With the build up to Record Store Day and the now world wide event’s growing popularity, I have started thinking back to the time when I worked in a record shop in the middle of Glasgow while I was ‘at university’. Which record shop is not important, what is important was the atmosphere in the place, and ultimately the inspiration it gave me to start a record label.
I started working there when I was 16, and to be honest, had very little knowledge of the music industry. The bonus of being young was that people I worked with took it upon themselves to take me under their varied wings and educate me in music beyond the mainstream. If it hadn’t been for these people, I would have a degree by now and be working behind a desk, joyless and overweight, probably writing computer programs that control tampon manufacture.
Don’t get me wrong, as with any job there were the usual arseholes, jobsworths and mentally disabled members of the general public, but the experience as a whole was enjoyable and got me to where I am today. I met some great people who guided my musically uneducated mind and taught me so many different things that I would never have learnt in any flavor of education.
That was almost 10 years ago now, and when I left, the digital take over of music was boiling over to invasion point. Home broadband was cheaper and Apple had released the iPod to a wider market of hipsters. The more forward thinking of us could already see the decline and knew the company we worked for would not embrace the impending changes quickly or with enough perseverance to survive.
During the years that have followed my departure from retail sales I have been extremely fortunate to travel the world and meet some very interesting people and see some amazing places. During these travels I have been to some very random gigs and visited a vast array of record shops and markets in some very strange towns and cities. In the end I naturally gravitated back home to Edinburgh forgoing the opportunity to become a (paid) freelance journalist, as well as the chance to take up permanent residence in Australia with the vision of starting a record label.
That was almost 8 years ago.
Wasted State Records put out it’s first proper release in 2008, so I’m counting that as the start of the label proper, although it could be argued that it actually started in the internet café I was working in in Melbourne in 2005, although, at this point I really didn’t know my arse from my elbow in terms of the music business.
I was recently in Germany to see a band and the day following the gig myself and my travel companions went on a wonder round the city, which started off in a record shop and ended up at a surf gig. All in all, you would agree, a more than pleasant way to spend a day. While browsing the record shop I got to thinking what a different kind of atmosphere it was compared to its UK counterparts.
Other than the owner of a Stockport record shop, who seemed like he was in the middle of an acid flashback, I have derived very little happiness from record shops in the UK, with possible exception of the Punker Bunker in Brighton. Even in local shops in Scotland, the staff (generally the owners) tend to judge customers from the moment they arrive in the shop and meet well meaning questions with abrupt answers in a tone that would suggest you had been seen sodomising a stray puppy minutes before entering the shop.
While chatting to the owner of one shop, who assured me that he wanted to support local bands and labels I was struck by his narrow mindedness at the label roster. It seems that unless you can say that The Smiths are on your list of influences and you are wearing skinny jeans so tight your testicles (if you are so equipped) get turned into pancakes, there is no place for you in the Scottish Music Scene. Turn on the local radio to affirm this, twee sound-a-like bands is all you hear about. Admiral Fallow and Withered Hand seem to be favorites at the moment, and everybody is fully invested in the bandwagon.
While listening to BBC Radio Scotland these carbon copy droll pseudo hipsters moan along about never being kissed but the hot girl at school and loosing their keys got me to thinking that maybe this has become the definition of Scottish music. Don’t get me wrong, everyone has their own taste, but surely the record shops and radio stations could get behind something that isn’t going to cause mass suicide. Yes different genres go through phases of being popular, but there is such a wide verity of bands and labels in not just Scotland, but the UK that are being overlooked because they don’t fit the current trend.
Even a national award ceremony has turned their nose up at supporting the label, reinforcing the old adage ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not bitterness, Wasted State Records has never been better, this is an observation. I am not ashamed to say that I buy most, if no all, of my records either directly from labels, or from the bands themselves. Not because I don’t want the shops to benefit, but because my experience in independent shops in Scotland has been so piss poor, I can’t face the idea of stepping though the doors.
Yes, some stock a token sample of the Wasted State roster, which I will always be grateful for but I don’t want people who dig what we are putting out to go through the same gag inducing experience I have had.
I think it was before the first Record Store Day and one of my favorite bands announced they were releasing a limited edition live 7”. After changing my trousers I went to what was my local indie store and enquired about ordering it, which, as far as I can see is what the whole Record Store Day is about. Anyway, the dude at the counter looked at the list and located the release I was looking for and toddled off to double check something with the boss.
He returned and informed me that they were not getting said record in, which didn’t surprise me as the band in question were not destined to support Biffy Clyro. I asked him if he could get it for me and even offered to pay what ever postal fees would be incurred in the procurement of this highly coveted piece of blue vinyl. He buggers off through the back to pow wow with the powers that be and comes out followed by what I assume is the owner/boss, who informs me that it would not be possible to get as it was an American release and they did not deal with [Distributor No. 2] the distributor in question, and buggered off again.
Boyo behind the counter seemed fairly embarrassed by this and apologized and wished me luck. Having had the experience of being the poor shit behind the counter when a customer looses the rag unnecessarily, I stayed polite and thanked the poor bastard for his tie.
There are useless bits of information you learn at any job, something I learnt during my time in music retail was what distributors distributed what release. After accepting this excuse I turned from the counter and had a wee nosey through the shelves. Low and behold I saw at least 10+ released I knew for a fact were distributed by [Distributor No. 2]. I looked up to see the lying sack of shit boss, watching from his new position behind the counter, shot him a knowing look, and left.
Was it because he couldn’t be arsed sending an email to order the record? Were my jeans not genital restricting enough? Was it my lack of asymmetrical haircut? I’ll never know, I’m not even bothered anymore. A former colleague of mine from the record shop lived in Brighton and managed to get me a copy, I’m still not sure if I gave him the money for it!
There is a point to this rant, that could be followed up by another, and with out doubt, enough to fill a volume, but I’ll save that for the book if I ever get round to finishing it.
There are so many posers that leach around the music business and musicians with little or no purpose other that to impress the opposite sex (or the same sex) or to seem ‘cool’ by association. Some of these sycophantic bastards actually believe their own lies and have no idea that they are being total idiots. Sometimes, their friends or people they are hanging onto don’t see it.
This covers not just record storeowners but all sorts of others.
The main point here really is that if you own a record shop (or anything else for that matter) and you pretty much refuse to help customers, don’t piss and moan that business is hard and you might have to close your shop because there aren’t enough people shopping in your store.