CMU Weekly Editor's Letter

Editor’s Letter: Hooray for record shops and all their awkwardness

By | Published on Friday 20 April 2012

Andy Malt

It’s Record Store Day tomorrow, which is always fun. At some point tomorrow, I will wander out into the blazing sunshine that will be washing over London (I can hope) and walk to two, maybe all three of the independent record shops near my flat to spend money on some of the exclusive releases on offer.

There are reasons for why I do this every Record Store Day, and reasons why I pay regular visits to these shops throughout the year. And the reasons do not involve holding things lovingly, reading liner notes or looking at artwork.

People’s reasons for going to record shops (or not) all differ, but whenever someone is asked to give those reasons, at some point they generally seem to involve holding things and gazing at them lovingly. If I needed convincing, these reasons wouldn’t convince me that I should be visiting my local record shop, yet they come up every time.

I was reminded of this earlier today when I switched on BBC Breakfast to see 6music’s Chris Hawkins and singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot discussing Saturday’s festivities. Amongst other points, both agreed that holding and looking at manufactured products is a great thing.

And they’re right, that can be an enjoyable experience. I’m a cultured guy, I like art. A major part of enjoying art is looking at it. I tweeted a picture of some album artwork I was enjoying just the other day. But I always find it weird when people bang on about artwork like it’s the be all and end all. After all, it’s really just a thing to make it easier to distinguish one product from all the other products that would otherwise look identical to it – you only need to own two pieces of white label vinyl to know how important artwork is in this respect. And if you’re going to have to have it, it might as well look nice.

I think you can get a bit precious about these things. Music is supposed to conjure up its own images, surely. That said, really good artwork can reflect the sound of the music and is very helpful for people like me who like to buy the odd thing on a whim with no prior knowledge of the artist.

Which brings us onto point one of my personal reasons for visiting record shops. I listen to music online on a whim with no prior knowledge of the artist several times a day. It’s part of my job. I enjoy it very much, but it’s risk-free and easy. There’s lots of music out there. I could spend the rest of my life listening to music I’ve never heard of and never spend a penny on any of it. But then I’d never get that feeling of looking at some artwork and thinking to myself, “I really want to hear some music that sounds like that looks”. Nor the even better feeling when you get home, play it, and discover that it actually is as good as or better than you hoped.

That’s what I like about music – immediacy, excitement, engagement. And maybe that’s what other people mean when they spout on about looking at the artwork, but it sounds more like they sit at home stroking their records instead of enjoying the music on them.

And there we go, point two: enjoying music. I realise I’m in an unusual position of having a job where I have to listen to music all day. That’s the job I always wanted and every day of my life it amazes me that it’s actually happened. But when you listen to music all day, it does make it harder to really get into things that you like because you’re trying to digest so much.

I have friends who like new music, but pick up one or two things every couple of months and just listen to them over and over again. I have other friends who, at the age of around 21, stopped listening to new music altogether, apparently deciding that everything they’d heard up to that point was enough. I can’t and couldn’t do either of those things. If I don’t hear new music on a daily basis I start to feel peculiar.

Not that my days are entirely devoted to new music – that way madness lies. I try to strike a balance between brand new stuff, quite new stuff, stuff I might not be that into but which I feel I need to persevere with a few more times before completely writing it off (just because you hate something on the first listen doesn’t mean it isn’t your favourite album of all time), and stuff I love and have loved for months, years, decades.

Spotify, iTunes, my email inbox, the postman, various podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, SoundCloud, BandCamp, YouTube, and countless other online sources of music feed me music constantly. I never want for music. I never have to think to hard about what to listen to. Sometimes if I’m struggling to think of exactly what to put on, I just set iTunes to play me tracks at random to fill the space until I work out what it is I really want to hear. It’s great, but it also seems a bit too easy.

This is why I buy vinyl. It’s not really about the sound quality, it’s not about the size of the artwork, it’s the awkwardness I like.

I like the fact that if I want a new album on vinyl I have to either go and get it from a shop, or the merch table at a gig, or a mail-order website and can’t just have it there and then. I like that when I’m at home my choice is limited by the relatively small size of my collection. I like that I can’t put something on and wander off, because it’s not going to be long before I have to turn the record over. These limitations force me to listen to and engage with the music in a way that the world of digital just doesn’t, and never will.

Not that I’m unhappy with the limitless choice of digital music – I love it. And I love physical records as well (though I’ve stopped buying CDs because I find their position in between physical and digital makes them a joyless purchase). I’m happy for both to exist and, indeed, want both to exist.

As long as they do, I want to be able to buy my records in record shops, because I like searching through lots of records to find the thing I want. Having to look for things in that way adds an extra layer of awkwardness that the internet, for all its vastness, doesn’t do as well as having a load of racks and shelves jammed full of stuff. Especially if you don’t know what it is you want, just know you want something.

So that’s why you should support record shops on Record Store Day and all year round. Not for the hoarding of physical items that look nice, but because if you don’t, and they all die out, you’ll be making my life less awkward. And that is something I do not want.

Andy Malt
Editor, CMU

PS – Do you go to a lot of music conferences? They’re good, aren’t they? As I’m sure you know (because I’ve told you enough times), we here at CMU programme one of them – the convention section of The Great Escape. In amongst the TGE programme you will find the Yearly Music Conference Awards – the YMCAs – to recognise the very best of the many music conventions and showcase festivals that are out there around the world.

