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On the road to find out

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Shawn Sensiba
Friday, April 20, 2012

Some of my best memories of college involve journeys to a wonderful, battered old record store on Milwaukee's East Side. The place was called Jack's Record Rack. It had been shortened from Dirty Jack's Record Rack. We still called it Dirty Jack's.

Jack's was one of a number of good record stores in the Milwaukee area in the 1970s. Its specialty was cutouts. These were discontinued records that had been deleted from catalogs. They sold for $1 or $2 instead of the usual $6 for a long-playing record at that time. This was before compact discs or MP3s—in fact, this was even before cassette tapes.

We only could make occasional trips to that store, but we made each visit an event. We researched what we had seen the last time we visited and read everything we could to uncover the gems that were essential for our record collections. We would linger in the store for an hour or two. In the end, we would spend $10 or $12 and have an armful of new discs. It was a fantastic time.

Music discovery has changed in nearly every way possible since those days. Record stores are endangered. A lot of people never buy albums anymore. Many music lovers download (legally or illegally) individual songs from the Internet.

The music industry has endured profound changes. This is both good and bad for music consumers, and it's a mixed bag for artists as well. All in all, however, I prefer the process of music discovery now to those days in the 1970s. The main difference is the volume and quality of information and the availability of the music.

The very thing that has changed the music industry has made music discovery easy—the World Wide Web.

Word of mouth is always the most powerful recommendation for music. As a result, social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook play a big role in music discovery for many people. Subscription or streaming services such as Spotify.com, Mog.com or Rdio.com have become enormously popular and convenient.

Retail sites such as iTunes, Amazon.com or Emusic.com allow you to listen to music before you buy. Listener reviews at these sites, while often useless, can add valuable information.

My favorite music site is Allmusic.com. It has a huge database of information on artists and complete discographies. Exhaustively detailed, with worthwhile critical assessments, Allmusic is essential for gathering information.

Then you have media sites. The best of these in my opinion is npr.org/music. The National Public Radio site has articles, reviews and chances to stream music: the ultimate try before you buy. Also excellent is Pitchfork.com and Slantmagazine.com. Both sites feature excellent writing from highly opinionated sources—the best stuff. I also check reviews at Ew.com, Rollingstone.com and Downbeat.com, which is a great resource for traditional jazz lovers.

In the end, however, it is the Jack's Record Racks of the world that music lovers should support. As much as I love online sources for information and research, the heart of the matter remains in brick and mortar retail establishments.

Janesville has an excellent music store in The Exclusive Company. On Saturday, independent music retailers will be celebrating Record Store Day. The Janesville store will feature live music, doughnuts in the morning and pizza in the afternoon, and most important, it will have more than 200 new releases specifically for Record Store Day. If you are a music lover, don't let this musical opportunity go by. And maybe more importantly, don't allow a valuable local retailer to succumb to changing times. Stores like Exclusive need your support.

How do you discover music? Do you stream music? Do you have a favorite website? Has your method for researching and acquiring music changed from 10 or 15 years ago?

Follow Shawn Sensiba on Twitter @shawnsensiba.


Last updated: 10:05 am Wednesday, August 28, 2013


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