Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Three Cheers for the Music Store

Listen to this.
Whatever happened to the music store? Like the book store, the music store and the things it houses is disappearing. And I think it’s disappearing for the same reasons the book store is. The music store is important because of what a music store does for the neighbourhood. But the music store is equally important for the artist who creates music, and for the quality of sound that is represented on the musical artifact.

Since the beginning of sound recording as a commercial enterprise, the artist has created and recorded music with certain intentions. If the listener bought a single, the artist likely intended for the listener to listen to the song on each side of that disc. If the listener bought an LP, the artist intended for the listener to listen to all of the songs—however loosely or tightly thematically related—on that LP. And if the listener looked at the album art on the cover of the recording, then the artist probably intended for the listener to do so. The music store honours and makes possible the intention of the artist with the sale of objects like the CD and vinyl LP.

The music store also does much to foster sound quality in recordings. How wonderful it was in the old days when LPs were more common to grab a record, look at the cover, take the disc out of its sleeve, place it on the turntable, lift the arm, place the needle in the groove of my favourite song, and sit back and listen to the great sound. So warm, so rich. The sound was almost visual. Later with CDs the sound quality deteriorated. And putting the disc into the carousel and listening as the numbers representing the tracks and the seconds passed by was not as good as putting on an LP. But even CDs are disappearing now. 

Now instead of songs or tracks, there are digital files. And the sound is even worse. In the 80’s critics complained of the brittle sound of CDs. But the sound of MP3 files is even worse than that on CDs. With the LP, the listener enjoys the aural equivalent of a gourmet meal; with the digital file, the listener enjoys the aural equivalent of a cup of instant noodles. Sometimes noodles are just what you want to eat. But I think most will prefer the gourmet meal. 

I’m very happy that there are music stores. I’m grateful that excellent music stores in Vancouver like Highlife and Zulu records persist with their vinyl and CDs. But I still want to ask: what happened to the other great Vancouver music stores of my youth: What happened to A&B Sound? What happened to Sam the Record Man? What happened to Odyssey Imports? What happened to Quintessence Records? What happened to Friends Records? And even before that, in New Westminster, on Columbia Street: What happened to Kelly’s Records? Oh! What has happened to these wonderful music stores of my youth?

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