Get offline and save your local record store, one album at a time
Nathan Mattise for The Daily Orange | April 1, 2008
There are too many devastating trends happening in our country right now. We've got a five-year-old war, extreme political divisiveness, education and income gaps and Gap stores that use "Puffy" in their advertising (alright maybe not that last one, but you get the point).
All of these are on my radar, but I'm a pop culture kid. It seems like people are a less aware of the potential music industry tragedy that's tearing up my heart and soul more than Justin Timberlake ever could.
The college town record store is slowly disappearing, and the future of musical diversity lies in the balance.
Recently, the Raleigh News & Observer ran a feature about the closing of Schoolkids Records - the last of the local music stores surrounding University of North Carolina's campus. The store had to shut down due to higher CD prices, online music access and less disposable college income due to higher tuitions and near-campus rent.
The Tar Heels aren't alone. According to the piece, multiple local music shops have recently shut down in State College, Pa. (Penn State), Iowa City, Iowa (Iowa) and Boulder, Col. (Colorado) among others. In order to survive, places like The Sound Garden have to find ways to adapt while maintaining that atmosphere any good local record store needs.
"Today you have to carry DVDs, we carry vinyl and we carry as much of that stuff as we can," said Mike Watson, a manager at Sound Garden down in Armory Square. "Someday we'll probably adventure into video games, Blu-rays. You need to get into all of it to survive, just to stay on your toes. We're definitely aware of what's going on, but we'll adapt with our own style."
Consider the role of music in a college atmosphere. College is the time to constantly have a stereo playing in the background. It's the time for concerts less than 20 dollars within a three-hour drive. It's the time to ask the music snob on your floor what new band with a noun and two adjective for a name he's spinning this week. (Think about it: Neutral Milk Hotel started this trend back in the day).
College is the time to get the name of a CD you won't hear on the radio anytime soon and feel the need to own it immediately. None of this circle of melodic life exists without the local record store.
"You're in college not to learn the same old stuff, you want to learn new things so you don't just listen to the radio anymore," Watson said. "You want new bands and new music. Major record stores carry stuff just from the major distributors. They won't have indie things we carry - the psychadelic jazz, the local acts. And if you can't find it here, we can special order things. You can't do that at Best Buy or FYE."
In pre-iTunes days, all of this meant heading down to charming hole-in-the-walls like Syracuse's own Sound Garden. You'd have to physically enter the store lined with posters, interact with the musical librarian behind the cash register and inevitably end up buying three CDs more than you intended. Here at Syracuse, this experience still exists. Our fellow college students nationwide aren't as fortunate.
Back home, without a local record store, the first three CDs I ever owned were (in no particular order): "What's The Story Morning Glory," by Oasis; "Saturday Night Fever," a soundtrack mainly featuring The Bee Gees; and "Bad Hair Day," by Weird Al.
Here in Syracuse with access to engage my basic musical right to listen, the last three CDs I bought were by Nas, The National and Phil Collins. If that doesn't prove my point nothing will.
So it's time for the local music scenes to bond together. Avoid the temptations of LimeWire. Promise yourself to invest in a new release once a month. Acquire albums of every band you see live. Take the "Pay it Forward" mentality and introduce one new music enthusiast to the local record store then encourage them to do the same. Put your headphones down and do something.
Remember, the next time a Dell commercial comes on and you sense your toes tapping, avoid iTunes or the Hype Machine. Buy that Flaming Lips album locally. Your college music experience may depend on it. You know the alternative; nobody wants to be stuck with the radio. My friend Leslie says they play that Hannah Montana tune all the time.
Nathan Mattise is a weekly pop-culture columnist for The Daily Orange. His columns appear on Tuesdays. His floor music snob freshman year was named Christopher, and he'd appreciate a Beulah shout out here. Mattise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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