Right then, Hands up if you got some sort of music bought for you for Christmas. Now then, what was it? Did you get a nice CD or maybe some gorgeous vinyl? Yeah, me too. But I’m sure some of you also got either an iTunes voucher or the promise of some sort of downloaded music too. Correct? Thought so.
Now, I’ve written about physical vs downloaded music debate before, but this reared it’s head again with me just before Christmas when it became apparent that the lack of music retailers available now is a huge pain in the arse. A friend of mine at work wanted to buy a relative a CD as a gift and had to ask where in town she could actually find a shop selling CD’s. And you know what, when we thought about it there weren’t that many to choose from. It left me feeling very sad. To make matter worse I saw a tweet from someone a few days later saying that HMV was absolutely rammed when he was out shopping. And why was that? Cos people want to buy bloody physical music and films, that’s why. Pah.
I went Christmas shopping at one of the faceless, shopping malls we all love so much and my partner had a look at what shops were there online before we went. He informed me that HMV had closed down and that there were no music shops there any more at all. I was gutted. He was in fact wrong though (or the internet was) as HMV was still there. And of course it was packed and we struggled to get near anything. Which is interesting if people are supposedly not buying physical music any more. Hmm…
I went to a gig not long ago and afterwards I bought a rather beautiful limited edition purple vinyl from the merch lady and also got it signed by the artist. Now buying at a gig is all part of being a fan. You may be lucky enough to get some really great stuff that you can’t get anywhere else. Could I buy this vinyl in a shop? Not likely. I may get it online, but would it be the correct one? Doubtful. And I definitely wouldn’t be able to get a signed copy of it. That in fact takes a mixture of a certain little smile, along with a little charm and a lot of style to go with it (wink). Or just polite harassment, you choose. Which is why buying in person for me is always better than taking your chances online. Plus I can now look at my signed vinyl and smile. I can’t do that with a download can I? Well, I could, but I think people would be slightly more concerned about me than they usually are…
My partner knows that if I enter a music shop I will disappear without a trace in approximately 10 seconds flat. He’s given up trying to keep up with me and knows that at some point I will appear again by the front door to find him. It’s a fact of life. I go into a music shop, I will be kept occupied for a considerable amount of time while I roam the aisles. I love checking what is on offer, seeing if there’s an album I haven’t got or looking at the staff recommendations to find something new.
When I was younger we had a couple of independent retailers in my home town. Me and my brother used to love going to them and wasting away time looking for bargains. There was also the institution that was ‘Woolworths’ when we were growing up. I think I bought most of my 7 inch singles from there to be honest. It was a sad day when these shops closed down and our town had nowhere to buy music from. We had friends who worked in these stores and lost their jobs when they shut. We had to go further a field to buy CD’s. It was the beginning of the end and for music fanatics it was the grim reality that it would never be the same again.
Another mate of mine who also happens to be musician, fully embraced the digital age of music not that long ago. He got rid of all his beloved vinyl and CD’s and now only uses Spotify to stream his music. When I asked him why he’d chosen to do this he told me that he is fully aware that physical music is going to disappear in the near future and he is preparing himself for it in advance. Brave man. This is not something I can even consider doing though as I love my CD’s way too much for that. When I moved house a few years ago I had to go through my boxes of singles and ended up chucking away some of the older, rather obscure ones that I had collected over the years. It was a painful experience and even now I have the awful feeling that I might have accidentally binned something I wanted to keep. My partner didn’t understand. He basically owns about 10 bloody CD’s himself so he has no idea.
My brother on the other hand does understand these things. He came to a gig with me not long ago and we were having an in-depth debate about vinyl on the way there. There has been a so called ‘vinyl revival’ of late where folks seem to be going back to buying the format over mp3. I said this to my bro who looked at me with a raised eyebrow and said “Well I’ve never actually stopped buying vinyl Nic”. To be fair he is a DJ so I guess I can let him off on this occasion. But I do think he is correct. The muso’s among us will no doubt be of the same opinion. Vinyl never actually went anywhere in the first place. We then had a long and rather interesting conversation about white label records and how you had to be in the know to be able to find the rare ones. None of this ordering them over the internet, nope. You had to visit a record shop and hope they had a copy somewhere under the counter (and that they liked you enough to sell it to you) as they weren’t advertised. Those were the days.
When HMV collapsed a few years ago it didn’t look good for music retail. The availability of cheap CD’s in supermarkets was blamed and of course the online market such as Amazon. Funny thing is, the supermarkets I go in only ever have a very small selection of CD’s and usually only the so called ‘chart’ and not much else. Amazon does fare better I guess. I have bought quite a few albums from here, mainly because I can’t pick them up in a shop myself. Some of the HMV shops were saved, but the fact that the flagship store in Oxford Street has gone is something of a crime. I spent a lot of time pacing those 3 floors and it was one of the many places I liked to shop when I lived in London. They now have a smaller place not that far away, but it’s just not the same.
I was over the moon when a local campaign to save Fopp here in Nottingham worked last year. The store was under threat of closure as their lease was coming to an end, but some local people got together to protest and finally they found somewhere it could relocate to. It’s a great shop and every time I walk past it there and tons of people inside having a good look around. Fopp are leading on the vinyl revival and are proud to state on their walls that vinyl is killing mp3. Very nice indeed.
The debate is ongoing and could be considered to be about preferences (as are most things in life). We sadly now have a lack of places where we can embrace music, be part of the discussion and spend our time thumbing through the LP’s on offer in the hope of finding that little something special. We should support our local independent music retailers as much as possible because without them this becomes a thing of the past and those among us who truly love the physical aspect of buying and owning music will be left with no option but to become online consumers. And as someone whose house basically looks like a small branch of HMV, I can definitely say that it’s not as much fun.