Confessions of a Lapsed Record-Store Customer

Artist's conception of life without records.
I used to buy records all the time. Both as a music fan and as a DJ, I was constantly plunking down more money than I really had on vinyl throughout the late '90s and well into the mid-'00s. I'd buy $12 12" singles at Platinum--$12! For one song and a b-side, which I might not even end up DJing out that much. I'd buy more reasonably priced records at Sonic Boom (RIP, Capitol Hill store), Wall of Sound, and Easy Street. I just about filled up a 4x4 IKEA Expedit record shelf. And then, with a rare exception here or there, I just stopped.

It would be easy to say I stopped because I was, as I am now, underemployed and broke-ish, but really, I stopped back while I was working full-time and on salary at my last job. Mostly I stopped buying much vinyl because I was getting towers of promo CDs and downloads sent to me of most anything I'd want, and at home it all ran through the same sound system anyway. But partly I stopped buying many records for a few other reasons:

1. They started to feel like an unnecessary collectible, like individual comics issues when I could just be getting the graphic-novel collections, or worse, like baseball cards.

2. Even though I was making a salary, it was pretty comparable to my friend the entry-level public school teacher's salary, and I chose to prioritize some things over others: food and drink, sure, but also some significant travel for the first time in years--things that couldn't be downloaded for free, basically.

3. Vinyl (or CDs, I guess) just increasingly isn't how I listen to music--I love a 12" album as art object, but for sheer utility, there's really never been anything better than mp3s.

4. Vast record collections are for people with stable spaces to keep them. I'm a lifelong renter, by working-class birthright and economic constraint rather than by choice, and I'll probably never own a house, and at some point carting these boxes of records around and trying to make space for them is going to start to feel pretty stupid. (Kornelis might feel me on this one.)

All of this is to say: There is a demographic for vinyl and used CDs, but I was maybe slipping out of it. And in this economy, I'm sure I'm not alone. Vinyl is a collector's item, a low-grade luxury, and luxuries are the first thing folks cut from their budgets in tight times. (If tomorrow, I got a job paying twice what I was making last year, would I start buying records again? Almost certainly.) And then there's just the sad fact that physical mediums like vinyl and CDs just aren't the most efficient way to distribute or store musical information anymore--it's like how in the '90s there were oxygen bars, and then everyone remembered they could just breathe oxygen for free all the time anywhere they liked. And that's not entirely good or entirely bad, but it's like micro-econ 101: You can't ask someone who's broke to pay for something they can get free.

So I'm sad to see Sonic Boom go. I wish it could have survived on Capitol Hill. (Turns out I couldn't survive on Capitol Hill either, and had to move to a much cheaper hovel in the CD.) But I also say that as someone who hasn't done a lot of actual record-shopping in the past couple years, who likes the idea of record stores more out of nostalgia or as an abstract concept--or as simply being better than having another Quiznos in the neighborhood--than I do as part of my day-to-day life. So I'm part of the problem, although I like to think I'm as much a symptom of larger economic forces as I am a cause of this specific effect. Sorry, Sonic Boom. I wish things were different.

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