Record Store Mausoleum

I STRETCHED MY IMAGINATION, and found it strange to contemplate what it would be like if I was not able to walk into a record store and physically buy music anymore; if our record stores were replaced by mere digital cafes, for us to sit and stare at snow white computer screens lacking in character and for us to click our way to musical satisfaction - no frustrating plastic packaging to brawl with and no tangible cover booklets to peruse. It isn’t incredulous to say that record stores could die and find their remnants tumble weeding through a record store mausoleum of memories in the very near future. 
 By the same token, shouldn’t music’s significance be the same regardless of the vehicle that it uses to travel to your ear drum? Many consider the accompaniment of album artwork and the full track listing (in the order that the album was meant to be played) to be crucial aspects of the music listening experience. But is that just stubborn nostalgia?  A music addict’s reluctance to rid themselves of sentiment? An unwillingness to move into the future? The answers to these questions are convoluted and highly subjective – so I decided to give Mark Weinstein, the co-founder of California’s Amoeba Records (the biggest independent record stores in the world and a mecca for any music collector), a call to see what he thinks. 

 KEBA: Do you think that records are important to the process of listening to music?

MARK WEINSTEIN: Well, it’s different for everybody so it’s hard to make a broad statement like that. But certainly for people who really care about an artist, it’s the best way to experience their music for sure because it’s sort of like the best hard copy or master copy you can have of a musician’s art.  So, you know, it kind of represents a real commitment to the artist to have the LP. And to experience the art of the music that way is the biggest commitment you can make to the artist compared to, obviously, MP3’s.
 K: How do you feel about downloading music? Do you download at all?

MW: I don’t at all, personally. Never have. It’s not really a stance that I’m taking it’s just that I like, you know, I’ve got enough CDs and records to keep me busy for the rest of my life. And the convenience factor is not such a big issue for me. It’s really a convenience thing why people download files.  I can see, on a convenience level why it’s a good thing to have. But it’s not the way I like to experience it myself.

K: So, since the internet has become so popular and downloading music have sales at Amoeba gone down at all?

MW: Um…especially in this Berkeley store, they have gone down some.  But in San Francisco and especially in LA, they haven’t gone down at all really. Like in LA, where whole families come into the store and spread out and shop in our store, but this [Berkeley]  is a very student oriented area and students either want MP3s or they want vinyl.  They don’t even want CDs anymore.

K: Do you think that record shops will ever go away? Kind of like how books now – like, have you heard of the Kindle?

MW: Yeah I know about it, it’s like the iPod for books.

K: Yeah, do you think record shops will ever totally disappear?

MW: Well, I think most of them already have. I don’t think it’ll get any worse than it is now.  But, in that respect, I think that there is always going to be a market for record stores.  Not only for, cool collectable things, but, you know, just a place to go hang out where people are into music.  You know, hard copies will always be desired by people who are into an artist.  So you know, I don’t think that – I mean, I’m sure we’ll be some of the last one’s standing.  There just aren’t that many left. I think 75% of all the record stores in the US are gone.

K: Yeah, I know of two around were I live that have closed…

MW: Where are you calling from?

K: Philadelphia.

MW: Yeah, I know, I noticed, I heard about stores that closed recently in Philly.  Yeah it’s really sad, especially when the combination of a community not supporting a store and the store itself being in a rut or falling into holes financially, all those things can close a store. One of the iconic cultural resources that they grew up with. And that’s brutal.  But you know, it’ll somewhat continue to happen and I think, unfortunately, bookstores will go the same way as record stores.  What’ll be left are a few good ones.  That’ll be it.

K: Especially independent ones.

MW: Yeah, oh, we’re finding online – we’re building a website ourselves.  It has been interesting to find out that the cost of building a significant digital downloading site is so vast that no independent store could even have a chance at it on their own; and that’s really sad. It’s all centralized, all the power, with the big corporations as usual. That’s what’s happening.  It’s pathetic.

K: So why did you start Amoeba in the first place?

MW: Well, a lot of reasons. But mainly, I got a record store job when I was in high school and it’s all I’ve ever done my whole life.  The kind of passion that people have for their music and—I just felt like, you’re going to have to live in society and sell something for a living. You know, that’s something that you can really believe in. It’s art and it’s also affordable. It’s not like working in an art gallery, you know. It’s beautiful art and you can have it for ten bucks, and it’s a great thing. I just love being in a place where people are getting stuff that’s going to make them happy. ◊