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Record shopping

As you all know, I’ve been in this music industry for many years and still love my job. My two favourite parts of being a DJ are finding new music, then like a big kid, getting excited about playing them to everyone as I spin at weekends in clubs. Still today, many years into my career, I still get the same buzz finding a new track and often find myself punching the air, or the odd outburst of vocal excitement when I have a cracking track in possession. Yes times have changed and many of us no longer buy a physical product, but to me the feeling is still the same in the digital world finding a great track.

One thing that has changed is actually finding the music you love. Music shopping used to be such a joyful occasion, heading back home with a plastic bag full of the best new music we could all ever wish for. We’d get home and spread the tunes across the floor and listen to them full blast on our decks. With each track we’d have a huge smile on our faces as we pictured ourselves dropping this huge tune on a dancefloor. In today’s world, these moments are becoming pretty rare. The once joyous occasion has now become a long tedious process as we spend hours painfully going through thousands of crap files in online music shops. I myself am actually starting to hate music shopping. These shops are a complete mess full of music that is in the wrong section/genres. It takes hours of clicking/listening to crap to get to one track that actually belongs in the correct section. Any person naturally becomes disheartened with this process and loses interest. After a few hours I find myself skipping through release pages and randomly clicking on artwork guessing it might be good track.

So what’s changed over the years? Two things; firstly the ease of releasing music. My own mum could make a track and set up a digital record label tomorrow and have her music for sale!! (I must add she has nothing to do with the music world!!). In this new digital world, everyone has music making software, hard drives full of loops, and fancy plug in’s with thousands of pre-made sounds. They then set up a digital label and release their music. This can be a good thing as it’s a great way to expose new producers, but unfortunately it’s cluttering up our music shops with…erm crap (not used this word so often in my life!). In the good ol’ days we had a filter in place called a Record label. I mean a real one with an A&R guy behind the label. That A&R guy was the man responsible for creating the brand/sound of that particular label. Nothing would get released on that label until it passed the approval of this one man. Even if this meant sending the track back to the producer many times to fix sounds, arrangements or engineering, he wouldn’t let it get released on his label until it was 100% right. Can you imagine the car industry letting vehicles hit the streets without passing their strict quality control rules. Car companies also use this process creating their brands; you know exactly what type of car and quality you’ll get when buying a; Mercedes, BMW, Honda or Kia without even seeing the car in the flesh. This process used to happen years ago in the music industry when an A&R guy controlled what was released on his label. He created that sound associated with the label. You knew exactly where to head for your music, may it be House, Trance, hard, uplifting or vocal etc. More, importantly the A&R guy would tell a producer if his track wasn’t ready or crap, and not release it until ready. When you first start making music, you think every track you make is going to be a big hit!! You’ve heard it so many times, your brain tells you everything works together and all is OK, when in fact it’s a mess and not written or engineered properly. The track should head to a fresh pair of A&R ears for guidance and advice, but instead they jump up and down, dream of their hit record and release it on their own digital label…..adding more crap for the likes of me & you to go through.

The second, and most important thing that has gone from our beloved record shopping days; human interaction. I used to walk into a record shop and speak to an actual human being who knew his stuff. If I went there regularly he’d know the exact music I was into and hand me a big pile of tunes to listen to and a good 80% of them I’d buy. If my regular guy wasn’t there, I’d tell the guy what I was after and again they would be pretty spot on guiding me to the tracks I wanted. The music in the shop would be in the correct places and genres. These record shop owners/workers where also music lovers/DJs and had a passion for what they did. They were also the buyers who bought the stock for the shop creating a natural filter process getting rid of the crap. They wouldn’t buy stock that they knew wouldn’t sell!! In today’s digital world all this has gone and been replaced by software. The online music shops are run by business people who need an infrastructure to make their lives easier. All releases are delivered to them via distribution companies. The music files are pre packaged with coded information files telling them in what section to put the releases. So at no point does a human listen to them and put them in the correct genre, the software is doing this. Record labels add the information to the coded data files and many are being stupid and greedy putting multiple genre tags to the release so the same track appears in pretty much all genres. It’s this stupid system that is cluttering up the online music stores. I miss my record store guy helping me to find the exact music I wanted, instead I get pre-programmed software telling me what other customers have bought?!! Would I have taken advice from business guys in suits while record shopping in the old days…uhmm I don’t think so because they’d make a complete mess of it, not too dissimilar from what the situation is today.

Most DJ’s I speak to all feel the same. I think today’s online music stores need to take their heads out of their computer screens and take a look at the real DJ world. If they had music lovers/DJs working for them, they’d know this, but unfortunately they don’t. We’re all feeling pain here and can’t be bothered to search through 20 pages of new releases in each section each week and finding just a handful of tracks (Taking a good 3-4 hours searching). It’s the same story each and every week. If they organised everything correctly, then they’d sell more music, it’s as simple as that! Put Trance in the Trance section. Put House in the House section. Put the new labels in a separate section until they get established.

Listen to us the DJs, who buy the music, we need this system changing because those magic joyful moments of finding great tracks are becoming less frequent and we can’t find them in a shopping system that doesn’t work. These tracks are getting lost amongst the clutter of crap and wrongly placed music in your shops. If we miss a week of shopping then that track could be 40 pages inside the shop. It doesn’t take much to work out how much music is being lost, or maybe to put it in a business way to make you listen (the shops): how many sales you’re losing.

Lets bring back the joy of music shopping!

7 September 2009 Blog