July 19, 2006



Fred: "I worked at a record store (Rasputin's in Berkeley) for one long summer. The pay was minimal, we could only use our employee discount for one hour on Thursday, and every time we left the store we had to be frisked by a manager. Crap conditions, but I never started hating the customers (beyond the standard 'If one more person asks me where the bathroom is, I swear,' clerkish exasperation) and I don't think anyone else did either.

What I suspect happens is: customer walks into independent record store feeling slightly self-conscious about wanting 'McCartney II.' Customer brings album to register and encounters Standard Clerkish Exasperation. Customer interprets SCE as sneering condescension. Customer leaves store with exaggerated picture of sniveling hipster record store clerks and is even more self-conscious the next time he wants a Macca solo product. Repeat until customer hits up Virgin or eBay.

It's a bother to feel self-conscious about buying a CD (whether that's the clerk's fault or not), but it also feels nice when you get into a discussion about 'McCartney II' with someone at a shop. There is something of an approval/disapproval game going on there, but it's the same game that everyone plays when they put their CD collections out, books on their shelves, posters on their walls, etc. Those that just want to own 'Venus and Mars' and be done with it will use Amazon. Those that see records as small but significant facets of their personality to be acknowledged by the outside world will keep going to stores. Not sure whether the latter is healthy but I know I'm it.

Side note: I've been to many of the record stores mentioned in the Times piece and it doesn't surprise me that they're suffering. But I don't think its only because the'yre record stores and record stores are old and outdated—I think it's because these particular record stores feel old and outdated. The last time I went into Sound Track in Park Slope, there was a solitary middle-aged guy at the counter, peeling linoleum on the floor, and anonymous acid jazz playing. I felt out of place at 23, and at 13 I doubt I would have even gone in."

Rob Lomblad, Reckless Records, Chicago, 1997-2004: "Some people want everything from you, while others want nothing. It only takes a few encounters where you give a customer an enthusiastic amount of info and receive a shrug in return to decide that from now on you'll keep your mouth shut.

In regards to clerks being frustrated artists, I'd have to say that it may be an unavoidable stereotype. The flexible schedule of most clerk-type jobs is welcoming to people who've got artwork to make, practice to go to and tours. If people were successful enough to not work, why would they? Many of the people that I worked with were marginally successful, i.e., made enough for the music to pay for itself, but had to work to pay bills.

It may come down to a basic contradiction: Often, the people who would have the most to offer as a clerk in one way (an abnormal amount of musical information in their brain) are lacking in the the other, more social thing (an acceptable amount of customer service skill)."

Posted by Sasha at July 19, 2006 02:28 PM | TrackBack