Saturday, April 7, 2007

we hate it when our friends become successful.

Recently, I decided to make the short trek up to Dupont Circle to go crate-digging for some vinyl. I stopped in at some used record shops and asked where I could get an LCD Soundsystem release on vinyl—I was told to visit Crooked Beat, which was only a fifteen minute walk from where I was. I decided to stop in at Crooked Beat, because, for the longest time, I heard about how influential the shop was on the DC music scene—notorious for putting out bands like Fugazi, The Dismemberment Plan, Q and Not U, Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Ted Leo (among a plethora of others).

I was a bit dismayed when I finally got to Crooked Beat, though. The shop did not have many of its own “Top Ten Albums of the Week”, though I decided that it was better not to ask why (it’s worth adding that they did not have CD versions of the releases, either—which really shocked me). I looked through the stacks of vinyl, hoping to find a gem or two—a record by Air, Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem or Death From Above 1979 would have made my trip successful; alas, I was to go home disappointed.

I finally settled on Gorillaz’ “Demon Days” because I knew that bsto had been after it for awhile, but I can’t say that I was thrilled that this was all I was going to leave with. I asked the solitary man working the shop if he expected any shipments soon.

“What label do you want releases from?” he asked.

“DFA, mostly,” I said.

He explained to me that many small labels were distributed by larger labels (a fact I had already been aware of—DFA is distributed by Capitol Records). What he went on to say, though, was that these big labels have deals with chain stores (Wal Mart, Best Buy, etc) that gives the chain stores the exclusive rights to vinyl for the first few weeks—even though these blockbuster shops do not ever sell vinyl. In addition, these stores get most of the first shipments of records—record sales are based on units shipped, not the actual number of records sold. This allows the sales figures to appear large when they are actually vastly inflated. Small mom-and-pop stores get smaller shipments—there are more Best Buy outlets than there are independent record shops in this country, and the labels are all catering to the larger stores. Economically, this makes sense, but I believe this is a very harmful practice.

Most people who are out to buy LCD Soundsystem records are not Wal Mart loyalists—and most Wal Mart stalwarts do not listen to LCD Soundsystem. This is exactly where the problem lies. I understand that it is hard for small shops to stay open in the age of downloading, and I also realize that bands love having their albums readily available to the public. But, why disadvantage the small shops even more? Would it really hurt labels if they made their releases exclusive to small shops for the first two weeks after their release? I really don’t think so—people after the latest Arcade Fire wouldn’t want to buy it Best Buy if they could buy it at a small, independent shop around the corner, and I’m sure that Best Buy would not lose all that much money.

This system would keep loyal music fans in loyal music shops. It would reward music shops for only selling music. And, after MTV hypes the hell out of a band, the record would have been out for at least a few months, and people would be able to go to any shop and pick up the album.

I understand that being in Wal Mart and Best Buy allows albums that would previously be called “obscure” to be purchased in out-of-the-way areas that are not big city music hotbeds, and I also hate the kids who hate it when their favorite bands get famous. But, really, the bands and labels have to think about what they are doing: putting the music stores that they loitered in during their idle teen years--the shops that probably instilled their love of music and made them want to make a career out of playing nu synth spazz jazz-- out of business. It’s great that people can go out and buy a LCD Soundsystem CD when they’re in the middle of Arkansas, because I know that the band puts out quality records that deserve to be heard, but there has to be a system that can be implemented that allows people to purchase vinyl of the band—the current system that gives vinyl rights to “big box” retailers that don’t even sell vinyl is ridiculous.

Then again, it’s not like anything is going to change. Small shops are going to be priced out because they do not have the purchasing power of big box Best Buy. Should Best Buy feel bad about that? It’s not bad business that they don’t—I just want the indie labels to consider the fact that their most staunch supporters—indie record shops—are being left to die a slow, monetary-deprived death.