Handshake Drugs #5: HMV no more.

Hey friends! It’s about time for another handshake drugs update!

When I moved to Toronto 3 years ago my first part time job was at an HMV record store (the Eaton’s Centre location). To say HMV played a role in my musically inclined youth before I worked there would be an understatement. Growing up in Barrie, Ontario it was one of the only CD stores I could order my favourite pop punk, emo, and indie rock records in to. When I heard word through my former HMV co-workers that there was talk of HMV closing their stores in Canada (and possibly internationally as well) I had mixed feelings.

According to this Toronto Life article the final decision hasn’t been announced yet, but due to increasingly devastating sales figures HMV might very well be no more.

We all knew it was coming, the demise of the record store. In major markets like Toronto and Vancouver this is great news. Ideally music lovers will be forced to bring their business to struggling indie retailers. In small markets (most Canadian markets) this will mean there is nowhere to buy music and experience what it is to shop for physical music in their cities. This is concerning.

Music stores used to be a hang out spot for music fans of all ages and all types when I grew up (not that long ago). Local music store employees in some cases were mentors for the cities’ youth just based on their selections they played in the stores and suggestions. Walking in to a record store was an experience, something you looked forward to doing, and talking about the new Wu-Tang record with the stranger at the counter is among many of my fond memories. Some of my favourite bands like Death From Above 1979 and Bloc Party were suggestions given to me by HMV employees in Barrie.

Music fans in small towns are now left to buy their music online. It has become a private thing you do at home, like reading or playing video games. Your music purchases may be influenced by your friends’ Facebook status more so than an employee of iTunes. We are losing that personal connection with someone over music at a store, it just isn’t the same. But I guess we’ve already lost it, hence why HMV’s are thinking of closing down in the first place.

Small town music fans will have to turn to globalized online retailers – where the one size fits all music store can feature and pump out national hits. What does this mean for the artists that do well in certain regions? The best selling local bands? Where will they get represented? Nowhere I assume.

Over the last 3 years HMV went to great lengths to update their stores to attract and engage shoppers while they were visiting. Computer screens, in-store performances, on-site social media integration and their hip new branding was a clear sign they were about to prosper in these devastating times. Turns out even those efforts couldn’t combat the sinking number of people who even step foot in the store. They tried transferring their focus to video games, movies, books, and electronics but that didn’t seem to put them in the market to compete with leaders in those industries (Indigo, EB Games, Best Buy, Future Shop, etc.). They even built up their online store to offer downloads, but still no one seems to care. Consumers are completely uninterested in their ever-changing music retail experience. Is the music store vibe I grew up with in Barrie completely dead?

As a former HMV employee, working at the store was an experience all of its own. HMV provided me with a network of friends I could easily connect with over music. In fact, my roommate of 3 years, Matt, and I met when we worked together at HMV. We both haven’t been employed by HMV in 3 years but our longstanding friendship was built there.

Now that I work in the industry, working in retail was a crucial part of helping me to understand the power of marketing and how the general public reacts to it. It allowed me to witness first hand people’s music purchasing habits and understand how they find new music. Many observations I made behind the HMV counter 3 years ago, I think back to in my day to day operations here at Audio Blood. Will fewer teens in small Canadian markets be inspired to work in the industry if there is no option to grow up working at a record store?

In some ways we have come full circle, leaving youngsters to find out about new music this time not from their older siblings’ record collections, but from stealing their ipods and playlists. Finding out about new music has become harder for youngsters but easier in other ways. These kids aged 10 to 14 in their formative music years, have to work hard to seek out new music if they are intrigued by the glimpse they’ve seen from TV/radio/online. For many growing up in small Canadian cities though, I fear they dont even see the big picture of what’s out there.

So here is the double edged sword, too much free music so records stores close. Record stores close and the new generation of potential music fans don’t know music exists (extreme, I know, but I’m thinking long term here). Even though people weren’t buying music at record stores, in small towns record stores physically represented music and there isn’t much else representing that in these sheltered communities.

So this drastic change might not be a bad thing, but it could be, we’ll have to wait and see. Instead of our childhood music discovery stories sounding something like this “my buddy gave me a cassette mix tape that had NOFX on it, so the Music World clerk helped me pick out their best record and told me what Warped Tour was…”

It might sound more like “Johnny’s older brother posted a sick Gaslight Anthem video on his Facebook wall and I went and downloaded the whole record on Lisimewire…”

Something about that just feels different, but I guess it’s all kids growing up these days will know.

xo Sari

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