I Need That Record, The Death (And Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store

I love indie record stores, and not just because the first date I ever had–at 16–was with a 24-year old who worked at DisConnection, a used record shop in Westwood, right by UCLA. As high school girls my friends and I would also haunt Rhino Records, the little store that became a label. We’d buy all sorts of punk records and used stuff and just have a blast going to the record swap meets, meeting new people and looking at records. Friendships and bands were formed out of indie record stores, a story seen across the country as these hubs of alternative thinking drew people together in every community, creating a “general store” vibe.

Later, when I worked at SST Records, the label that brought us Black Flag, the Minutemen and other great bands, there were always these awesome shows at stores like Texas Records in Santa Monica and BeBop Records in the Valley. Record stores like these across the country provided touchstones for touring bands on indie labels and for fans to check out new music from indie labels, swap out their old stuff and hang out.

The landscape in LA began to change. First DisConnection folded because the bottom fell out of vinyl; then BeBop couldn’t stay afloat. Texas Records kept having shows, but they too eventually closed. And it just got worse. Rhino the store closed. We mourned. And we were not alone. Since 1996 over 3,000 independent stores across America have closed. And their loss is a loss to their communities.

In I Need That Record! The Death (And Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store, Brendan Toller examines why the stores have closed, giving us a look at corporate greed (major labels, big box retailers, deregulation of broadcast media/consolidation of the radio industry) and how progress (CDs, ecommerce, MP3s, file sharing) brought down the indie stores. It’s story not unlike that of family farms and other small local businesses–bookstores, diners, mom-and-pop shops of all sorts– being shut out and shut down. And it sucks.

Along with giving us insight, great music, cool animation/visuals and interviewing Thurston Moore, Lenny Kaye, Mike Watt, Ian MacKaye, Noam Chomsky, Glenn Branca, Chris Frantz, Legs McNeil and others, Toller pays visits to two indie store on their last days. The owner of one goes on to work at Trader Joe’s, while the other starts selling records out of a van, setting up at colleges and other locations for a few hours.

But Toller shows us there’s hope for the indie stores, too. Vinyl records are being pressed (“But dad, everyone listens to MP3s!”); the indie records store was celebrated on record store day April 17, and Exene Cervenka turned all of April into Record Store Month with her in-store mini tour; and throughout May, Rhino Records staged a pop-up store selling tons of used music complete with concerts, benefiting Chrysalis, a local charity. And new independent record stores are opening. Heck, there’s one down the block from me now…