Keep Record Stores Alive!

For the last 10 years, the music industry has been in a state of tension and upheaval. Napster,  Rhapsody and iTunes came along and changed the game completely. With the transition from CD to MP3 as the dominant format for selling music, record stores have fallen into an awkward abyss between becoming completely extinct and being totally revived by the retro and vintage-loving hipster generation. With major chain stores like Tower Records closing down in 2006, few places were left for people to buy music in any physical format, whether it be vinyl records or CDs.

So what are music fans left to do? Do we give in completely to the iPod agenda and relinquish our boomboxes and turntables completely? Or do we fight back and try to keep a dying industry alive?

For those of you who have never experienced the joy of walking through a record store, you may not understand the argument for keeping these musical dinosaurs alive. Sure, the convenience and ease of iTunes and music downloading can’t be beaten and yeah, you can carry around thousands of songs in your pocket, but compressed MP3 files are a substandard form of music. Yes, as snobbish as that sounds, it’s true.  There is an undeniable richness to music on vinyl records, and once you notice the difference, your music-listening experience will forever be changed. As college students, it’s extremely easy to get all your music for free on your computer, but we urge you to resist that temptation and instead head to your local record store and see what a difference it will make.

MP3s will never have the power to entice all your senses the way records can Ń sight, sound, smell, touch and even taste if you’re weird like that. Touching the plastic grooves, smelling the old, yellowed paper of an antique album sleeve, analyzing the album art and of course, listening to the music, all combine to make one incredible sensory experience.

Records stores like Amoeba Music and Rasputin Records need to survive, or else we’ll all be left listening to MP3s, shuffling through certain songs and skipping entire albums.  Record stores are treasure troves of audio pleasures; they are time capsules for our music culture, preserving the songs of generations past. When you abandon record stores, you are demolishing years of musical history, purely for the sake of convenience. Walk through the aisles of Amoeba Records in Hollywood, and you will see decades’ worth of music, all waiting to be discovered. From every mega-band you love to the obscure sleeper hit waiting to be heard, every genre and time period is represented. Record stores are museums for music, and looking through the album covers is like glancing at artwork.

Record stores are the last place where album art can survive and be truly appreciated. Album cover art is dying, and its only hope is places like Amoeba. In the ’60s and ’70s, album artwork was as integral and emblematic as the music itself. Images like the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “The Velvet Underground & Nico” have become symbolic images that could be instantly recognized by almost anyone. When was the last emblematic album cover produced in the last 10 or 15 years?  iTunes has destroyed this art too by shrinking down album covers into a thumbnail just a few pixels wide.

With digital music, we lose the sense of discovery and trial and error once key to finding music, and we also lose the social experience that buying music used to be. Now you just buy a single, enjoy it while it’s still fresh, forget it and skip to the next Ke$ha song Đ all from your couch, and all without interacting with other music lovers. Walking through a record store, on the other hand, is a treasure hunt on its own; spend hours roaming the aisles, sparking up conversations and fanning through stacks upon stacks of records, and your eyes won’t know where to look (or listen).

Finding music should be a labor of love. Yes, vinyl records are more expensive, you have to go to a record store and you can’t sample songs before you buy them in the store, but none of that should really matter once you lay your hands on the record you’ve been looking for. It’s about taking a chance and buying an album you’ve never heard of, taking it home and discovering what may be your new favorite song. It’s about investing in the music you love and owning something tangible that can be passed down to future generations. It’s about going to a musical haven, exploring the sights and sounds until you find what suits you, meeting people with whom you can share that discovery experience and immersing yourself into every element of music.

So join the legions of people who have discovered the wonderland of sights and sounds that is their local record store and support them with your hard-earned cash. You will be rewarded in more ways than you know.

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