the one about the music industry and record stores

Several years ago as a marketing consultant, I had a few independent record stores as clients. And I’ve had several other bigger music industry clients that I’ve done marketing projects for over the years. So it was with great interest when Adam Coronado contacted me for a piece he was writing for the San Antonio Current about the troubles of local record / music stores.

I enjoyed doing the interview. So much so, that I asked him if I could expand on his story by posting much of our interview here. (Lesson to bloggers: Never waste content.)

The following interview is from October 2011:

ADAM: From your vantage point, what is hurting the classic record store? For our purposes, when I say record store, I’m talking about a place that sells physical copies of music, not necessarily limited to vinyl. Is illegal downloading the major culprit?

CHRIS: While illegal downloads were the first taste of the drug and are still used, I think the main culprit is consumer apathy.

It’s like people who say they support local food movements and mourn the loss of local farms but, in a time/money pinch, will pick up a tomato at Wal-Mart that was grown thousands of miles away. People “say” they support the local music store or local bookstore because their conscience (and society) dictates they say that. And in their heart, they may really mean it. But given the chance to either leave the house and go down to the store or sit on their couch and click an icon, their true colors show though.

While the illegal download is still going strong, I think the true culprit is the recently departed Mr. Jobs and his 99-cent siren. I have never seen an entire industry so upended in such a short amount of time. While record companies were suing little old ladies for downloads, iTunes snuck in and took over. It completely changed the paradigm for the actual retailers of music.

The short answer to this question is that what is hurting the classic record store is that society and culture evolved. You can’t fight that. The basic consumption of all media has changed and it’s changing consumer behavior across the spectrum. Just over the past 20 years .. a single generation.. things like travel agents, bookstores, newspapers, film/photo processing, record stores, and hundreds of other areas have drastically changed. The future is arriving much faster than it used to. Adapt or die.

ADAM: Why is the record store still important? Why should we continue to support them? What should a record store that fires on all cylinders look like? In other words, what does one that won’t close offer? Is it a pipe dream to consider the idea of them never becoming extinct?

CHRIS: There will always be a remnant. There are still farriers to shoe horses. Even with GPS, people still appreciate a beautiful map. People like handwritten notes. They still actually make chariots.

Record stores should adapt from a “sell” mentality to a “curator and guide” mentality. I love the signs I’ve seen in several libraries that says something to the effect of “Google may give you a thousand results, but a librarian will give you the one you need”

That’s why a record store is still important and why the public needs to support them. iTunes Genius and Pandora may suggest items based on what you say you already like. But a personal curator of music can introduce new things outside of your comfort zone.

ADAM: Tell me what you think of (as in pros and cons):
-Cloud music services. For example: Spotify, Rhapsody and Grooveshark.
CHRIS: The pro with Spotify is Facebook. When music becomes social, it can spread. The con is also Facebook. I don’t care what some of my friends are listening to .. some of it stinks.

-Digital music services. For example: iTunes, Amazon, etc.
CHRIS: Much of what I talked about above with consumer apathy. But I think its best attribute is the idea of the single song. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve wasted on an entire album just for one song. The problem with that is discovery of the deep cuts. I think it will hurt the artists most. I foresee a day when the “album” will no longer exists. Artists will only put out singles.

-Illegal downloading. For example: the original Napster, Soulseek,
CHRIS: Napster got people comfortable with the idea of digital tracks. I think it also sowed the seeds of destruction for lots of areas. The biggest victims were the artists. It’s a problem in general with today’s web. The idea of ownership and copyright of creative content is slipping (has slipped?) away from us. Kids know it’s wrong to take a candy bar out of store without paying. But they think nothing of copy-pasting text or right-clicking and grabbing a photo from the web.

While it’s been building for a while, the societal shift happened with the ruling on the Shepard Fairly Obama hope image. I don’t think we’ll ever go back. The trouble with “illegal” things on the web in general is the lagtime. By the time some legislator gets outraged enough to change laws, the thing they’re fixing went out of vogue 18 months ago. Case law and technology are not synched.

ADAM: Does the metaphysical meaning of music get altered when its packaging goes away?

CHRIS: Absolutely. Placing importance on the abstract is a difficult sell. When people can hold something in their hands or see it, there is an emotional and physiological connection. “I have something” But digital tracks are kind of like insurance. It’s something we buy, but can’t hold. I think that’s the Achilles Heel of digital music and the opportunity for record stores. Back to a previous question, when people can come in and the music curator lets you hold the album cover or flip through the liner notes, there’s more of a connection to the experience.

**Read Adam’s full story in the San Antonio Current here.

Chris Houchens is a marketing raconteur & writer. Connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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