In a town with an addiction to live local music, we New Orleanians can get our fix every day if we want. However, on the other end of the spectrum, it’s easy to forget that you can also go to the store for your music fix. Any individual with a couple bucks can buy these little flat shiny black circles of vinyl that will provide temporary relief for the severe need for rhythm, harmony, and melody. And as an added bonus, there is a lot of stuff in those discs that can’t be found in a bar in the French Quarter.
We forget that there are good ol’ fashioned record stores that are waiting, literally just waiting, to help you. For those Sunday mornings when perhaps your favorite blues guitarist isn’t playing live in the corner of your kitchen while you cook eggs, biscuits, and andouille, or for the funk singer who has since passed on, there is a method available that so many people in other cities are used to employing- listening to music through the radio, a computer, CD player, phonograph, mp3, cassette, online streaming, or even an 8-track. And so the many tools and toys to make it all happen. The tools and toys often provided to the public by the local retail outlets that specialize in these areas.
But today we have a scenario… lots of them actually We’ve got a bad economy, teenagers who know how to hack, rip, stream, and burn their way through any music collection- and all for free. We’ve got a purely digital industry eating away at the tangible one. And we- here in New Orleans- have our own, other very familiar issues to deal with too. So how are our friends and neighbors who literally live on music faring while they deal with all these scenarios?
It seems like they are all doing fairly well; that would be short answer. Though not thriving, either. Now this isn’t a summary, a review, or guidebook. It’s look-at skim- over. And the fact that they are doing well has to be taken with few “buts” and concessions.
Record companies are all complaining. Bands won’t shut up about it, and somehow, when I spoke to the owners of our local record stores, they seemed to feel semi-positive about the situation- for the most part. Please feel free also, to account for any grains of salt you deem necessary.
There are a couple of reasons they appear to be holding up through all of this. For one, vinyl sales are increasing – up even to the point that the staff at The Mushroom (1037 Broadway St./ 866-6065) stated that they thought that vinyl sales were increasing at the same rate CD sales were decreasing. If that holds true, there is really zero net effect on their overall business in regards to those two products. Also however, helping the Mushroom pull through is the steady flow of students. The kids who are going digital are still a steady flow of income due to the head shop items, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and everything else a college student needs to survive, all for sale in the heart of the university area. Grain of salt accounted for.
So The Mushroom has students and vinyl- on the other end, there is another approach that is being taken which seems to be working. Skully’s (907 Bourbon St., 592-4666) has a location on Bourbon St., so foot traffic is always solid, and they also focus on new releases and a select selection of the stuff Scott wells, the current owner, knows that his customer base wants. While I was there, my roommate got the live Daft Punk album Alive that he hadn’t found anywhere else yet, for example. It’s the specialization that is holding a steady flow of commerce for the record stores here in town.
Domino Sound (2557 Bayou Rd., 309-0871) has the same approach- fill their respective niche. Domino has punk records and although they are extremely selective with it, they’ve got some of the local music that’s hard or impossible to find anywhere else. As is the case with the Why Are We Building Such A Big Ship? Album that was released by Domino Sound. They threw the party, released it, and you can’t find it anywhere else in town. Go ahead try to find it. Even if you do, it originally came from Domino. And lastly, for the Midtown kids, it’s the only record sales outlet in the neighborhood that I know of without going to the Quarter.
Louisiana Music Factory (210 Decatur St., (586-1094) has a name. That’ll offset a lot of this digital age flak that’s being thrown at the record industry, for one. And they too have a French Quarter location in a fairly popular tourist area on Decatur. They’ll hold up with those two aspects there, and have the added benefit of what seems to be the largest New Orleans music selection, a huge draw for lots of the folks who are looking to buy music here.
On the other end of specialization, you can find Peaches Records (4318 Magazine Street, 282-3322), which is retaining some of the iPod generation through diversification. They sell all the media types. And one could say that they also throw in some niche filling. For example, they had a film expert on staff, which focused on replacing their inventory to reflect the hard to find items: Midnight Movies, foreign films, rare and obscure documentaries and musical DVDs. They too have a tourist-friendly location near Jax Brewery on Decatur St., which doesn’t hurt business, and they also have genuinely great art by Franco Alexandrini. (I had never heard of him either, but it’s extremely solid stuff).
There is a major shift in consumer spending today. This is of little surprise concerning all of the electronic options and online shopping and shipping. But there is still nothing to replace liner notes, nothing to replace flipping through stacks of vinyl or discs and being surprised by something you’ve never seen before. It’s rare that you find such items while searching with keywords through the Google toolbar.
The answer the to the problem is thus having a real business model in mind. Specialization, diversification, or huge corporate bank account—that’s how they’re surviving. There’s a certain camaraderie among the industry here in town. As Matt from Skully’z said, “We’re not stepping on each others toes; we all have our own niche.” But none of this to mean they are raking in the profits. They are doing worse than they were pre-K and the mentality is a bit more survivalist than they would like.
These are the folks that are preserving a history and culture, and not just ours. They need support, they need you, so get out there, and then come home and listen to that new album, having done your good deed for the day- supporting the artists, supporting the economy, and supporting your personal sanity with a fix of the good stuff.