By Samantha Schlaifer & Illustration By Jeremy Schlangen
Fast-walking New Yorkers pass the corner of 4th and Broadway, home of the recently bankrupt Tower Records, without stopping to pay it a moment’s respect. The mega-store’s demise was sudden and all that remains is a liquidation sale and some shoppers attracted by the 70% discount. Lunch hour browsers don’t seem aware that the bankruptcy of Tower Records has some grave implications for the future of music.
While I don’t feel the least bit disappointed for the downfall of the chain itself, I am afraid of where the music industry is headed. Clearly, Tower’s bankruptcy—all 90 stores will be closing by early 2007—is a byproduct of a music industry that caters to click-of-the-mouse convenience. If the domino-effect theory holds true, the demise of Tower will soon be followed by future liquidation sales in smaller, independent music shops. Fantaja Thomas, Tower Records’ customer service employee of two years, says confidently that people aren’t upset about the closing, “because all the music we have here people are just downloading for free or almost free on their computers.”
But isn’t that the exact reason why people should be distressed? Sure, we can download entire albums from the comfort of our homes and upload them onto our sleek gadgets in a matter of seconds. Yes, we can even save money and have less clutter in our apartments by downloading. Plainly, the increasingly practical, technocratic society we live in puts a premium on time and efficiency. But our obsession with high-speed living has traded in a music scavenging tradition for the convenience of staring at a computer screen.
I grew up with my musician father telling me about the times when Jimmy, Bruce and all the neighborhood kids would crawl on down to the record store right after school. They would scrape together their lunch money and spend the afternoon tapping their feet. Those records soon became tapes, which then became CDs.
Years later, I was at the used CD store after school doing the very same thing. And while the mediums of music have continuously changed, up until recent years, record stores have remained the primary middle-man between artists, labels, and the consumer.
The nostalgia of shuffling through alphabetized, genre-arranged albums may seem silly, but it is the time-consuming, browsing experience itself that hones one’s musical palate. iTunes and Amazon.com may offer “user ratings,” but it is the in-store, real-life exchange between one music-enthusiast to the next that has the power to expand one’s taste beyond their intended selection.
The record-rummaging pastime is something that cannot be replaced by the expediency of our digital society. Unfortunately, what once served as a home base for small music communities will most likely turn into an irritating “good old days” story our generation tells its kids.