The awards will be back again at this year’s Great Escape in May, and we need you people out there to nominate your favourite conferences and festivals in the various categories, from Best Delegate’s Bag to Best Panel Near Punch-Up. Information on how to vote here.

The podcast is back! Or at least it will be soon. Yesterday afternoon Chris and I sat down to talk about the EC’s approval of the sale of EMI Music Publishing to a Sony-led consortium, One Direction UK v One Direction USA, new announcements from Facebook and Spotify, plus Tupac Shakur’s first live performance since his death.

The show will be available at some point this weekend – all the details on how to stream, download and subscribe can be found here.

First this week, let me begin with a plea: Spotify, please, please, please stop holding press conferences. I’m not sure what it is that makes you think every development requires Daniel Ek to stand up and talk about it, but they really don’t.

We went over this before back in December, and now you’ve gone and held a press conference that made even less sense than that one. Just get on with making Spotify the best it can be, and stop it with the press conferences. Thanks.

Now, onto actual news stories. The EC yesterday approved the Sony-led purchase of EMI Music Publishing, giving the go ahead for the company to be controlled by former rival Sony/ATV, though it will remain a standalone company. The sale is still being investigated by regulators in the US, but is expected to go through there also, despite opposition.

Universal’s purchase of the EMI record labels is still being investigated on both sides of the Atlantic, with no decision expected before August. As Universal is trying to buy its half of EMI outright there are more concerns about the power over the music industry it will give Universal – which is already the world’s biggest music company. Head of the biggest independent label group, Beggars, Martin Mills recently re-expressed his opposition to the deal.

Away from the actual competition investigations, EMI Music Publishing staff were presumably more concerned about their jobs this week, after a leaked report suggested that Sony/ATV is planning to shed 60% of the 515 people currently working there over two years. Sony/ATV boss Marty Bandier wrote to EMI staff to reassure them, though by informing them that “it is our intention to retain the best and brightest employees at both companies”, I think he possibly just left everyone involved rushing to update their CVs.

Going back to Record Store Day briefly, the Official Charts Company this week announced that it is launching a brand new year-round chart collating sales through independent record shops in the UK. The first one has just been released and sees Alabama Shakes beat Adele to the first number one spot. Trembling Bell, Graham Coxon and M Ward come in at third, fourth and fifth respectively.

There was much chatter after the first of the Coachella festival’s two outings this month after Tupac performed with Dre Dre and Snoop Dogg. Nate Dogg appeared too, but it was Tupac who most people concentrated on. Neither were actually back from the dead, of course, but appeared as computer animated ‘holograms’. There’s now talk of the possiblity of ‘Tupac’ going on tour, which I think is one of the signs of the apocalypse.

But while Tupac and Nate Dogg were fighting death to get back on the stage, the still very much alive Axl Rose refused to join with his original Guns N Roses bandmates to be inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame. Having written a lengthy open letter announcing that he would not attend the ceremony and did not want to be inducted in his absence, Rose followed it up this week with another letter apologising to Cleveland and calling out anyone who thought his no-show made him look like a bit of a dick.

It was quite a week for sad stories in the music world, kicking off with news that The Bee Gee’s Robin Gibb has fallen into a coma after contracting pneumonia. Later in the week it was also announced that The Band’s drummer Levon Helm was in the final stages of cancer, followed by the announcement of his death yesterday. As well as this, American television legend, who hosted what might be called the original pop music show ‘American Bandstand’ for 30 years, Dick Clark, Men At Work’s Greg Ham and guitarist Bert Weedon all past away. An obituary for the latter will appear in Monday’s CMU Daily.

But to end on a more positive note, this week AIM chief Alison Wenham donated 3000 CDs to a music library at the Royal Hospital For Neuro-Disability in memory of her late husband, Nick Wenham, who was treated there. The collection will help in the rehabilitation of people who have suffered brain injury or disease, being made available to other charities working in this area as well as residents at the hospital itself.

Our playlist this week was put together by Visions Of Trees, and delighted me by featuring not one but two black metal tracks. If that’s not up your street, then rest assured their eclectic selections will have something you will like too. Eddy was talking about things he likes in his column this week, specifically record labels and some of the inspiring people who run them.

This week’s Beef Of The Week saw The Wanted battling One Direction before being overcome by the might of Tyler, The Creator. Plus, of course, we had the usual round-up of all the latest festival line-up updates.

In the Approved column we featured a brand new track from Major Lazer, featuring Dirty Projectors vocalist Amber Coffman, plus My Tiger My Timing, PINS, and Monster Rally & RUMTUM, all of which are worthy of a few minutes of your time (and more).

Elsewhere we had the trailers for two film projects – one a documentary about journalist Kate Spicer’s attempts to help her severely autistic brother Tom to achieve his lifelong goal of meeting Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, the other a new film being put together by Fightstar members Dan Haigh and Alex Westaway.

Then there was also a free EP from Pixies featuring four tracks form their 2004 Coachella set, a stream of the new album by Death Grips, a short film from Stay+, and new tracks from Doldrums, Outfit and Hooray For Earth.