Susan Boyle is the top seller at not one, but two independent record stores this week.
Let that sink in for a moment. Susan fucking Boyle. No offense to Ms. Boyle; I'm sure she's a lovely person. But she's a middle-aged woman who got famous singing fucking show tunes on TV. Show tunes. On TV. To impress Simon Cowell. That's the state of independent record stores today.
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You can't blame Boyle. She has a right to make her music and profit off it just like any "serious" band or singer-songwriter does. But I can't help but feel a lot of us - myself included -- don't see this as the type of thing that should be killing the sales charts at Twist & Shout or Bart's. At WalMart? Sure, that's where your grandma is supposed to buy her music. But it's unnerving when it happens at a supposed mecca of cool, which is what record stores are supposed to be, right?
Hard to blame the stores either. They seem to be in a dying business, selling things (CDs) that no one wants to buy anymore. And I get that -- I sure as hell don't want to buy CDs anymore, not when I can download lossless digital audio just as cheaply and not have a bunch of discs filling up every corner of my house. Not when a ton of bands are happy to give their music away for free. Not when I can get Internet radio with virtually any song in existence streamed to me anywhere I go for a few bucks a month.
But your grandma, your mom and that technophobic cat lady you work with can't figure that stuff out, which is why Boyle is still moving units -- for now. (And neither can your drunk uncle Rick, which is why the occasional misogynistic cock-rock Nickelback clone will still move some serious units too). So they sell those, and over time, they'll focus more and more of their business on that niche and there will be less and less reason to go to record stores at all, unless you are really into show tunes and pop tarts.
Independent record stores have served a valuable purpose to less popular bands and the fans that love them for many years. It would be a shame to see that disappear entirely. I'm not suggesting that we all go out and start buying physical records again, just to keep a once awesome institution in business -- that's not going to happen. But I am interested in hearing what, if any, solution people see -- or if they even see it as a problem. If there's enough interest, I'll share some of my own thoughts later in the week on how record stores can transform themselves to survive in this brave new world. Because if they don't, it's clear they'll disappear, and soon.