Saturday, April 19, 2008

Record Store Day!

I'll be the first to admit that I don't get down to browse the stacks at Zia quite as much as I used to do, so the timing of Record Store Day is a good reminder for me of all that is good and holy about the record store.

I've certainly embraced the digital music realm and there's no question that downloading is an incredibly option. Not only that, it has changed how I approach the record store. I have to be more focused, have a list in mind of things to look for and zero in on a few albums or bands I've been looking for. Aimless wandering isn't quite the same as in the olden days of a couple years ago.

I used to take a couple hours or more from time to time and run straight through the alphabet, from A to Z, then the same through country, jazz and blues and hip-hop. That wasn't every-trip behavior, but there is no way to ensure you won't leave some treasure behind in the store unless you go through everything.

I'm in the midst of the slow and excruciating process of ripping all my music from CDs onto a monster hard drive. I'd say I'm well past "tip of the iceberg," but still a ways short of claiming to have ripped anywhere near a majority of the collection.

Anyway, I got the idea last night when I was thinking about this Record Store Day to set up a playlist of all the CDs I've purchased used from Zia Records. I've bought maybe a couple dozen used CDs from other places (my precious few trips to Amoeba Records in S.F. & Berkeley, now-defunct stores like Zips and CD Depot, Hastings for a short while and a few from Stinkweeds when it used to be in Tempe) but the vast majority of of my record shopping has been at Zia.

The playlist stands at 102 CDs now and that's sure to more than double, possibly triple or even more. And that's going strictly by those little yellow stickers on the spine. I used to pull those off for some reason, so there are a number of albums that will slip through the cracks of my search.

Now that's going back over probably 12 or 13 years (dating to my first Zia trips, when a visit to a real record store was one of the central components of a road trip to Phoenix) but I think that really underscores just how important good independent record stores have been to me - and just how much I've contributed to their well-being (or perhaps survival might be the better term now).

I've certainly bought plenty of new CDs (very rarely at the Best Buy type stores, a few dozen from my BMG and Columbia House days, but again mostly from Zia) but it's the used stock that has formed the core of my collection and really the core of my experience with music - discovering, devouring and all in all falling in love with all types and styles.

For a good number of years I've operated on the theory that no matter what albums you want - obscure, new, import, local, classics - you will eventually find them used on the Zia racks, so long as you are patient and diligent. And I'd reckon that's proven true about nine times out of 10.

Who knows why people sell or exchange music? I've gotten rid of very few albums, mostly just those ill-advised MTV-influenced back in junior high, the ones that would be the root of lifelong embarrassment (Paula Abdul's Spellbound, anybody?). There are CDs stuck on my homemade shelves (which are really quite an impressive achievement for what couldn't possibly be considered anything more than meager carpenter skills - thanks Dad) that I'll almost certainly never listen to again. But those are such a distinct minority (countable on one hand?) that I've never really bothered to purge the collection after a certain point. Besides, is there a record store on Earth that will ever buy back another copy of Hootie's Cracked Rear View? In some ways those purchases are just artifacts, proof that somewhere along the line all music fans made some choices that didn't really pan out.

While I'm actively engaged in a process that will end up with the vast majority of my (1000?) CDs taking a permanent, untouched place upon the shelf, I still don't think in any way the CD is yet dead, and much less so the record store. That's coming from a hopeful perspective to be sure, but there are plenty of reasons to think there's a lot of life left in the commercial trade of physical music specimens. First is the used CD market, which I've already described as a thriving and robust one and for the buyer and incredible option. A whole CD, liner notes and all, for $7 or $8 or $9 is a hell of a deal over low-quality or even acceptable quality digital files for $9.99 or more. (Now there are drawbacks to used CDs, chiefly that the artist doesn't get any cut, but it's that cyclical trade that is the lifeblood of a lot of remaining brick & mortar record stores, so I think the trade-off works.)

Add in the resurgence in vinyl sales and the record store as community meeting place or cultural square devoted to music lovers and I think it's a survivable equation. Big box stores may see dwindling reasons to stock music as more people move to digital, but record store customers have never been the same folks who seek out their James Blunt at Wal-Mart. Real music fans are the ones with stacks of CDs spilling over everywhere, an iPod or two, a hard drive with dozens and dozens (if not hundreds - I'm passed 153 and plenty more to go) of gigs of tunes. They're the ones who download bootlegs and stuff they never thought they'd actually see in physical form. And they're the ones who still can't get by without a regular trip to their record store.

I decided a few years back to get any brand-new albums from one of my favorites at Zia, the day it came out, unless the band was touring through Tucson soon enough and I could buy the new record at the show. So while my record store trips have declined some since the pre-Napster peak, the expenditures have remained pretty steady.

I'm off in a bit for Record Store Day at Zia, to see Chango Malo perform and hopefully walk out with a few used CDS. And I'll be back, over and over and over again.

Chango Malo - Dufrane Larue

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