Low Fidelity: The Reality Of The Record Business, circa 2013

Neill Jameson is best known to readers as Imperial, frontman of the excellent USBM band Krieg. Along with Blake Judd, Wrest and Thurston Moore (!) he was also part of the black metal project Twilight. I got to know Neill during an interview about three years ago and we’ve kept in touch since. As our readers know black metal doesn’t pay the bills unless you live in a small European country. Jameson paid his rent by working in a New Jersey record store. His social media posts on his daily experiences never fail to make me laugh. He graciously agreed to tell our vinyl-loving followers what really happens in a record store. — jmn

There’s a certain romance about record stores, an idea that the employees sit around and listen to music they love and meet and have intimate discourse with others who share their passion. Let’s end this horseshit idea.

Somewhere along the line I fucked up. This is about one way: the fact that somehow I ended up managing two record stores in southern New Jersey. The main one is located in a shopping mall that’s been on the verge of shutting down for years.

This isn’t the first record store I’ve worked at over my three and a half decades and I’ve come to learn my share of useless shit (Did you know every single living person in the 1970’s owned Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours?). I understand what goes into keeping an independent store open in the age of digital downloads, smug kids who think they deserve something for nothing, online gouging and the shift in pop and underground cultures. These are some of my observations. — With the declining economy people need quick money. This coincides with the rise of cheap entertainment, namely reality shows. Outside of exploiting teens who don’t understand the proper use of condoms (or are just shitty at pulling out) and the barnyard antics of lower culture there’s been a rise in shows with a simple premise: your old shit is worth a fucking fortune. Every time some asshole in Pawn Stars brings in a record that is worth good money, some hapless asshole brings in a box of moth eaten records to my store that look like two wolverines fucked on them and expects whoever they’re hoisting this shit on to pay out.

The majority of my conversations go like this: “So you buy records?” “How much do you pay for records?” There are many variations, always in the same rehearsed cadence. For a while I thought it was because my area is full of economically depressed winners who stopped living circa 1979. As I’ve traveled and gone to other stores I see it’s everywhere. People are desperate, which I understand, but rarely does something worth purchasing come through our door.

Even rarer is someone being o.k. with what you offer them. They will go around the store and pull the same records they are trying to sell and ask if they will be getting the amount they see on the price tag. Well, you need to make money to keep the lights on, which means you need to make money from what you sell. I thought this was taught in high school business classes. I always tell people if they want the most money they should sell online. This is generally met with bovine stares because they never thought the computer was for anything but cat pictures.

I like to think I enlighten and enrich people’s lives with this information but this is met mostly with being told that they need the money “now” or “don’t want to fuck with that.” I guess Amazon and eBay take patience. I’ve heard some great excuses before, including a man who said he needed it for an operation (the smell of cheap booze showing he was already self-administering anesthesia). Generally, people who want to sell interesting subcultural records sell them online so it’s no surprise I have 23 copies of that Lionel Richie record where he’s wearing the tacky green sweater but I’ve only come across Sore Throat or Venom records from a personal collection a handful of times. — In order to stay afloat, most stores operate across a broad spectrum of websites: Amazon, eBay, and Discogs. These can be fabulous resources to reach customers, at least until USPS doubled the shipping rate. The problem arises when you add the human element, and this applies for buyers and sellers.

Sellers have to deal with someone buying something without seeing the creases, surface marks and body fluid stains first. Poison Idea was right about record collectors being pretentious assholes: if you aren’t painstakingly clear about the condition of something when listing it, chances are you’ll get a refund request.

Amazon and eBay no longer offer a great deal in seller protection, so scams occur somewhat frequently. We get records sent by people looking to upgrade on a semi frequent basis, if we’re lucky to get the record back at all. All sorts of shit can happen to the package while in transit and trying to collect insurance is like pissing in the wind. I’m convinced some postal workers have a fetish for fucking on top of the boxes judging from the condition some things come back in.

There’s a flipside. This one is the fault of the noble music peddler. The greedier of us will take note of supply and demand and gouge the Lord Jesus Christ out of things that are readily available. Amazon at Christmas is a good example. New record that your distributor has a ton of but is unavailable on Amazon? That bitch is now $39.99, fuck you and your $19.99 on another site. Do some Google research on an Amazon seller called “Any Book” for good examples of this.

The absolute worst time that a customer’s desperation to own something RIGHT THE FUCK NOW is on our yearly holiday, Record Store Day. There are a lot of great brick and mortar stores that abide by RSD’s loose rules to not fuck the fans who want their chosen bands limited releases, and those are stores that deserve your money. Then there’s stores who keep the best items aside to throw online a few hours into it when people are in a frenzy and willing to spend $50 on a 7-inch that’s been available for five hours. The excuse? Trying to beat the asshole that was first in line to then do the same unscrupulous shit and flip it online as well. — There’s a video on YouTube called “Shit People Say in Record Stores” and this guy captures the anger of our day-to-day experiences. People are very predictable and you grow to be able to predict what they will say before they say it.

Our most frequent visitor is an open mouthed shell of a man. His wife drops him off to buy herself time away from the ghost she married. This man walks around remembering what it was like to be alive. He will talk to you about how he once owned “everything” in the store (including the entire Doom catalog I’m sure) and regale you with stories about youthful sex in graphic detail. He will think that you look up to him and he’ll start to come in frequently, to chat. After this man comes the old woman who has a bunch of shit locked in some room somewhere that she wants to bring in for you to purchase. The memories she is selling smell like the chemtrails that led Jaz Coleman to flee to Iceland. These people are mostly harmless and not malicious but really fucking irritating nonetheless.

Then you will get the pebble in your shoe, the burn when you piss: the know-it-all. He will tell you he is friends with half the bands in your new release section. He will argue with you about facts that you never gave a flat fuck about in the first place. He will bitch about your prices and announce where to go online to download things for free to a full store. He is the generation that I want off my fucking lawn. He comes in not for the love of music but rather to pick a fight with whatever poor sap is behind the counter.

I wanted to think that it was just my store that attracted assholes but the more record store employees I speak to the more I realize that these people are a part of a culture. Our culture.

Oh, and occasionally people come in, smile, buy shit, and leave. But who wants to hear positive shit? — People generally think of record store clerks as judgmental, aloof assholes who laugh at your purchases. In a lot of cases it’s true. As someone who spends a lot of time at various record stores and shows I’ve found that at least half of the stores I go into are like this. The clerk will snort if you bring up something displeasing. You’ll be ignored if you ask for help.

Understandably, not everyone has constant good days so that’s an excuse, or perhaps the clerk is just beaten down. There are cases where the person behind the counter is just an elitist asshole who has become the archetype that fucks up the rest of the party for us. As I’m not a very conversational person I just try to avoid interaction with them as much as possible because I still enjoy record shopping. —

I still believe in brick and mortar record stores, just like I still believe in underground record labels. It might be my age but these stores have always played a role in my personal history. I know that the same holds true for many of you.

It’s a sinking ship and I know I’m swabbing the poop deck. For someone to open a record store now it means they’re truly in it for the love of music and it’s a goddamned brave move. Places like Sit and Spin in Philly and Black Mess in Baltimore are places where you can discover a lot. They do it because they’re passionate and it shows.

There seems to be a new documentary on indie stores closing their doors every six months and they’re meant as a battle call for people who are passionate about music to come, grab a bucket, and bail the water out of the ship. Dry your eyes after that last beautiful analogy, brothers and sisters, and do your part. We might be the last generation who can.

Follow Neill on Twitter or Instagram, and buy (digital) Krieg stuff here.