New York City still had a lot of record stores -- big chain outlets and small neighborhood shops -- as recently as 10 years ago. One by one they dropped out, but now that Other Music is counting down to its last day on June 25, the news has hit me hard. Other Music is my favorite store, and I don't have another one to take its place. It's a big loss.
In 1995, when Other Music first opened directly across the street from the block-long Tower Records store some wondered how this tiny, independent shop could compete. Looking back, the answer was obvious: by selling "other music," mostly indie, underground, rare, and experimental music, the music Tower ignored. After all, Other Music and Tower were hunkered down in the East Village, so the strategy worked for Other Music. Tower Records went out of business in 2006, and Other Music outlived the behemoth chain by 10 years!
I'm happy to report that Downtown Music Gallery in Manhattan, and Rough Trade in Brooklyn still sell new CDs and LPs, while most other surviving record shops only sell used albums. Other Music was the one I visited a few times a month to buy new music. The thing that put Other Music at the top of my list was they "curated" music long before the term was applied to record stores. Other Music searched for under-the-radar stuff, and while every title was also available online, sometimes for less money, I still went to Other Music to discover and buy new music.
I spoke with Other Music's two owners, Josh Madell and Chris Vanderloo, and they told me sales peaked way back in 2000! That's curious -- the store was usually pretty crowded, just not making enough sales to sustain the business. In recent times as CD sales drooped, vinyl took up some of the slack, and the selection of analog cassettes grew.
I give Madell credit -- he isn't down on streaming and acknowledges the Internet's easy accessibility to underground/experimental music is positive for some artists. While the old model of selling new music to fans is winding down, the energy that used to go into writing and recording new tunes, and making albums now goes into playing shows. That's fine, but when the band breaks up, or the lead guitarist splits, the music's over. It's gone, like it never existed, so cherish your memories of the shows; they might be the only "record" you'll ever have.
So if you're a music fan lucky enough to still have a local brick-and-mortar shop, support it, or it will suffer the same fate as Other Music. The times, they are a-changing.