Thursday, December 30, 2010

Several Species OF Small Furry Thoughts - 2010

I’d like to say this year was somehow different from the other previous 21 years here at Twist and Shout, but honestly, it still feels about like it did in the beginning. Things have definitely changed but the basic feeling of being in a record store, turning people on to music, and validating their identities is still pretty much the same.

The changes seem like they are going on around, or in spite of us. More and more people download music. Unbelievably there has been a massive shift in the way our world consumes music. In the blink of an eye, entire generations of people have turned their backs on the advances made in sound replication in favor of storage ease. (Wow, Steve Jobs paid attention when he heard the axiom about never going broke by underestimating the gullibility of the American public.) Along with that, the social aspects so integral to listening to the music we so revered in the 60’s and 70’s have just disappeared overnight. Young people don’t listen to music together the way they used to. They can’t. The Ipod has created a self-sufficient bubble for each individual. There are devices for listening over crappy little speakers but from what I can tell, it is only adults who use these, and then wish they had never gotten rid of their turntable. For the most part, the social dynamic associated with popular music has shifted.  Does this mean that people have stopped loving music? No, it does not. In fact, I am seeing those kids who do take it seriously start to poke their heads in here again. As they become enamored of certain artists, they want to see what this “collecting” thing is all about. The artwork, feel, texture, smell and “life-force” of the actual object (CD, LP, 45 or DVD) brings an artist to life in ways that a download simply never will. To hold an LP by Muddy Waters is quite something special compared to downloading ten Muddy Waters songs.  I don’t labor under the false hope that downloads are going away - they are the future - but, as I had hoped, there is still a place for the real stuff. It is the final step in the life of a collector, no matter their age. If you love The Beatles, eventually some physical form of The Beatles is going to make its way into your life. So, the downloading of music has become a stepping-stone to collecting - as once the transistor radio was. Get a taste for it cheap or even free, then when you are ready to get serious, we’re here for you.

So what physical stuff did we sell this year? Vinyl Vinyl Vinyl. It is not a flash in the pan! It is back in a significant way. We have seen tremendous and sustained growth in the most physical of all formats. Across the board, artists and labels are starting to see the real value in offering their fans records. It illustrates my earlier point; once you have fallen for, say Godspeed You Black Emperor the reality of your love for that band can only be consummated in the soft flesh of a record. Once you hold something close and dear, it becomes so much more real. Over and over this year, I saw kids with that libidinous glow of pride as they approached the register with an LP or 7” by their favorite band. The smart bands truly get it. I would not expect Gaslight Anthem or The Black Angels or Animal Collective to ever release another album without a vinyl version. Their fans will demand it at this point. Of course, the limited nature of most vinyl issues insures that they will go up in value. Some of our biggest successes on Ebay this year have been with records that are less than five years old.

And let us not forget our old friend the CD. While it has been battered and insulted, proclaimed dead every year for the last decade and a half, it still is our biggest seller. Don’t believe the hype; the music industry still turns on the sales of the CD - period. Anyone who tells you differently is either a fool or a liar. It is still the format of choice for the vast majority of serious music listeners. It is over 60% of our sales and it still represents billions of dollars of sales to the industry. CD-wise, there was a difference this year; the biggest sellers were almost all newer acts. Sure, Eric Clapton and Neil Young both have new records that we are selling quite well, and the Elton/Leon album is something of a phenomenon, but the real winners this year at Twist are The Black Keys, Mumford and Sons, Arcade Fire, Cee-Lo Green, Ray Lamontagne, Bruno Mars, Kanye West, The National and countless other bands that have made their mark since the third Woodstock festival. In other words, that first and second graduating class of rock royalty no longer sits on the sales throne. Those artists still matter, but the young bloods matter just as much. And that is a good thing. If we are going to stay valid then the new artists need the same love and honor we give Elvis, Mick and Jimi. We have, we do, and we always shall stay excited about new music at Twist and Shout.

And then there is all the other stuff. A number of years ago when I paraphrased our friends at the great California store Salzers by saying “when people in Colorado think gift, I want them to think Twist and Shout” I didn’t know how real this idea would become. Sales of what we call our boutique regularly hover between 15-20% and this Christmas they were even bigger. I saw plenty of people who were shopping here just for the gifts - no music or movies at all. That’s just fine with us. There is a thin line between a new album and the shirt you wear while listening to it. It all adds up to who we are as individuals.

Like every recent year, people will come up to me in the coming weeks and hesitatingly ask how it went. I will be able to tell from their downturned eyes that they expect the worst answer possible. But, just like all the other years I am filled with optimism and fully believe in the mission - still and always. 
See you in the aisles,
Paul Epstein

1 comment:

Bret Helm said...

Great article. Thank you! - Bret Helm