Why KEXP's Move to the Seattle Center Could Mean Trouble for Easy Street Records

Chris Kornelis
John Hiatt signs an autograph after an in-store session at Easy Street Records in Lower Queen Anne.
Last summer, when KEXP threw its hat into the ring to make the Seattle Center's Fun Forest the location of its new, expanded home with room for public viewings of its in-studio performances, Easy Street Records owner Matt Vaughan was skeptical about what this would mean for his shop.

It's not uncommon for a band to play an in-studio set at KEXP and then an in-store at Easy Street during the same trip to Seattle. Easy Street's Lower Queen Anne location has the biggest stage in town for in-store performances, and counts on the sessions to keep the record buying public used to visiting brick-and-mortar retailers. If KEXP's in-studios are made public in a cushy new space at the Seattle Center, what's the incentive for bands and fans to head over for an encore set at Easy Street?

Now that the mayor has orchestrated a deal that will put KEXP in the Seattle's Center's Northwest Rooms, Vaughan is sure this is going to make life a little bit harder for his shop, which is just around the corner from KEXP's new digs.

"We're going to lose out on in-stores," Vaughan says. "I don't have the power to battle it out with them over a Mountain Goats in-store or an Elvis Costello in-store. The artist is going to have to make the choice."

Vaughan says that given the ever-changing retail landscape that is only getting more digital, record companies will be more apt to push for their artists to get time in front of the KEXP audience - which is global in scale via KEXP.org--than Easy Street's.

"There's going to be more attraction toward that on the business side then there will be on selling a record--CD or Vinyl," Vaughan says. "I love everybody there (at KEXP), and I think that what they've been able to accomplish is staggering and I'm happy for them, and I think overall, for the music community, this is pretty special. This is quite an endeavor for what at one point was a college-based non-profit radio station, which I guess it still is. Let's just say they're walking in bigger shoes today."

If KEXP were to include a music retail shop in their new space--as executive director Tom Mara has suggested they might--it would be that much more competition for a business already in a fistfight with digital retails like iTunes and Amazon.com.

"All they need is a record store, and they've got it done," Vaughan says. "They've accomplished the whole circle if they can do that."

That said, Vaughan says KEXP's expansion will ultimately be good for the Seattle music community, and that he has always had a good relationship with the KEXP crew. DJ Kevin Cole, in fact, spun records at Vaughan's wedding.

"This is business, and we all want the best for the music community," Vaughan says. "Of course, there's lots of questions as to how, and why and when. But if we were to look at the history of KEXP it continues to only get stronger and they've made some wise choices."

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