The End of the Record Store?

Ballroom Dancing: Music Panels

SXSW Live Shots
Photo By Gary Miller

The End of the Record Store?

Austin Convention Center, Friday, March 19 Conventional wisdom says the short answer to this panel's interrogative title is: "Yes," or rather, "Except for Amoeba, and Waterloo, yes." That means four of the five panelists were either brilliant or blind because they were very bullish on the state of record retail. Carl Singmaster, one retailer who recently got out of the business, did so not because of the impending digital doom, but because his business went from being 90% music and 10% business to the reverse. "I worked myself into the exact kind of job I wanted to leave." So why the optimism from the rest of the panel? Moderator Don VanCleave, president of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores, admitted he invited panelists in situations that ran counter to the prevailing wisdom that digital sharing is dealing a deathblow to CDs. Steve Wiley, who owns Hoodlums Music, a store on the campus at Arizona State University, openly avowed that what some consider piracy, he thinks of as exposure. "It just makes them music junkies," he said of his customers who download. "They want more music." The general consensus was that piracy is a function of price more than anything else. Wiley hypothesized that at $15, people are hesitant to buy, but if you can get the thing to $12, then it's easier to buy than to burn. The latter activity – burning – was what Paul Epstein of Denver's Twist and Shout saw as the problem. He said the Internet has become what radio was in terms of exposing people to music. It's when people burn copies of things for themselves and friends that the sales just evaporate. As optimistic as the panelists were, they weren't stupid. They had all made "lifestyle" products – everything from posters and T-shirts to candles – a big chunk of their business. Audience members were more than a little skeptical of the quasi-rosy portrait. One attendee passionately lamented the disappearance of all the cool record stores in Providence, R.I., essentially telling the panel that what they were experiencing isn't what he was experiencing. But, as Singmaster noted early on, "We made more money in the bad years than we ever made in the good years."

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at Sign up for our South By-specific newsletter at for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Wednesday Interview
Wednesday Interview
Delta Spirit

Jim Caligiuri, March 20, 2015

Wednesday Picks & Sleepers
Wednesday Picks & Sleepers
First night SXSW Music recommendations and hints

March 20, 2015

More Music Reviews
Texas Platters
Gary Clark Jr.
This Land (Record Review)

Kahron Spearman, March 22, 2019

Texas Platters
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord
Harder On the Outside (Record Review)

Michael Toland, March 22, 2019

More by Michael Bertin
Margaret Moser Tribute: Kathy Valentine
Kathy Valentine
Right place, right time, right woman to share the joy with

June 30, 2017

SXSW Live Shot: Mark Kozelek
SXSW Live Shot: Mark Kozelek
Little packages of just-so honesty

March 15, 2014

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle