minutes, then it has done its job.
"...record stores are selling discs full of soul that you haven’t felt yet"
I also don't see much value in argument that says "X is better than Y because Y is smelly" and appealing to people to buy music in the old fashioned way because that way is somehow more natural and therefore correct. If music needs a physical form to move you, then I think the music itself is not nearly as good as you think it is.
Oh and regarding the experience of cinemas: yes these are nice to enjoy, but the prohibitively high cost of seeing a movie (in London this is at least £13 a ticket now) means that it's a rare thing that I will go out to my local cinema to see something. Art house cinema? Pff, more like a pop up in a dingy Shoreditch club, where anyone with a projector and a laptop can turn a space into a cinema. I can remember several times when I have gone into a cinema and had to pay for expensive tickets, expensive snacks and drinks, had to share it with others who were noisy, endured dirty seats and failing air conditioning.
Yeah Jack, I really see the value in cinemas.
In a record shop, I get a very minute and variable filter of what music is played there, what music is on offer, the staff working there at a given time/day and the other customers there as well. I used to enjoy going in to a record shop in Croydon, Swag Records, and bought a number of albums there purely on recommendation. Sadly they are no more but I understand Jack's argument about being able to share opinions and get hold of new music. Lone, Dfrnt, Dkay, Naibu, Sebo K, Watergate compilations and several other artists in my collection are all down to Swag. This is, however, an exception in terms of the complete picture, where the peons of HMV are often just there to stack shelves and collect their pay. I don't wish any ill on HMV staff, it's just that most I have encountered could hardly put a sentence together when I ask for a recommendation.
However, compare that to a music forum comprised of of many times that number of people to give recommendations of what to buy with instant access to avenues to buy that music, or a service like Last.fm, Spotify or iTunes with recommendation engines, I think I know what I will chose. And what of physical media for out of date and obscure music? Why should I be denied the chance to own what I want because some bricks and mortar store can't deal with my request for back catalog releases - nor is it economical for them to do so?
Jack, I appreciate what you are doing, but don't cry about the good old days and plead for people to buy music from record stores because it's the right thing to do. Things move on and the majority of Joe Public will go for the most convenient option - it just happens to be downloads now. There will always be people who will buy vinyl, cds or whatever physical medium, but as long as people are buying your singles and albums, why the fuck should you care how and where they are sold?