GETTING MORE TALE #444: “Can I Listen to This?”
In the early 1990’s, the CD store in which I worked was just an ordinary music store that sold new product in a mall. Later on, we did the switch to used discs which was the smartest move the owner could have done. He was able to control his own cost of goods sold.
Switching to 99% used stock attracted customers to the better prices. Before too long, the used selection was better too, because we would see many deleted and rare titles that you couldn’t buy new anymore. Ebay didn’t exist yet. It was hard to find those titles on CD. Another benefit to the switch was the ability for customers to sample music before they bought it. It was harder before.
In the earliest days, if a customer wanted to hear something, we had to crack open the disc and play it on the store player. We didn’t even have a re-sealing device. The way around this was to carefully (carefully!) cut the cellophane off the CD case, along the spine of the disc. Carefully (carefully!) slide the disc out of the cellophane. When done, you can carefully (carefully!) slide the disc back into the cellophane, and “seal” it up with a piece of strategically placed Scotch tape. This did the trick well enough for us. We made due.
The annoying thing wasn’t the fact that we had to crack open a disc for people to listen to. The real irritant was that we didn’t have anything for them to listen to it on, except the store CD player. If a customer came up and said, “Can I listen to this?” it meant stopping whatever you were playing, and putting in their disc.
This happened one Saturday afternoon, sometime in the spring of ’95. Radiohead had just released The Bends, and we only carried three copies to start. A guy came in curious what it was like. The Bends may be critically acclaimed by fans worldwide, but that spring afternoon in 1995, it did absolutely nothing for me*. Skipping from one track to the next, then back, at the customer’s command, I hated what I heard. To my ears it sounded too mellow and I was ready for a nap. It was definitely not what I wanted to hear while I was trying to work. To date I still don’t own The Bends. This guy stood there listening for half an hour before declining to buy it. It was annoying for both myself, and the other customers, to have to listen to this disc skipping from track to track at the guy’s hand signals or nods.
But we didn’t have anything else, and we were customer service oriented, so what are you to do? You listen to (rather, skip back and forth through) The Bends.
A year later I was managing a bigger store, with the 99% used format. We had a store player, plus several other units hooked up to headphones. With an entire store of used stuff to listen to, and a pair of headphones to do it with, it was a vast improvement over the old way. Once again the owner had a great idea. Even though there is no question they were a huge popular feature for our stores, the “listening stations” as we called them were still ripe for abuse. Customers would make you run around retrieving 20 (or 30 or 40) discs to listen to, only to buy none. They’d complain about the sound quality. The headphones were constantly busting due to overuse and abuse.
“These headphones suck. I can’t hear the nuances in the music.” That was a real complaint. Since there wasn’t much I could do about it, I explained that the listening stations were there just so you could hear a song and decide if you liked it or not. Not much thought was given to hearing the nuances. But this guy insisted he couldn’t tell if he liked a song without the “nuances”, so no sale was made.
Other folks would want to listen to an entire CD – the whole thing! – to make sure it didn’t skip before they bought it. Even though we offered a guarantee.
Even though we had gone through the effort and expense of providing these listening stations, there are some people you can never please. More than one fellow (yes, it was only guys) asked to listen to something, only to complain, “No, I don’t want to hear it on those headphones. I want to hear it on the big speakers!” Yeah, but nobody else in the store wants to.
Music fans: Although you can now listen to almost anything you want in the comfort of your own home, please, if you want to use the listening stations at a CD store, don’t be a douche!
*I do have Kid A in my collection. I love Kid A.