I like so many of these records and although I don’t physically own them I still can’t justify spending money on them. I actually want to spend money, as a gesture of affection for the shop after all these years. I take refuge in the vinyl compilation section where I find four old Pickwick Top Of The Pops albums which I don’t already own. You don’t often find the old Top Of The Pops albums on streaming sites and, frankly, the kitsch sleeve art is half of the fun. The opportunity to hear the sessioneers’ attempts to recreate ‘Seaside Shuffle’ by Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs and Ringo’s ‘Back Off Boogaloo’ proves too much to pass up and I leave with four of the blighters – all of which are in poor condition, as these albums usually are, and which are in the “discount” section at €4 each. Given that you can pick these blooming records up for 50 cents at any half decent charity shop, this is still a bit pricey but plastic bag full of knock-off ’70s pop in hand, I bid the shop a teary farewell.
It sounds silly but I’m genuinely sorry that I’ll never be in that shop again, and equally sorry that I am now convinced that record shops have had it. Like smallpox, or The Magic Numbers’ official fanclub, there’s no reason for them to exist anymore – unless you simply must own physical copies of records. Which let’s face it amounts to fetishism. I am one of those daft romantic types who likes the artwork of records, even ropey CD artwork. I enjoyed the feeling of walking into HMV a couple of weeks ago to exchange a crisp €10 note for Katy B’s debut album on the day of its release. As someone who writes about music, I don’t have to do this, I can request advance promo copies of just about any record I like, it’s just a matter of contacting the right person at the PR or record company. Rest assured, I don’t dismiss the function of record shops blithely, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify making any kind of record purchase. Unless you’re a club DJ hunting for 12″ singles. The best reason I can think of for buying a CD is because it’s part of a brilliantly-put-together box set.
All of the major acts release deluxe editions of their albums for the Christmas market these days, and fans enjoy the extra content these packages deliver (while grumbling occasionally about the vague sense of being ripped off by having to shell out for the same album times over). Just the other day I bought a compilation on the Fantastic Voyage label of every single that reached the UK charts during the first half of 1960. Box sets like this are worth buying in CD format rather than as downloads because the sleevenotes and photos add context and it is good to have all the songs gathered together in one place. Likewise, I fully intend to relive my teens by snapping up the deluxe edition Suede re-issues at the first available opportunity. Even so, there’s no need to actually go into a shop and buy such items, as you can easily order them online. Speaking as a person who has resisted the temptation to acquire a credit card, I find this can be tricky but there are obviously ways around the problem like having a friend order records for me.
It seems clear that if recorded music is to flourish and thrive, the record industry needs to find a way of making money from it. I’m not an advocate of everything being available for free – a ‘freetard’, as some people would say – I think it’s only right that people who are involved in the production of music should be paid for their work. Obviously if I had an easy solution to the problem I wouldn’t be sitting here typing this up in my rented accommodation in the suburbs, I’d be sitting on a throne made of gold at the headquarters of EMI, but it seems to me that cloud storage and streaming is the most viable way forward. These days people don’t need to own records, we just want to be able to hear them when the mood takes us. We download podcasts, stick YouTube clips on our Facebook pages, we listen to mixes on Soundcloud or stream live radio via the station’s player or on iTunes. In the future all of the recorded music that exists could exist in cloud storage and be available on tap for a subscription fee. Independent minded individuals who don’t wish to play that game can still stream their work online for free if they so wish. The only tricky problem is working out how to charge people for the service: should the cost of downloads be built into the cost of your internet connection, and if so how much should people pay? These are issues for the record industry – what’s left of it – and service providers to deal with and must be led by public demand.
Of course in many ways the music industry has been screwing consumers for years over price – I still remember the rows about the price of CDs back in the late 1980s, and the average music fan is still often at the mercy of those who take advantage of the industry’s sloppiness in clamping down on ticket touts. Illegal file sharing may indeed be a nifty way of spreading the word about an artist which leads to people making purchases, and while it seems harmless to download an old record off Rapidshare, as an industry model it’s not viable. So can we do without the record industry? Can it just disappear for good, or will that damage the production of music in general? Maybe there’s still a room for both the ‘proper’ music biz and the underground. Look at Rinse FM, which has gone legit after many years as a pirate: it was able to break acts like Magnetic Man and Katy B with barely any contact with the cigar-chomping, baby-strangling, capitalist pigs of the music industry but it has benefited from going down a more conventional route. Now you can listen to it as a live stream all day if you like, or you can pop to the shops as I did recently to buy Katy B’s debut album. I am sure that in time, the availability of music at the click of a mouse will suit music fans best and I consider myself lucky to live in an era where so much music is available for free. My teenage self would be deeply envious, but there is cause today to feel nostalgic for my teenage self’s weekly record shop Odysseys.
Photo found on Earth Photography.