I get by because of the people who make a special effort to shop here--mostly young men--who spend all their time looking for deleted Smiths singles and original, NOT rereleased- underlined- Frank Zappa albums. Fetish properties are not unlike porn. I'd feel guilty taking their money if I wasn't, well, kinda one of them.
- Character Rob Gordon, owner of Championship Vinyl, from the movie High Fidelity
According to Entrepreneur.com, in ten years the record store as we know it will be, for all intents and purposes, extinct. To say that we live in a digital age is a criminally obvious statement, but it must be pointed out that the technological progression of the 21st century comes with a long list of casualties, not the least of which are the rituals, social and otherwise, associated with collecting.
Part of music fandom is the pride, satisfaction and identity found in building a collection of favored artists. Vinyl is still the choice of many fans that view their music as both a lifestyle and a conduit for their own brand of self-expression. Compact Discs replaced vinyl long ago as the preferred format of most, and although CDs don't possess the analog antiquity of vinyl, even they are one step away from going the way of the dinosaur.
Mp3s are the way of the future, and the iPod is the new storage crate. Hence, the internet is the new record store. The very concept of music as a physical commodity--a complete package that includes artwork, photos, lyrics and liner notes, in addition to the keepsake of the actual disc or record--is one that will soon be completely replaced by the image of a file being downloaded and unzipped. All you need now is an iPod, a credit card and a computer. The Entrepreneur prediction is completely logical-- record companies will soon cut out the physical middle man altogether and music will only be available online.
This change will not greatly affect the mega stores like Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart. CD purchases account for a small fraction of their sales, and many of these mega stores have already begun to absorb the loss by scaling back CDs in favor of ipods and iTunes gift cards (you can even purchase a specific release in the form of an iTunes download card).
The real casualty of the digital revolution is the independently owned record store. Stores that offer a wide selection of music, both contemporary and classic, that can't be heard on top forty radio, with workers who are passionate about their jobs and fiercely loyal to their own tastes--stores with in-shop concerts, with local underground 'zines and show flyers available at the counter, stores that function as a connection point for a city's local music scene, both as a hangout for like-minded people and a point of sale and exposure for unheard talent-these are the businesses in danger.
Tulsa is lucky enough to be able to provide shelter to several independent record stores. One of the newest, Under the Mooch, 1425 S. Harvard Ave., has also quickly become the most prominent--fulfilling the description above as being both a provider of diverse and obscure artists as well as a connecting point for musicians and fans to network and mingle. The store holds frequent in-house shows, has a large section dedicated to local artists, provides a sizeable selection of vinyl both new and used, and even sells beer (for on-site consumption).
The owner, Bart Ford, is an OU graduate (with a degree in biochemistry) who moved to Tulsa several years ago to work in the jewelry business. Though it wasn't his passion, jewelry gave Ford the small business experience necessary to make Under the Mooch a reality.
"I remember going to Lovegarden Records in Lawrence, Kansas and thinking 'there's no place like this in Tulsa, I don't really want to live in a city that doesn't have a good record store,'" Ford explained.
"That trip to Lovegarden really set (opening a record store) in my mind... It took about a year but I was able to do it."
Now, two years later, Ford's business has grown into a modest but influential arm of Tulsa's music community. Under the Mooch has become known for its numerous in-house shows, its vinyl selection, and its emphasis on local artist sales.
Ford has benefited greatly from the volunteer work of local music geeks, but he emphasized that running a record store is no walk in the park.
"It's certainly been hectic and kinda scary at times," he said. "You keep it going from month to month. Sometimes you have bad months and you think 'what am I doing?' but then sometimes you'll have good months. Overall, I know my business is growing."
Ford, a vinyl aficionado, is very aware of the ticking clock that many analysts have applied to his industry. He said that many record stores have had to reach beyond music to stay relevant and in business, and he's currently trying to find the right thing for Under the Mooch.
"Starship's now a head shop," Ford explained. "I'm still trying to find my bong, so to speak. I don't presume to think that I'm going to be the one record store that survives in ten years, but ya know, if you have to, become a clothing store that sells records."
This emphasis on survival and adaptation is no doubt necessary, but Ford is still clearly in business because, more than anything else, he loves what he's doing. And he loves vinyl.
Ford gleefully pointed out that, because of the emphasis on Mp3s, CD sales have dropped, but vinyl sales have actually increased.
"It's the people who actually care about collecting music," he said. "For the most part, CDs are pretty disposable. They get thrown on your dashboard or whatever... vinyl, say what you want about the sound quality difference between the two, some people can tell the difference and some people can't, but vinyl is a precious piece of something that you have, and it's kind of ritualistic to take it out of the package and be careful with it, and put it on the thing and move the needle over... There's still romanticism, I guess, about playing vinyl. And to somebody who really cares about the music and really wants to have a substantial record collection, vinyl is the better choice."
Cookout & Rock Out
To celebrate his two years of survival as a record store owner, Ford is throwing an all day BBQ/Music Festival on Saturday, the 28th. Ford will be cooking out with a tent set up in the parking lot where acoustic acts will play while the inside of the store will simultaneously host a staggered all-day roster of performances from some of the best artists in town. This is similar to the celebration that Ford threw last year to celebrate UtM's one year anniversary.
"Last year my main purpose was to have as wide a range of diversity as possible," Ford said. "We had a blue grass band, a drill core DJ... this year we tried to do the same thing, and this year we booked all bands who didn't play last year. "
Outside, the lineup consists of Sam Crow and Brian Keller, Cairde Na Gael, Cecada, Weathervanes, and Sol of David Lyman. Inside, beginning at 2pm, the store will feature performances from Guardant, Wighead, Jor Dan, Callupsie, Here is There, Kamikaze Slut, and Hiphopotamus.
The festival is free and open to the public. Additionally, an ice cream truck will be on hand throughout the day, and Harvard Meats has promised a 10 percent discount for anyone who buys a steak specifically to grill at the festival. For those who don't want to splurge on steak, Ford will be providing free burgers and drinks. As always, beer will be for sale.
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