Record Store Day is tomorrow. So I shouldn't have been surprised when my editor said, "Hey, maybe you can write something about Record Store Day."
Makes sense. I do write under the moniker Record Store Geek.
It's just that my editor has only asked me for one specific column in the entire two years I've been here: My first one (Defending My Guilty TV Pleasure: Ancient Aliens). So I was surprised.
You think I'd be thankful I've had this much freedom (I am) and serve it up, but here's the problem: I don't want to write about Record Store Day.
But I'd love to write about record stores. Hell, I'll teach a class on record stores.
What Qualifies You to Call Yourself Record Store Geek?
Trust me, my little pups, I have earned the right to wax poetic about record stores.
I started hanging out at Budget Tapes and Records in Minot, North Dakota, when I was in fifth grade and followed it to two different locations through High School. I begged Jon (who still runs the store to this day) for a job. No luck. When I went to college in Grand Forks, I "transferred" to Mother's Records and spent four more years begging. No luck.
I graduated in May 1987, and arrived in the Valley in September. By November, I finally got my chance atWherehouse Records (no, it wasn't my degree, let's just say the opportunities for an advertising major were slim).
I got my foot in the music industry door and spent eight years learning how to manage a record store. I also gained a massive appreciation for Dilbert through the navigation of corporate bullshit. However, I met enough cool people and got enough of a taste for the industry to know I liked it, so I worked hard and looked for opportunity.
But it wore on me. I knew that I could never become a true record store geek at such a corporate joint.
Ah Yes, This is Where I Belong
Then, in 1995, I was saved into the indie world by the late Brad Singer, the legendary founder of Zia Record Exchange (and "grandfather" to nearly every great indie store this Valley has ever seen), who recruited me to be the General Manager of his stores.
I gave my notice, and used the two weeks to earn my only disciplinary write-up in eight years by openly protesting the ridiculous red customer service vests they were making us wear (at a district manager's meeting).
(Note: I'd still like to burn one of those things - they were the fax machine of my Office Space.)
With the help of my unorthodox new mentor, I spent three years as the Zia GM, learning the true meaning of independence, profitable rebellion, and controlled chaos (one of Singer's phrases that my many old Zia mates will appreciate, especially since we had a lot more chaos then control most of the time).
Brad died suddenly (see the New Times archives for the cover story) in 1998, and all hell broke loose at Zia (that's the short version, the rest was also in New Times), which led me to join with two other Zia mates and form Hoodlums New and Used Music in the ASU Memorial Union.
Steve, Kristian, and the hoodlums at Hoodlums
We spent ten glorious years at Arizona State. Two different locations. We hosted many great performances, and peddled astounding amounts of CDs and DVDs.
Most importantly, we were invited to join the mighty Coalition of Independent Music Stores, a group of the greatest indie stores in the country, without whom there would be no Record Store Day, and a lot less indie stores period.
Within this wonderful band of misfits (we lovingly referred to them as the Cartel), I was able to interact with the industry on a national scale, and most importantly, I found out that even though I was doing what I loved -- working in a record store -- I could still be a respectable business person.
(Side note: I miss hanging with those guys and girls more than any other part of owning a store.)
After a fire in the Union in 2007, we regrouped and formed Hoodlums Music and Movies next to indie legend Changing Hands Bookstore. Four more years of good community, new friends, a changing business model...
...and Record Store Day.
That's right, I'm a Record Store Day expert.
We'll get to that in a second.
We closed the shop in 2012. We couldn't negotiate a lease, and we didn't want to go through the whole moving thing again, so we shut her down and disbanded a successful partnership (my Hoodpartner, Kristian, just opened his own shop, Random Records, in Durango, Colorado).
I still own the company. I still help the boys at Revolver Records Tempe (including my good friend and former hoodlum, Andy, the manager) with some marketing, so I'm still hanging in record stores... bullshitting with customers and enjoying the vibe.
I'm not just the Record Store Geek. I'm a lifelong record store geek. I always have been. I always will be.
So Why Don't You Want to Write About Record Store Day?
Don't brand me a traitor quite yet. I'm not anti-Record Store Day. Anything that helps indie record stores survive is good by me. Our two biggest revenue days at the second Hoodlums were both Record Store Days.
I absolutely think that you should go out and celebrate record stores on Saturday. Take in the festivities, and hear some music, and buy some really cool indie exclusive vinyl and CDs. It's a cool thing, and my indie colleagues really do a great job of making a unique event out of it.
I just don't want to write about it.
To start with, it's been done. Over and over. Same questions. Same angles. After being on the receiving end of the interview quite a few times, and watching one media outlet after the other butcher "the demise of record stores" story in general, I just can't do it.
Second, I've got mixed feelings about Record Store Day from the philosophical side. I won't go too far and spoil the mood, but I've never been a fan of "exclusives," a divisive marketing strategy originally developed by the corporate big boxes, because in my opinion exclusives don't create new customers, they just move them from one place to another. In fact, I debated my own colleagues when the coalition decided to take the "if we can't stop them, let's beat them at their own game" approach a decade ago at our SXSW meeting on the subject.
Side note: Once the group decided, Hoodlums went along, and watched the indies take exclusives to another notch (because indie business are always more creative than corporate whores), with the final result being Record Store Day.
Third, I still get cold sweats thinking about the logistics from the inside. You see, like all things in the music industry, the greed of the record labels has done a nice job of screwing things up. There's too many titles in the first place, so the buying decisions are tricky, and costs are staggering. Even when you do decided what to buy, the quantity/allocation system is totally inadequate, and ironically, stacked in favor of the bigger indie chains. I couldn't be happier I'm not dealing with it this year.
Finally, and most of all, I hate hype.
Let me rephrase that.
I really hate hype.
You know what I mean, and you aren't even in the industry. Our lives are full of it everywhere. If you run a business, you have to do it. We all do it via our social networks. Hype, hype, hype.
What you didn't know is that the music industry invented hype. And the first point of attack is indie record stores, where new artists are born.
So ironically, the thought of hyping up Record Store Day now that I don't have to do it for the store, even though I'm a true record store geek, is just too much for me to take.
Oh, C'mon, Just a Little Hype. For Your Indie Brothers and Sisters.
Nope. I shall hype RSD no further. Not even for my editor. If you really need it, look here.
Because, as you can see, I'm not the kind of geek that celebrates record stores one day per year, I'm the kind of geek that's been celebrating them my whole life.
And I'm going to keep celebrating them, in this column, long after Record Store Day is over.
So for the next few weeks, I'm going to ramble poetic about record stores and the crazy industry that supports them. The unwritten rules. The wacky customers. The best perks. The most annoying industry tricks.
I might even call some of my indie brethren for help.
If you don't go to a record store tomorrow, you'll be going to one when I'm done with you.
It's the least I can do to keep the boss happy.
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Thanks for reading.
Next week: Record Store 101: Watch Me Sell This Record
PS.Without intending to do so, it turns out I already started this series last week with Record Store Reminiscing: Arguing About Music.