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Decline of the small music stores

July 08, 2008 14:39 IST

One of the things about being a music fan is that you can't really walk past a music store without walking into it. While you may be convinced that you are only going in for a browse, the fact is that you are probably going to be walking out having bought something though, hopefully, not too much!

To music fans like me across the world, music stores like Mumbai's Rhythm House (the first proper music store that I went to) are exactly what book stores are to bookworms or what malls are to shopaholics -- wonderful refuges from the big bad world.

When it comes to buying music, the experience, for most music fans, seems to be the same wherever you go. Even when you walk into a music store for the first time, you pretty much know where everything is.

It's a familiar feeling being there, browsing through rows of music, finding something that you really want, discovering new music with the store's selection playing in the background (which, if you are lucky, is possibly music you haven't heard but like a lot). The experience is just unrivalled.

But while I thought for a long time that the Meccas for buying music were the HMV stores and Virgin Megastores, I've now come to see smaller, independent record stores as the real music havens.

These are the places that choose quality over quantity, they often house a small but diverse range of music, and the person behind the counter knows exactly what you want -- even if you don't. Also, the music playing in the store is probably going to interest you enough for you to ask what is on. Those are the kind of stores that make me want to own a music store some day.

In Australia, I've bumped into a few specialist stores dedicated to jazz, Emo, rock, classical and others. There's probably a store for every type of music in the country and I've been given to understand that it only gets better in places like Europe and America.

These are the stores that give birth to music communities and serve as local breeding grounds for music. The exchange between the storekeeper and his customers provides the vital link that keeps the music business alive in terms of influencing artistes and, often, in developing new artistes.

Music recommendations and opinions play a significant role in the life of a music store and go a long way in developing a steady clientele that relies on what the store has to offer in terms of its music and its personnel.

Sadly, the digital age threatens all of these music stores. Only recently, I visited a typical independent rock store called Skinny's, which is something of an institution in Brisbane. I immediately loved the place but could feel that it had seen better times. The next time I went there, there was a sign saying that the store had been closed indefinitely and I knew that this was only a sign of things to come.

Craig Fernandes