Like an aging goombah trying to give up "the life" only to be "pulled back in" (or whatever cliche applies), I’ve been railroaded into writing an article for the Music Issue of Seven Days. The story is about the Death of the CD, and what it means to local (Vermont) retailers. Not that I still live there or anything.
I’ve already written several smaller items about the decline of record stores, and I’m not exactly breaking new ground. But having come from music retail, I retain a certain fondness for the small shops that serve up fresh sounds with a side order of snideness. ‘Cause you’ll never be treated like an asshole when you buy that new Hinder single at iTunes. But you’ll definitely still be one.
Almost everyone agrees that the CD is destined to become extinct. What’s surprising is how quickly it’s happening. Like glaciers and decency in politics, the compact disc will soon be a thing of the past. Some industry analysts are predicting this holiday season will be the format’s last hurrah.
So what can stores do to stay alive? Many have attempted diversification. But there are only so many Misfits lunchboxes a shop can sell before it becomes Hot Topic.
If the retailer is lucky to have an established niche (and some extra capital) they can maybe do what New York’s Other Music has done, and sell high-quality MP3s of stuff not found at other digital outlets.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: OM is a perfect example of a store getting it right. Their digital inventory is expansive and easily browsable, the staff descriptions are great, and the preview player is generous and user-friendly.
Still, small stores that only sell mainstream (or mainstream "indie") titles are fucked. Hell, even the big ones are, as evidenced by the collapse of Tower Records.
But despite my love for the funky little stores of yore, I’m not doing anything to help them stay in business. As a music writer, I get tons of stuff sent to me free of charge. What I can’t swindle out of a PR company or label, I purchase digitally. (No illegal downloading for me, kids. . . well, maybe a Cyndi Lauper tune if it’s late and I’m drunk). So while I hardly represent your average music consumer, I am part of the Big Shift.
Like many old-school douchebags, I resisted getting an iPod for a long time. When I finally succumbed, it revolutionized the way I listened to music. I began to see all of the CDs piled up around my desk as mere clutter — why can’t everyone just send me MP3s?
Some labels are doing just that, albeit with limited success. The majors are still so paranoid about file-sharing that they make you jump through a dozen hoops before you can unlock their digital files. Not even Amy Winehouse is worth that amount of bullshit.
So the shops are dyin’, the musicians cryin’ and the labels are sick of tryin.’ Seems the only remaining music biz cash-cow is television, where artists are used as mere product placement. Of course, TV execs are nearly as freaked out as record label suits — they’re losing ad revenue faster than you can say TiVo.
So yeah. I have to write another goddamn article. Shit, maybe I can just turn in this blog post. Or at least steal the funny lines.