Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
He’s just a guy, with his dog, who likes to listen to really good music.
Since 2012, Tim Townsend has worked to feed the ears of Lake Geneva audiophiles as proprietor for Black Circle Records, 516 Broad St., Unit 1. On a daily basis, he—along with his beloved English bulldog, Lola—shares his love for vocal artistry with the countless customers that wander into his shop. In addition to stocking all genres of music, Townsend introduces visitors to up-and-coming acts from around the area through regular concerts at his in-house venue known as The Vinyl Room.
Townsend’s lifelong dream of owning his own record store began way back in the late ‘70s when, at age 12, he purchased his first album—Alice Cooper’s “Welcome to My Nightmare”—at a nearby shop known as What’s Up. From there, he never looked back.
A native of Illinois, Townsend graduated in 1984 from McHenry East Campus in McHenry, Illinois. He admits his preparations for the future centered mostly on “listening more to music than listening to my teachers.”
Black Circle Records is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Monday. To learn more about Townsend, Lola and what the store has to offer, search Facebook, Instagram (@black.circle.records) and YouTube.
1. What are some considerations you have to take into account when managing a music store? I can only speak for myself, but I believe the most important consideration is having a broad knowledge of various genres of music. Along with that, knowing what albums are collectible or rare and hard to find, and knowing what criteria makes them collectible. And an overall love and passion for music in general to be your driving force.
2. In your experience, are albums outselling CDs or vice-versa? I absolutely believe albums are outselling CDs. More and more people are being drawn into the full experience of the albums, meaning the cover art, the liners and inserts they come with, and the overall feeling you get from the sound of vinyl.
3. Share some of your favorite albums/CDs from your personal collection: Some of my favorites are Alice Cooper’s “Welcome to My Nightmare,” because that was the first album I ever bought with my own money. Also, the Allman Brothers Band’s first album because, in my opinion, it is one of the greatest debut albums ever made. It is filled with so much passion and soul you can’t help but fall in love with it. Lastly, Derek & the Dominos’ “Layla and Other Love Songs” because I feel like I can relate to it. On the entire album, you can feel Eric Clapton’s emotion being poured out about his lost love.
4. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. My lifelong dream has been to own my own record store. But before I had the opportunity to do that, I was a welder by trade for more than 20 years.
5. What goes into deciding what albums/CDs you stock at the store? I like to fill the store with a wide variety of all genres so I always have something for everybody. But I also like to keep the classics that most people like, along with more current artists that are beginning to put music out on vinyl. There are also lesser-known artists that I like to keep in store in hopes of turning customers on to something new.
6. Based on requests and feedback, what would you guess is the single most sought-after album/CD by Black Circle customers? In lieu of the recent release of the Queen movie, all of their albums have been in very high demand—with customers ranging from younger kids that are newer to vinyl to lifelong fans that are coming back around.
7. Who gets to choose the music played in the store, and how often does playing that music lead to the sale of that particular album/CD? I choose what gets played in the store just based off of what I am in the mood to listen to that day. It does lead to sales pretty often, though. Customers will ask who’s playing and if it’s for sale.
8. What are the greatest challenges facing independent music stores today? Aside from the bigger chain records stores, I would say the internet. People can order whatever they want online through sites such as Amazon. So if you don’t have an internet presence, your challenge is to make the store attractive enough for people to want to come and visit in person.
9. When you’re at the grocery store, what is the one item that goes into your cart whether you need it or not? Sugar-sweetened cereal. It’s my weakness.
10. Do you play any instruments? I messed around with an acoustic guitar when I was younger but never seriously pursued it.
11. What is your take on the resurgence of vinyl? Is this just a fad or a returning standard? I think it is amazing that it is making a strong comeback. It’s hard to say if it’s only a fad or not. I think in the beginning it was a bit of a fad, but it is now becoming a returning standard in the music industry.
12. Name the one item you own that you could not live without. My turntable! Without it, I’d be lost and have nothing to play my records on.
13. People bash acts such as Dave Matthews, Maroon 5, Nickelback and others, but they tend to sell a lot of albums. As a music store manager and a fan, are you ever torn philosophically when it comes to ordering music by bands you dislike in the best interests of the store and its customers? No, because I am stocking music for my customers’ tastes, not for my own collection.
14. If you could live in any era, musically, which would you choose and why? I would say the 1960s so I could be at the very first rock concert, the Monterey Pop Festival, to witness the birth of artists such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding and many others.
15. How did you end up owning an independent music store? Is that what you wanted to be when you were a kid? Music has always been my love and passion, and the memories of hanging out in record stores as a kid prompted me to want to have my own one day. I have been collecting albums my entire life and finally decided to go after my dream—using my own personal collection at the time as my starting inventory.
16. Who is your favorite Muppet? Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. They were an awesome way to introduce children to music.
17. Have you ever met anyone famous? What was that person like? Yes. The ones that stick out to me the most are Neal Casal and Adam MacDougall from The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, my favorite band. They were very down to earth and took the time to hang out and talk and take pictures. It was just like talking with good friends.
18. You regularly host music in-store at The Vinyl Room, and you also host a video podcast. Why are programs such as these so important to Black Circle? “Live from The Vinyl Room” is a great way for local musicians to get their music out to the people and showcase their talents, and it also allows their audience to discover Black Circle Records. It’s a win-win for both parties. The podcast can be found on YouTube.
19. If Lola ever decides to take on a new job, I’d like to apply for her position at Black Circle. Tell everyone who Lola is and why she’s so important to the enterprise. Lola is my English bulldog, who I adopted just over a year ago. The day she stepped foot into the store, she became a local favorite. Customers regularly see her lying in the window and stop in just to show her some love. She’s become such a hit with customers that she has her own line of store T-shirts.
20. Does working in a music store dull your interest in listening to music away from work, or do you just love listening to music nonstop? The world is filled with so many different genres and styles of music that I could never grow tired of listening to it. You could always discover something new, and that’s the beauty of it.