How I used to get my music

Lately I’ve been going through a lot of my old favorite artists on Qobuz and Amazon music. And they’re all here. all of them. It’s so mind-blowing. And it caused me to think how large the libraries of music are that are available to us now. Back in the 80s when I was a teenager music was such a commodity. It was so expensive and dear. And also harder to get a hold of. Back then the second British Invasion was happening. And there was a lot of interest in British and European bands. These were the bands I loved the most, but it wasn’t easy to get a hold of it. the regular record stores usually didn’t have their music and you’d have to go to a store that had an import section like The Warehouse or Tower Records. And back then it was illegal to have it, I don’t know how they did it.

But these import sections were small. Most of the time they didn’t have the bands or albums I was looking for. One big help during this time were the record clubs, like Columbia House or BMG. They would specialize in the more rare bands and music we were hearing on stations like KROQ or WLIR and Mtv. And they had these outrageous deals where you could get 11 albums at once and have to buy seven more albums in three years time. And I would wait for the sales to come out and fulfill my obligation with cheap albums lol. How they made money I don’t know. And I would cancel my membership and re-sign with 11 more albums lol.

But even they didn’t have everything. So I would have to go looking for the privately owned record shops. The mom and pop shops that were helmed by “cool" looking guys who you were surprised would even give you the time of day. And you had the shops that were close by and you had the ones that were far away. The ones that were close by had a smaller selection but bigger than the import section at Tower Records. Then the farther away shops had an even larger selection.

So it went: regular record store < record store with import section < Columbia House records club < close by mom and pop record store < farther away private record store. The best store near me was Peanut Records in Torrance. Then Goboy Records in Manhattan beach. And the farthest was Bleecker Bob’s in Hollywood. Bleecker always had what I was looking for but it was far to travel. I usually had a list that I would bring with me and as much money as I could gather. even then I couldn’t get everything I wanted. Now everything is available via the streaming services a click away. We’re so fortunate these days.

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Totally agree, although I’m not sure it’s so good for a lot of the artists.

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They controlled production and made money hand-over-fist. They’d sell all releases at full price (e.g., CD for $15-$18 in 1980s money; $30+ today) until the buyers dried up, and then sell to those on the fence at half price through Columbia and RCA/BMG clubs. The clubs had minimum full-price purchases and “handling” charges to disguise the costs. There were thriving used music stores (e.g., Amoeba) that effectively served as $1 to $2 net cost trade-in services until the early 2000s too [sell them 3 albums, buy 2 albums for the same money].

Industry control ended with Napster and later file-sharing services. If not for the pressure and flouting of the law, the monthly cost of services like Qobuz and Tidal would likely be $59 to $99 (IMO).

Until the 1990s only a handful of artists had access to the elite/costly music production studios, distribution networks, or could afford to send out hundreds of physical samples for national radio play. The companies could make any artist into a 1,000,000 seller, and released oodles of one-hit-wonder albums padded with garbage (i.e., $15 for one good song on a CD). They could afford to develop bands over 4-5 years under the management of Artists & Recording (A&R) staff. People paid much more for music as a percentage of income, as there weren’t as many entertainment options either.

We are in the post-growth era. We are in the post-golden-age. Music is effectively free because there’s too much competition between artists, too many albums at thrift stores or being literally thrown away, and people have lots of other things to do. There’s so very much “classics and standards rock and pop content” that reinterpretation in different genres has become common (e.g., Postmodern Jukebox, Puddles Pity Party). This was actually shocking to the mainstream in 1997 when Pat Boone released an album of heavy metal covers (In a Metal Mood).

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I’m concerned too but for another reason. How does all this access influence the artists and bands of today? back in the day an artist had a smaller selection of music to listen to. And it seem to focus them. they were able to reach depths that their influences had not reached. And their music was in a similar vein. But today music is more homogenous. bands never really take off from the ground and become airborne. The music seems more shallow because the more popular music and standards becomes an influence in their music and creates this more down-to-earth sound. so is all of this music being available a good thing or a bad thing?

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I was in the retail and wholesale record business from 1974 - 1984. It was never illegal to sell imports; that’s how they got away with it. It was illegal to sell bootlegs, though.

Really? I would always go to the records store managers and ask about a import section and thats the answer i would always get. maybe a California thing? I live in LA

Hi Antpage! I live in San Francisco - Either they were really talking about bootlegs and thought you were saying ‘imports’ as a code word for them, or they did not know what they were talking about. This does not vary from state to state. Bootlegs were always illegal - I know places that were busted for them - but imports, never, ever. That’s why there were big import distribution companies like JEM who various record store chains and wholesalers would buy their imports from.

ah i see. so i guess there was a misunderstanding between both of us lol

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Hah!! There’s not very much that I know anything about, but I do know about THIS stuff! :crazy_face:

Yes, a relative handful of ‘major label’ record companies controlled everything you heard. They worked closely with radio stations or outright bribed them (see the Payola scandal) to put new music on the air. When there were only 3 TV networks and a few radio stations the competition was intense and the big companies didn’t compete against themselves. They’d also abandon perfectly good bands/performers to provide something fresh.

Sort or, but not really. What you are exposed to on the (severely declining) TV and radio outlets is homogenous and shallow. However, there are hundreds of new albums coming out every month. Some are great, deep, and extremely original. Yes, many are mediocre releases and many artists put out too much repetitious content. The same level of talent is still there, but without exposure and big $$$$ advertising to establish broad influence. No one is positioned to become a superstar because the market is fragmented by generation and by genre.

Every new technology has its day in the sun, and then becomes a commodity. Cars were hot 50 to 100 years ago, PCs were hot in the 1980s and 1990s, cell phones and tablets 10 years ago. After the hot phase, products enter the ‘appliance’ phase where they provide desired and known value at a lower and lower cost. So much time and effort went into music recording and playback that it long ago became a commodity. One can set up a home stereo system for a few hundred dollars today that would have been unobtainable at any price before the 1970s. One could spend every waking minute listening to free/cheap music and not scratch the surface of everything out there.

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