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I Can't Buy Music Like I Used To -- I Don't Buy as Much Either

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Record Store BuyersYears ago, I would make it a weekly or monthly endeavor to visit the huge record store with my friend. We would probably spend a few hours there exploring the albums from all genres and artists. These stores were isle after isle of thousands of different albums in each. The store probably held a million titles or more. Hundreds of people would be there besides us. From Bluegrass to Blues and Imports to Classical, it was always an adventure to go to the record store. We always bought a few albums -- some we had no idea about. We rarely got burned.

You can't do that today. There is no way to do what we did back then and, as a result, we don't purchase the variety and quantity of music that we did either. We could easily look at the album covers of hundreds of albums and follow artists easily and fluidly but, even with the Internet, you just can't do that today. Well, you can but, it is limited and it takes you 10 times as long to do so. As a result, you don't. It is a waste of time.

The death of the Brick & Mortar record store was the death of adventure buying and buying based on a label or a single participating musician. If I had to blame any single element for the decline of the music sales business, it would be the death of the record store. I remember Peaches, for example, having 200 people in the store on any given night perusing the albums of their desire. Almost every person there made a purchase. Where have you ever seen that many people looking at music to purchase today? Nowhere. It doesn't happen. The ghostly vacant stores and empty record bins all represent lost revenue to the music business.

When big stores died, only a few realized what was happening. While many of us wanted to go and find new music and try new music paths, it was no longer possible. That world no longer existed. I remember signing up to get Rounder Roundup catalog from Rounder Records. If covered World Music, some popular artists, smaller genres like Bluegrass and others. It provided an avenue to experiment and try new music but, it was a mere fraction of what used to be available.

The record store was also more than just a retail outlet. It was a sort of musical social network. When I would meet someone who was also looking at the same type of music as I was, we would frequently open up a dialog and discuss the music. What was new, who was good, why one band was better than another, and other topics related to the music. If we became friends, we would often invite them to come hear our collection or we could hear theirs. If it was something we liked, we could go back and buy a copy for ourselves. Life of the music was good. And we bought a whole lot more music than we did once the ability to do so died.

The advent of the CD was a blessing and a curse. The format didn't allow you to read all about an album prior to purchasing it. So, we didn't. The bulky plastic security cases frequently didn't even allow you to see the album itself -- especially the back. So, we didn't. While the big stores tried to survive on CDs, the experience was not the same. The enjoyment factor was lost. They became just a warehouse of where to go when you already knew what you wanted. The exploration, excitement and adventure elements were no longer present. The higher cost also made it economically impossible to experiment with the music. While the industry tried to make it the same, it couldn't be, wouldn't be and never was the same experience. The music exploration died with the advent of the CD. That, in turn, killed the record store.

The CD made ripping or copying easy. Sharing became widespread. Friends no longer bought albums -- they copied them. This was a huge blow to the music industry. Then, the Internet came along and mass copying, aka piracy, began. This was another nail in the coffin of the music industry. The future will never be as bright as the past. It can't be. The very essence of the music buying experience is now two generations ago. For myself, the record store days were better for me, better for the labels, better for the artists and better for the songwriters. The youth of today will never even know about the joys of those weekly record buying excursions. It is no part of their reality. Streaming, downloading, iTunes, or what have you, will never be able to create a similar environment that the record store enjoyed. There are many times, I wish the CD had never been invented. It destroyed more than it created.

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