Will the last record shop please remember to turn off the lights?

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I’m sure there won’t be many of you who won’t have heard the news about high street music and entertainment retailer HMV going into administration, after years of struggling to compete against the likes of Amazon, Play.com, etc. Thousands of jobs are at risk, hundreds of stores could close, and the rest of us will be left without a major music retailer on the high street. Like Our Price, Andy’s Records, Virgin Megastore/Zavvi, Music Zone, and others before it, HMV are set to be consigned to history’s dustbin, a sign of changing times.

True, they didn’t adapt to the modern day demands of the high street, overcharged for their stock in the face of persistent online competition. Even shifting their strategy didn’t work. Even selling their book arm Waterstone’s didn’t help. But as my brother correctly pointed out, there’s nothing like buying an album in its physical form, and reading through the liner notes on the bus home. We live now in a world obsessed with the digital format, conveniently cheaper, with less production costs and with a myriad of options, be it Spotify, Reverbnation, PledgeMusic, iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp, and so on. Why pay £9.99 for one album when you can pay £9.99 a month to stream anything you want? It’s a far cry from the days where there was genuine excitement about going to HMV, or any record shop for that matter. I once hopped on the bus to Leeds to buy Muncipal Waste’s ‘The Art of Partying‘, so excited that thrash was on the rebound at the time, and I listened to it all the way home, wanting to bang my head throughout the journey even if it meant looking like I’d broken out of the asylum. Hell, I remember 15-year old me, still listening to rap music, excited to take home Dr. Dre’s ‘2001‘  (Yes, really. I’ve undergone a revolution since then, haven’t I?). And then a little later in my life, stuff like Slayer’s ‘God Hates Us All‘ that heralded my initiation into metal. I still remember the day me and my brother sat down with the finally purchased ‘Reign In Blood‘, hurriedly brought home at soon as the bus would deliver me home. In that CD went into our hi-fi system, and we did nothing else but sit and peruse the liner notes, and comment occasionally on what an awesome song that was. It’s not the same with iTunes, or Spotify, is it? That charm. That feeling of an actual product in your hands, coming out of your hi-fi, your portable CD player and so on.

Even so, nostalgia alone isn’t going to save HMV. It’s demise is a sad, sad day for the music industry, in my opinion. With no major music retailer to cling onto now, its left to the remaining indie record shops in this country to pick up the slack. They’re already fighting a battle to survive, highlighted by the annual Record Store Day event where top artists contribute limited edition vinyl releases to get numbers back in the doors of our record shops. But they don’t have the advertising power of a Tesco’s, or a Sainsburys, to get people to convert to indie and rock and more, in favour of the mainstream choice. This day has been predicted for some time, but now it seems to have arrived, we must question whether there is a future for record shops in this country.

I certainly hope so. Where I live, I’m lucky to be a bus ride away from Revo Records in Halifax, Wall of Sound in Huddersfield, and Jumbo Records or Crash Records in Leeds. My finances and lack of house space are starting to grind on how many CDs I can keep, but will it stop me? It depends if I continue to be absorbed in by the internet. I’m as guilty as anyone, and I bet there aren’t many people around who still rely solely on record shops in this country, or on the physical product. But we must continue to support our record stores, irrespective of HMV’s final calling. They’re a bastion of physical and human knowledge, interest and fervour. Its still a different world altogether, where we can truly appreciate the goods in our hands, and converse with like minded people who can understand us and fully hold a dialogue with us about the product you’re about to purchase without switching off with disinterest or non-inclusion.

But times are changing ever onward. And whether you agreed with HMV’s pricing strategy, or whether they even mattered to you, let’s admit it – its an ominous bell that tolls for the humble record store.

Peter Clegg

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