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Hoodlums Music Turns 13: Reflections From Owner Steve Wiley

Birthday parties for 13-year-olds are usually pretty awkward (or maybe I'm thinking of my own, just-sorta-pubescent 13th birthday), but that doesn't seem to be the case with Hoodlums Music's 13th birthday bash this weekend. On Saturday, November 5, the local record store institution celebrates being a teen in the retail music industry with a performance by Tugboat, art from Jeff McDaniel, and 13 percent off all regularly priced items.

Only a goof would deny the digital music revolution, but for my money, nothing beats actually owning an album. Record stores are where I discovered music I truly loved, and I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that Hoodlums, along with Zia Record Exchange (where I worked for years), Stinkweeds, Revolver, and the dearly-departed Eastside Records are places where I learned to recognize the lifers, the people who were into music because they simply loved it more than anything else.

I asked Hoodlums owner Steve Wiley to give me the scoop on 13 years of record store living -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Anyone who's ever spent even a few minutes with Wiley knows that he's an opinionated guy (he used the term "rambling clown"), but I enjoyed his thoughts, and I think you will, too.

Impressions on 13 years of record store ownership

Hoodlums is having our 13th Birthday Party on Saturday, so Jason asked me to provide some impressions on 13 years of Record Store ownership.

Wow, that's a big task. But if you've followed Hoodlum's social media sites, or my little Random Babblings of a Record Store Geek blog, you've probably read blogs or seen video explaining "Why I own a record store." You know, I'm constantly analyzing my wacky little world, so I'll give it a shot.

Random observations and opinions from a Record Store Geek: It takes more than one hoodlum to run an indie business in a corporatocracy.

Luckily, my partner Kristian has been here for 13 years to share the load. Because I write, tweet, post, and do the marketing, I tend to be the more visible of the hoods, but anyone who really knows the store knows that Kristian is a music-lovin' force of nature. I could do a whole article on his talents and hard work alone. I can never thank him enough. (Big thanks also to Joe, Andy, and the many other hoodlums who make up our Hood Hall of Fame.) The rise of digital music has had a far less negative effect on the music industry than the idiotic decision-making of the record labels.

High-prices, customer lawsuits, substandard artist development, corporate-retail subsidies, and a continual overdose of hype have killed off a ton of indie record stores and an entire generation of potential customers. If the major labels would have embraced digital music, and found a way to monetize it, rather than waiting for Apple to change the rules of the game, the music business would be infinitely more healthy. I personally think digital-only music is a rip-off.

Although Kristian and I have never been on a crusade to stop illegal downloading, I don't do it. So if I want to own a piece of music, I pay for it by buying the CD or the LP/MP3 combo. I'm a collector. If I like an album, I want to have it in my collection, and to me "owning" a file is like owning air. The music in my iTunes, iPhone, and iPod is an important part of my collection, but that part is about convenience. I still get the files with a CD, so to me it's a win-win. When Hoodlums was on hiatus after the M.U. Fire, I went to the other indie stores to shop, because I need a record store. Kristian did, too. That's why we reopened, because we're not the only ones that feel like this. Not giving in to the fear of a digital future has allowed us to feed our families for 13 years.

Thanks, thanks, thanks to each and every person that has spent a cent in our store for making that possible. I still recall our Sony rep warning us about Napster before we started. Little did he know that Napster was just the tip of the digital iceberg... and yet we are still here. I wish I could have another conversation with Brad Singer.

Brad was my old boss at Zia; the guy who started it. As GM, I would go into his office daily and report on the stores, and then he and I would discuss/debate/argue about our ideas for the company. A lot of our debate centered around my opinion that some of the things he felt most strongly about applied to owning/running one store, but not eight. His unfortunate passing led to the formation of Hoodlums, and since then, as the co-owner of one store, I have come to understand his feelings a lot better. I wish I could tell him that, as well how thankful I am for saving me from corporate hell (and a thousand other things). Downloading has weened the "lightweight" music fans out of record stores.

You know, people that just want singles, the ones who "like the song but don't know who sings it" . . . that sort of music fan. Don't get me wrong, we don't have anything against music lightweights (every good party needs lightweights). In fact, we understand. The labels have falsely inflated album sales for years by not giving them the option to just buy the song, so the new digital world is perfect for them. If they get turned on and want the album (or they don't want to download for whatever reason), we're here to help them, but the majority of the people we serve these days are serious music fans. Junkies like us.

Most of my fellow record store geeks feel that at this point the economy is tougher to deal with than the industry and technology.

We feel that way too. Ask almost any other type of shopkeeper, and they'll tell you how much of a battle it is these days. The only good side of the sad economy is that the guys in the ivory towers (label bean counters, er, presidents) have finally started dropping prices. I still love music more than any non-human thing on this Earth.

It is my passion. It is a part of my soul and my spirituality. I feel that spreading music to my fellow Earthlings is a very important job, because without it this would be a pretty sad place to live. I couldn't sell you cars, or homes, or clothes, because although those things are important, I'm not passionate about them. But I can sell you music, because I believe in music. I spread it around when I was younger, so Hoodlums is just a "business continuation" of what I was already doing.

I'll stop there, although I could give you impressions all day (buy me a drink after the birthday party and I'll answer whatever questions you've got). Thanks again to everyone for your support.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.