Tomorrow is the 2010 edition of Record Store Day, and I was going to go on about all the cool swag that you can pick up in the United States and in the United Kingdom tomorrow at your local independent shop. However, it dawned on me that I have never talked about record stores in terms of the thing that has developed my love of music more than anything else in my adult life: my time as a music store employee/manager.
Music store employees are a mixed bag of society, but they usually fall into three categories: students who are looking for money to go out and hang with friends, but who really don’t care where they work; people who have another interest in life, but really like music, and have a p/t record store job to feed their hobby; and the music geeks, who sometimes go as far as never holding any other job besides stocking and alphabetizing CDs.
If you could make a living wage doing so, I would still be in the last category. Scratch that…if you could make a living wage and also enjoy the holidays, I would still be in that last category.
My first record store job was while I was in college at Record Theatre, which is still alive and kicking in Buffalo, although the stores I knew in Syracuse and Rochester have been closed for years. I helped open one of the stores in Syracuse in 1988, right around the time that CDs were just starting to get a hold on the market. One of my first vivid memories was cutting boxes open and stacking them at the front of the store in preparation for Christmas shoppers with titles like REM and Anita Baker. Anyone remember CD longboxes? They may have been an environmental disaster, but they were great for merchandising CDs.
One cool thing about record stores is that each store either attracts an army of fans of one type of music, or it attracts one fan of each genre. If you look at the title of this blog, you’ll see where my knowledge lays. People were pretty stunned that a 19-year-old kid had such a knowledge of not only current pop music, but of music dating back into the 60s. (Mom, if I’ve never thanked you for that, thanks.) I quickly became the go-to guy for singles, and I felt like I had found my calling. However, life (and school) took me out of town, and left that job.
Once I got out of school, my mission was to find a job in radio, but retail management called to pay the bills until then. There was a new Record Town/Saturday Matinee store in the mall I worked at, and I hounded them mercilessly to let me work at least part-time. About a year later, I got my chance, and took on a third-key management position. That started a 7 year run as a store manager for Record Town first, and then Camelot Music (which was then purchased by Record Town’s parent company). In fact, my first store of my own was a hole-in-the-wall Tape World in the Camillus Mall outside of Syracuse. It was more like Tape Alley than World, but it was mine. These stores were opened by the same company as Record Town in order to have a stronger presence within the same mall, and while I hated having such a small store, it set me up for bigger things within the company.
One great thing about my music management days is that they lead to me moving around a bit, and I got to see parts of the country that I didn’t even know that I wanted to see. I fell in love with western North Carolina and Asheville after having been in Greensboro for two years, I DIDN’T fall in love with Miami after having been stationed there for a mere seven months, and I met some of my most enduring friends during my two years living in Atlanta. I even had a false start in moving to Denver as a manager of a Blockbuster Music, but at the last minute I turned down the offer.
Anyone remember Blockbuster Music? Yeah…they’re gone, just like Camelot, Record Town, and Tape World. The remaining stores are now called FYE, and they are closing at least 100 of them a year, although they continue to hang in there, selling video games, DVDs, and any pop culture crap you can think of. That’s why Record Store Day is so important to me. These folks respect the music, and it is much more than a business. Believe me, if they were in it for the money, they wouldn’t be doing this. They do it for the love, and I respect that more than I can ever fully express. So get out and patronize your local music stores today and regularly. You never know what you will find. (I will be reporting back on my finds later today)