With the advent of MP3 technology, the explosive growth of corporate music retail chains, and the potentiality of retail sales on the Internet, the independent music store is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Despite a current worldwide economic recession, consumers are still spending money on music, albeit on a limited budget. The purpose of this article is to examine the phenomenon of the music buying public’s inability to realize that by spending their money at corporate chains, they are contributing to the demise of our capitalist society. Capitalism can only be successful when competition between businesses is not skewed in an unfair manner. The reality of the situation is that corporations have a total advantage over small businesses and are abusing our capitalist system. In order to prove this, just examine your neighborhood. In the past ten years, how many independent retail businesses have gone out of business or relocated? Is this phenomenon the fault of the consumer. Not entirely. Some businesses are not run well. Other businesses have been stripped of their clientele by retail chains and local malls. Consumers are starting to become more comfortable with the idea of purchasing material using the Internet, so the small independent music store, essentially, has a seemingly infinite level of competition. Corporations have unfair advantages in this competition for the following reasons: larger retail space, larger advertising funds, and an ability to carry more varieties of music, thus appealing to the various musical tastes while broadening their customer base.
If you are reading this article, you are doing so because you visited a site that hosts information about the music you love. Those of us that love music, simply put, purchase music. But where do you purchase this music? And why? These are important questions to ask yourself. Is it solely a matter of convenience? It is the contention of this author that those of us that love independent music ought to respectfully support our local independent music stores. Why? Because independent music stores carry more independent music, thus supporting the bands and record labels that truly matter.
How about some revolutionary and conscious thought? Seriously. Or are excuses just easier for you? How about some independent thinking that has not been filtered and grinded by corporate magazine advertisements and television plugs? What if you do not have an independent store near you? Well, if you have a computer, you can purchase your music directly from the music label or domestic distributor. Most independent labels are commerce friendly. What if you do not have a computer? Then find a friend that does have one. Or go to a bookstore and peruse the many independent music magazines out there. Many stores and labels advertise in these magazines and encourage mail, phone, or fax orders for technophobes. But what if you do not want to inconvenience yourself a little because it takes too much effort? Well, this can be your one chance at redemption.
Is the future of the independent music store nothing more than a bleak prospect? Cynically, perhaps it is. But there are a few stalwarts out there. One store that is a prime example of this independent spirit is Cafe Soundz in Montclair, New Jersey. Close in proximity to the city of Newark, and easily accessible from New York City, Cafe Soundz caters to the connoisseur of electronic music. The owner, Bobby Lisi, is a virtual encyclopedia of musical knowledge. That knowledge pervades his store, for he stocks a variety of independent electronic music not found in the corporate retail sector. Bobby’s attitude is that he is a purveyor of information, not just a retail business. The humble beginnings of Cafe Soundz is an interesting illustration of the evolution of an independent idea and displays the necessary determination and hard work that it takes to turn that idea into a reality. This is the true spirit of the independent artistic community.
The history of Cafe Soundz is rather interesting. Originally, the retail space was occupied by Prudential Insurance. When Prudential moved out, Bobby seized the opportunity and began to turn his vision into a reality. Prior to owning the store, Bobby was a DJ in clubs in New Jersey and in New York City, where he had a residency at The Vault. He was also respected enough that he had the opportunity to DJ private parties for bands like Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Meat Beat Manifesto, Severed Heads, and others. Cafe Soundz opened in 1990, but not as a music store. At first, Bobby envisioned Cafe Soundz as a café, where people could gather, drink coffee, and listen to great music. Local artists displayed paintings at the café. Initially, there were only a couple of shelves of cassettes and some t-shirts for sale, so Bobby’s primary interest at the time was to establish a gathering place for a community of people that loved electronic music. Cafe Soundz soon gained a reputation, and the business began to grow. Eventually, Bobby stopped DJing around 1993-94. He began to devote more time to his business as the café evolved into a music store. Cafe Soundz began catering to all tastes of electronic music: EBM, synthpop, hardcore techno, and experimental. Between 1995-96, Bobby obtained the retail space next door and opened Romp and Stomp: a boutique that catered to a clientele interested in underground clothing and footwear. Throughout the years, the essence of the café mentality is still apparent, as Bobby encourages intelligent conversation and is willing to answer questions that his customers might have. Although Cafe Soundz is a successful business, retail sales at the store have gone down 25-30% in the last two years. In my opinion, this is a direct result of the evolution of consumer spending patterns, as more people are inclined to shop online, download free mp3s, or shop at the mall. These patterns, in order to assure the future survival of the independent music scene, must be modified.
What people fail to realize is that by shopping at your local independent music store, you are directly supporting the independent electronic community: the bands and the record labels producing the material. As people who care about music in general, we all need to make the effort to support the independent music retail sector. My goal in this article is to bring forth the notion of consumer responsibility and, by showing the development of a store like Cafe Soundz, you might look at the independent music scene from a different perspective. It is people like Bobby Lisi, the bands, and the record labels, that are brave enough to make this music available to us all. This bravery is the true core of the independent music scene.
The future of independent music is up to all of us. As consumers, we do have a responsibility and a myriad of choices. To assure the future of individual thought and independent spirit, my hope is to provide an alternative to purchasing music. For most of us, money is hard to come by. If you are willing to fork over the $15-$20 for that coveted CD, just think in terms of where that money is truly going.
If you live, or are visiting, the New York City/ New Jersey area stop in at Cafe Soundz. Cafe Soundz (973-509-2233 firstname.lastname@example.org is located at 322 Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair, New Jersey. If not, please visit your local independent music dealer at your earliest convenience. For an exhaustive list of links to electronic music labels, check out http://www.industrialnation.com