Part 10: What’s it like, working in a record store?

Yours Truly

Everybody always wanted to know how awesome it was to work in a record store.  They all had this Empire Records idea of it when the truth is much closer to High Fidelity.  I kind of considered myself a combination of the John Cusack and Jack Black characters.  I ran the place like Cusack, but I was a Jack Black-like smartass.  Black played a character named Barry.  You know that scene where the guy in the suit is looking for the song, “I Just Called To Say I Love You”?

Customer: Hi, do you have the song “I Just Called To Say I Love You?” It’s for my daughter’s birthday.
Barry: Yeah, we have it.
Customer: Great great… Well, can I have it?
Barry: No, you can’t.
Customer: Why not?!
Barry: Because it’s sentimental tacky crap that’s why! Do we look like a store that sells “I Just Called to Say I Love You”? Go to the mall!
Customer: What’s your problem?!
Barry: Do you even know your daughter? There’s no way she likes that song! Oh oh oh wait! Is she in a coma?
Customer: Oh, okay buddy. I didn’t know it was Pick on the Middle-Aged Square Guy Day. My apologies. I’ll be on my way.
Barry: Buh-bye!
Customer: Fuck you!

I never quite went that far, but I was always fond of the subtle insults.  I was also known for being stubbornly obtuse.  Like for example, the guy who couldn’t pronounce “Triumph”.  I knew very well what band he was looking for, but he kept saying, “Tramp”.  He didn’t know how to spell it either.  Just the very idea that he couldn’t spell nor pronounce the word “triumph”…how could I not have fun with that guy?  I eventually sold him The Sport of Kings, when I felt like he’d earned it. 

Spelling was an issue in this part of town.  We had a lookup terminal where you could search for inventory on your own.  The best question I ever got at that terminal was, “Mike, how do you spell ‘metal’?  I don’t spell so good.”

In short, stuff grinds your gears just like it does at anybody’s job.  There are times when you saw a number on call display and just did not want to answer.  Just like any job.  Annoying callers, annoying customers, lazy customers who made you do absolutely everything for them, including pick what they want to buy!

You had sales quotas just like any day job.  You had responsibilities to get done.  If they weren’t done, you can’t just say “we were really busy” if your sales numbers weren’t big.   And you had to do things accurately.  In any environment where you buy and sell used goods, you had to be sure of what you were buying and what you were paying for it.  This is made just as difficult in a music store as anywhere else, due to the multiple versions, reissues, special editions, and imports of a CD that determine just what it’s worth.  You could go from offering $2 to $20 for a single album, the exact same title, just a different version thereof.

Same album different versions, and none of these are even the standard version. How would you price them?

And customers really hated being told their discs were “too scratched to re-sell.”  They really hated that one.

You got to listen to tunes all day, that was true.  That is something that I thankfully still do today, thanks to the radio.  I actually prefer the radio to choosing store play discs.  You were so tightly constrained by various rules, which narrowed the scope.  I actually loathed picking store play discs.  If I was working to someone else, I often just said, “You pick, I’ll pick something later.”

Lo and behold, I still have a copy of the store play rules!  I’m a packrat.  I keep everything.

  • Forbidden bands list:  Kiss, Rush, Frank Zappa, Spinal Tap, Dio, Judas Priest
  • Nothing heavier than Metallica’s “black” album
  • No musicals, no classical, no instrumental
  • Must play one new release in every shift
  • Must play 5 discs in shuffle mode, must never play album all the way through except in specific promotional cases
  • Each of the 5 discs must be a different genre
  • No songs with swearing
  • No rap
  • No comedy
  • Could only play discs that were in stock for sale instore

Jazz, soul, indy, and oldies were encouraged.  Hard rock was especially discouraged. 

Of course we broke the rules. If I knew there was no chance of getting caught, I’d bring in my own discs from home all the time.  The best shift I ever had, I played all 5 discs of the Kiss box set, in a row!  I played lots of shit with swearing, all the time.  It wasn’t intentional of course, it’s just that sometimes a great album has swearing on it, and I like to listen to great albums.  Sinatra at the Sands, for example.

We sold Sinatra at the Sands in minutes, by the way…by playing it instore.

I played Dio all the time when I could get away with it, even though he was strictly off limits. 

I remember Tom walking in, during Holy Diver

“Wow.  That’s ballsy man,” he said.

I played Spinal Tap once, but one of my buddies got written up for doing the same thing.  Seriously.  That time I was playing Spinal Tap, there was this guy seriously rocking out to it.  He didn’t look like a fan though.  He walked up to me and said, “Sounds like you got some Sons of Freedom going on here!”  Oops!

And I played heavy stuff too.  I know I played Maiden in the store, any night I could.  (Astute readers will recall that Maiden is where we started.  Go back to Part 1 if you haven’t.)  I remember two little kids laughing at Bruce Dickinson’s shrieking during a live take of “Fear of the Dark”.  But, I also remember lots of cool kids in Kiss shirts, buying their first rock albums, and it was cool corrupting those kids.

So what did I have to complain about?  Well, I only played those albums when I could get away with it.  Which wasn’t often.  There was usually someone  in there store who could give you shit for it.

So you’d have to put up with the following:  Much Dance xx, Big Shiny Tunes, TLC, Christmas music all day while seasonal, Dave Matthews band, Linkin Park, plenty of new country, and whatever was the flavour of the month at the time.  There’s a reason I know entire albums inside and out by shitty band like The Dandy fucking Warhols.  I could tell you every fucking song on the first two Coldplay CDs.  I had the unfortunate fate of having to listen to the self titled album by Blur every fucking day for a month.  There are bands that I legitimately like, such as Oasis and Kula Shaker, that I rarely play at home anymore because I have heard them so many Goddamn times.  It sucks when you can’t stand music you actually like.

The record store will do that if you spend too many years there, and I spent too many years there.  Gratefully, I love music again.

The worst thing about the record store though were the cliques, and from what I’ve heard, many record store were like this.  You either fit in or you didn’t, and I definitely did not fit in.   They were all into the latest indy rock bands, and all wore sunglasses.   I’ve never been a sunglasses kind of guy.  Indoors, I think they’re just pretentious.  I tried, oh but I did try.  I went to their shitty bars and drank and pretended to have a good time, but I just couldn’t pretend that I liked the Dandy fucking Warhols.

But, if I didn’t experience all that, I guess I wouldn’t be LeBrain!

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