Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Music stores staying alive with vinyl

South Florida independent music sellers find that to survive in a digital world, they must band together. And stocking up on vinyl doesn't hurt.

Although the invention of the CD in 1982 created a seismic shift in the way consumers approached the buying of music, record stores still had a tangible product to sell. But today's digital music files don't give you anything to carry home. And people who still buy CDs usually shop at big chains such as Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy.

So, what about the little guy?

As the pop-music world rapidly embraces the digital age, independent and small-chain record stores are refusing to let it be the end of their world.

'We've survived by offering the quote-unquote `alternative' means of music for people,'' says Mike Ramirez, manager of Radio-Active Records in Fort Lauderdale. ``It'd be foolish to consider ourselves a contender [with the big chains]. We can't. No independent can. So why even bother? Do something completely different.''


Both Radio-Active and Uncle Sam's Music -- a South Beach haven for DJs and clubgoers since 1984 -- have boosted their stock of vinyl, which is rediscovering an audience beyond the faithful DJ market.

''Five years ago, our shop was named the CD Collector -- this was a time when CDs were still selling,'' Ramirez says. ``Around 2003, we noticed that there was a shift in people buying more records, actual vinyl, than CDs.''

''There's something about vinyl -- having the tactile, actual work of art -- that's unmatchable, really,'' he says. ``There's more of a warm texture when you're playing an old record, especially if it's used -- you know, crackly old vinyl. There's a warmth, definitely an atmosphere. You can't compare that to an MP3 file on your hard drive.''

But vinyl alone won't keep independent stores afloat.

''Obviously, you have to do things to survive,'' Ramirez says. ``We sell turntables, accessories, headphones, soft drinks, candy bars, and we're going to be installing a full-service coffee bar really soon to bring in a completely new clientele. We also have a nice big stage with a PA where we have live bands every Wednesday night.''


Lisa Teger-Zhen, co-owner of Uncle Sam's, says digital music seller iTunes -- not other record stores -- is her main competition. She has teamed up with other independents around the country to gain strength.

''We belong to a coalition of independent music stores -- I think there's about 60 stores,'' she says. ``We kind of band together to try and do different things in order to stay alive. We have preset listening booths with stuff from our coalition -- a lot of breaking artists, a lot of underground stuff. We really try to be the store in town that knows all different genres of music, and we still try to turn people on to new music.''


To pay the rent, it has been necessary to take somewhat of an ''if you can't beat 'em, join 'em'' attitude toward the digital revolution, says Teger-Zhen, who has also added custom T-shirts, hats, posters, belt buckles, pipes and even paintings by local artists. 'We're not trying to deny that the iTunes' existence is around -- we're trying to join forces with that. So we sell bags that you can attach an iPod to and play your iPod out of.''

Vinyl producers are even making concessions.

``The records are now coming . . . [with] a little download card. So you can go online, download the album onto your iPod, but still actually have the vinyl.''

The big chains have also been forced to adapt. Those that don't -- such as Virgin Megastore, which set up shop at Sunset Place in 1999 -- have closed forever.


''I thought they would be the ones sticking around the longest,'' Teger-Zhen says. ``But it seems like the little guys, all us mom-and-pops, are the ones that are still left.''

See full article here:
Miami Herald

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