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Record Stores: Relics or Relevance?


In today’s music market, there is a seemingly-endless array of options in terms of accessibility for consumers—CDs, digital downloads, Internet radio stations, mobile radio stations, Internet streaming, etc. As a 21-year-old, I am what I like to call a “digital native”—someone who grew up during the rise of technologies like the Internet, the iPod and cell phones.

The opposite of digital natives would be someone like my much older, nearly-ancient editor. We call them “digital immigrants.” Many of us natives have used most, if not all of the digital music media options out there and as punishment, constantly find ourselves explaining them to the immigrants.

However, there are those like him who would argue that we digital natives have sacrificed quality for immediacy, so I decided to check out a local record store and see if they had more than just nostalgia to offer the prospective customer.

My question is this: are vinyl records, or the brick and mortar stores they're often sold in, really relevant in today’s digitally-dominant society? 

Vinyl records are a medium through which the popular music of today is rarely distributed. In my own personal experience, I have never listened to music through a record player. My go-to for musical purchases is largely dependent upon iTunes recommendations and charts. This is primarily due to the lack of exposure to vinyl records that is afforded to the youth of today. That is not to say, however, that vinyl is a dying musical medium. For Douglas Holland, owner of local record store Jerk Dog Records, vinyl is simply a personal choice. 


“I believe [digital music and vinyl] can coexist,” Holland states. His goal is to motivate the generation of people—like so many of the digital natives—that bypassed the era of vinyl. “They went straight from CDs to digital and didn’t get the vinyl.” For Holland, that isn’t ignorance—it’s a tragedy. 

“I think the immediacy of [digital music] is great,” Holland says. But he believes that vinyl records and record stores in general provide a social aspect of music that you can’t get from a digital format. Even though there isn’t a single button you can press to start a play list at a party with a vinyl record, there is something to be said for the beauty of the manual labor needed to play a record. “It’s not a thing you can just put on and forget about. You have to take care of the record, you have to store it properly, and you have to flip it over. You are a participant in playing it.”

Even though I am a digital native, and even though I have never experienced the purity of the sound that comes from a vinyl record, I can understand the appreciation for the physical beauty of the vinyl record. To me, the topic of the relevance of vinyl records in today’s digital world is similar to the debate of e-books vs. hard copy books. There will always be people who will support both preferences. While I am a strong supporter of physical books, I can certainly see the benefits that come out of e-books for some people. But that’s a topic for another day.

My name is Dennis Maley and I've just learned that I am a digital immigrant. Truth be told, I'm a reluctant one at that, like someone who lives in a foreign country, but only because they were kidnapped or skipped out when their own became occupied by a violent invader.


Though I've worked in digital media for the past five years, I've been a late adopter of just about every technology from an iPod, which took me eight years, to smart phones, which I just made the jump to last January. My house is a mini library and I still cringe when I see my 10-year-old son on his Kindle.

I love records because I think the sound is infinitely better than anything you're going to hear on a digital file. The faint, little scratchy hiss behind the silent pause between tracks, the warmth of the music itself, the artistry of album covers and the intimacy of liner notes.

I was in high school when record stores (which were mostly selling CDs and cassettes) began dying en masse, replaced by the lower prices of evil big box retailers even before Amazon.com began picking at the corpse. The movie Empire Records told the story of our reality. We cried when we watched it.

What I miss most about the indy store in the town where I grew up, or even the Listening Booth chain that was in the mall is the interaction with musical connoisseurs. Staffed by local musicians supplementing their income or obsessive aficionados like the character Jack Black played in the movie version of High Fidelity, that's where we learned about the stuff we didn't hear on the radio – The Mekons, The Misfits, A Tribe Called Quest.

Before algorithms decided that if your Facebook profile said you "liked" Taylor Swift, you might be into Harry Styles' solo stuff, a guy in a pair of vans and a Johnny Rotten t-shirt passionately explained why the Goo Goo Dolls were really just an inferior knockoff of The Replacements.

Sure, I can get lost on Youtube for a couple of hours finding covers I never knew existed, and the stream on the right sidebar sometimes shows me something I come to love later, but that's not really the point. Like most things, music is about the journey much more than the arrival. Digital natives might not feel like they're missing anything, but I for one love record stores even more than records, and it would warm my heart to see Mr. Holland's Village of the Arts venture filled with young kids discovering a new way to love music. Long live vinyl!


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