Today is record store day. I have mixed feelings about this “celebration.” And not because it’s a manufactured celebration. Of course it’s going to get appropriated by the industry — just a glance at my Facebook and Twitter feeds reveals that you can pick up really special versions of hundreds of albums today, including a new Springsteen package — and of course the local businesses are going to get excited, because it’ll perk up business for a day.
It’s because — let’s face it — this is a jolt from the defribillators on a patient that’s been shot in the stomach. Record stores currently carry CDs, and CDs aren’t going to survive, and when CDs go, there isn’t something obvious to take their place (unlike cassette tapes — remember those, kids?). It certainly won’t be vinyl, which I call “The Great Black Nope.” Vinyl is cool, but realistically it’s just a Luddite reaction to the digitalization of music and something for hipsters and oldsters to own.
I still shop in record stores, even though I don’t even own an iPod or similar device and even though I write for a magazine that gets half its material digitally. I buy used CDs and then head home and rip them onto my computer. It would be nice if my car had something that played MP3s, but heck, right now it doesn’t even play the radio.
So what is it about record stores that keep me going back? It’s the compression. The concision of choice. A filter of people who know the music and can recommend something.
But most of all, it’s the racks and racks of CDs. You can flip through them. How great is it to hear the clack of case after case as you sort through Dion to find Dire Straits? How much fun is it to go into a store like Sound Garden here in Baltimore and see “Ryan ‘Don’t Call Me Bryan’ Adams” on one of those plastic dividers? How important is it for some people in your town to have a job? These are all things that I want to see preserved. But think the death of a physical music product is doomed, and that’s something I don’t want to stick around.
What’s the solution? I can envision what it might take for record stores to survive: You keep all those cases, but the music is digital. You just walk through the store, find something you like in the rack. Your cell phone scans the bar code, downloads the music when you check out at the front desk. Your car radio will play MP3s right from the device. You can call up the cover art and everything else on the screen, and it plugs right into your computer. Even the booklet has become interactive, with a bouncing ball over the lyrics.
Maybe a lot of us will miss that feeling of holding a CD case — I know many people missed the feeling of holding a vinyl in its sleeve (no one misses cassettes, because we liked our music not to be destroyed at the whim of the device that plays it) — but the nostalgia won’t stop the march of technology. I think more of us would miss record stores than would miss the things they happen to be selling at the moment.
So get something today if you want to. But you might want to ask the folks at your local record store when you’re checking out what their plan is for tomorrow when everyone goes back to the internet for their music needs.
—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)