A Bitter Adieu to Music Stores

todayNovember 14, 2016 12

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By Kristopher Tondre
Music Journalist

Hastings is gone. The multimedia store that sold everything from comic books to skateboards, CDs to t-shirts and so much more is gone.

Going in and walking through the San Marcos, TX the last few days of it being open was a downhearted experience. Seeing shelves once full of so much music, both old and new alike, now left deserted as the metal displays sit, waiting to be broken down and taken away was disheartening for my hope for music stores.

Maybe I’m one of a few in that I like purchasing hard copies of music. It’s something I’ve been doing since a kid and my parents would take me to music stores. I’d just gaze through the displays of CDs, just looking for the name of an artist I recognized. I don’t think my parents could have ever imagined how influential those trips to various music stores back home in San Antonio would be. I went from a small collection of CDs that I used to keep in a carrying case to now well over 600 CDs and multiple shelf units spilling over with the jewel cases containing some of my favorite bodies of work. There are so many memories I have made that revolve around music stores. From those freak-out moments of finding a CD that I had been searching for, to talking with the people that worked behind the counter because someone finally understood my obscure rap references, to even making friends while we both looked through the Rap/Hip Hop section of the local music shop.

Baby Aztro is an incredible rapper from San Antonio, Texas, and someone I first met while looking through the rap music section at one of my favorite music stores. While waiting for a CD I had brought in to be cleaned up, I overheard Aztro and a friend of his browsing through the rap section and commenting on the various albums they came across. It’s not often I would meet people who understood the music like I do, so I tried to discreetly get in on the conversation. After tossing in my two cents about a Lil’ Flip album that Aztro had in hand, we started talking music and just the history of various albums, the relation of different artists to each other and had a deep music conversation I have yet to match with too many people on that level. He told me he made music himself and gave me a link to checkout. After I went home, found his music and gave it a listen, I liked what I heard and ordered a hard copy of his II album as part of PHREE-BASS SAMPULZ with producer Mikey Strange. I’ve now known Aztro for a couple of years, and see that he shares a similar passion for the physical release of albums much like me. Considering our friendship first started in a music store and as an artist himself, I knew he’d have something to say about music stores closing down and the direction physical releases are going in a day-and-age where the focus is put on streaming services and which one has the exclusive. Much like me, Aztro’s early foray into music stores came as a result of parental influence.

Michael Jackson’s Bad, a classic album that went nine times platinum in the United States.
Michael Jackson’s Bad, a classic album that went nine-times platinum in the United States.

“When I was in the second grade, my pops would give me an allowance of $10 on the first and the 15th of each month, and I could spend it on whatever,” Aztro said. “Around that same time, I was just getting into Michael Jackson heavy, and one day, I wanted one of his albums, but didn’t have enough. I was short maybe $2 but my dad offered to help me get it. From that day on, he gave me a choice: I could either get $10 or he would get me a CD.”

That love for purchasing hard copies of music has carried over with Aztro well into adulthood now as the act of purchasing a CD allows Aztro to reminisce on his childhood a little.

“It’s almost like a ritual; opening a CD, record, even a cassette tape is an experience,” Aztro said. “You never know what to expect from the pictures inside, to reading the liner notes (and) seeing who was involved with the album. You can also say it’s a bit of nostalgia, going back to how it was when I was a kid getting these albums every allowance. Holding an album in hand just holds a sort of gratification.”

Very few artists think about these things when they release albums present day. Vince Staples, in an interview after the release of his debut album Summertime ’06, talked about how important it was to him to get the album released how he wanted, in a double disc format that featured a very distinct style of artwork on full display on the booklet that came inserted in the jewel case. But not many musicians think about that aspect of releasing an album, if they release a hard copy at all. It’s been a battle of streaming exclusives in recent time that has left some fans upset at the petty wars waged by companies trying to have exclusives to their services so fans will pay for the right to hear the music. Hard copies of the music may not come out until months after the original stream was available, if they ever come out at all. It was roughly four months between the time PARTYNEXTDOOR released the stream of PartyNextDoor 3 before hard copies of the album came out in early October.

“It’s been a lot harder locating certain albums,” Aztro said. “Five years ago, the only reason I would look at a weekly ad for a store was to see which store was going to have the album with bonus tracks. Now, I’m checking that (weekly ad) to see if they will even get it at all.”

Now, the stores where you can locate those albums have increasingly been shrinking in size or availability. Rapper Master P once made a small fortune from buying out a music store and selling CDs; now music stores can barely stay afloat as they struggle to move CDs off the shelves. Places like Sam Goody and Circuit City closed their doors years ago, and Hastings recently became the latest store to add its name to the list of media marvels that once populated various shopping malls across the nation. It breaks my heart a little to see such venues like those I loved to go to as a kid begin to close down because people don’t put much value in them anymore.

Thankfully, there are still some artists who continue to push out hard copies of their music. It gives me a reason to look forward to the end of a long week when I know that I can go to my local music store and pick up a hard copy of an album I’ve likely been anticipating for some time now. It’s not just about adding another album to my shelf, but more about building upon a collection that, maybe someday, I’ll be able to pass along to my children, should I ever be fortunate enough to have any. I mean, what are you going to do with streaming services? Pass down your password? But the concept of hard copies is something that isn’t lost on Aztro, as he and Strange recently released their newest project, XP8.

“It’s a way of leaving a mark,” Aztro said. “I see it as vinyl almost. All these older records stand the test of time, and we can play something near 50 years old. Now, can we say that would apply digitally? Not at all.”

Featured image by Kristopher Tondre.

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