NYC's Other Music announced it would be closing its doors in June today. Not because they are on the brink of going out of business (like former neighborhood mega-competitors Tower Records and Virgin Records). An article in The Times suggests the 20 year old store still does a good amount of business, actually
. But they see the end coming, so it's a kind of get-out-while-it-doesn't-hurt-so-much business move on their part.
For New Yorkers who still want to hear, see, touch, or even smell their music, there are only a few worthwhile brick and mortar options left. Across the river in Williamsburg there is Rough Trade; the still newish offshoot of the London record store and label. It is absolutely massive. It has a cafe, it has a venue, it sells a few instruments (keyboards, pedals, drum machines...sh*t like that). In other words, it's done everything a modern record store has to do to front like it's still a great place to buy music. And it honestly is.
But it lacks the personal touch some of the city's smaller stores can boast. Stores like Generation Records and Bleecker Street Records are still getting by, mainly on used vinyl. I love my tiny go-to, Music Matters, in Park Slope BK. And I should probably check out Permanent Records, right here in beautiful Sunset Park BK. But of the pure record stores left in NYC, Other Music was the best. It was a place you could go and take chances on releases. You could converse with the staff, read perfect reviews of albums, and say "F*ck it! I don't need the internet to make a music decision."
Of course the decline of record stores has been chronicled enough...we don't really
need to get into the issues of streaming and piracy (which many equate to being one and the same) in this article. Nor do we need to talk about the fabulous vinyl comeback...because yes, it's true. Vinyl is somewhat popular again. But it is also a blip on the radar and mostly hocked by Urban Outfitters and Amazon. And please, for the love of god, don't get me started on the warm, fuzzy, emptiness of Record Store Day. It's a joke and some would argue that it straight up hurts independent artists by backing up the manufacturing line with Fleetwood Mac reissues for months.
What I'm most interested in today is the surprise album you're all ubiquitously listening to today (or last week, or the week before), and the message it sends to record stores and consumers alike, suggesting they no longer value the art of the physical artifact. Many artists bitch and moan about streaming and piracy, but then stick it to their most loyal fans/consumers (and record stores, obviously) by valuing marketing tricks and surprise tactics above all else.
Oh, the album is done? Fantastic! We have to get it out! We have to get it out now! It has to be a BIG surprise! Oh, but it might take a few weeks to press some vinyl or manufacture some CDs
(yes, CDs. Some people still buy them. Why, I even think Prince was spotted buying a handful of CDs a few days before he passed)? Doesn't matter! The album is finished! Push off that physical street date a few weeks and get that sh*t out on the door!
This, I assume, is basically what happens in a marketing meeting surrounding one of those surprise releases. And fans lap it up because it's the only way to get the music. I'm not waiting until June 17th to hear the new Radiohead album when it's on iTunes right now. That's crazy talk...they are one of my favorite bands. Neither are all those casual, vinyl collectors who are suddenly saving the format. The only ones I assume are willing to wait out the physicals are either a) really freaking patient or b) deranged enough to drop 30 bucks on an album to purchase it twice. (once digital, once physical)...which I'll admit is not a lot for a work of art, but music consumers are just not trained that way.
So the band's drive their most fervent consumers to iTunes, Amazon, and Tidal, leaving record stores out in the cold, trying to survive like some cheap second run movie theater, peddling first run prices. In the past two weeks alone, my office has collectively bought three albums (Beyonce's Lemonade
, Drake's Views
, and Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool
) on the big bad digis...all albums we happily would have picked up at a store like Other Music. Also worth noting...none of the physical pre-orders even offered a free digital download. Not that it would help a store like Other Music, but it's a move that does nothing to encourage the spirit of buying physical.
So, when a store like Other Music announces its closing its doors, it's easy to blame the likes of Spotify and Apple. But save some for your favorite artists like Drake, Beyonce, and perhaps most frustratingly, Radiohead.