Letting the Record Skip: How You Killed Your Favorite Record Store

Fat Beats is closing. I’m gonna let that sink in. For those that aren’t residents of New York, Los Angeles, or the handful of cities lucky enough to have one, Fat Beats is (was. Fuck!) a legendary hip hop institution, a one stop resource for records and paraphernalia. They practically launched the careers of a number of well known emcees and DJs. Their eponymous label, Fat Beats Records, put out albums by Black Milk (Popular Demand!), One Be Lo (S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.), and others. Plenty of hip hop’s royalty passed through their doors, for personal appearances and snagging new records. But I’m not here to give a history lesson. You got the innanet for that. I am here to beg you to please stop killing music.

Fat Beats shuttering their doors after 16 years is depressing as hell, but it’s not shocking. How many of us have similar stories? My personal favorite record store, a tiny, unassuming storefront on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, stood by me through thick and thin. When I was knee deep in my grunge phase, they stocked more Nirvana bootlegs than I could afford to buy. When I ate, breathed, and slept Rawkus, they sold me Soundbombing and Lyricist Lounge compilations. When I came back home from college directionless and depressed, they snuck me new Ryan Adams albums weeks before release (back in the days when getting an album early meant something). They appeased every quirky music nerd instinct at every stage in my life until they closed their doors in December of 2005. They couldn’t make rent. People weren’t buying music anymore.

Now I’m not going to get into the systemic mismanagement and ignorance that birthed the beast that’s eating the music industry. (Greg Kot already did in Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. You should grab that.) I am gonna tell you that your Robin Hood attitude toward this situation is not helping. You probably think you’re sticking it to the big record labels by stealing (We’re calling it stealing now.) their music online. In a sense you are, and you were right to be on the offensive. There was too much money funneling into all the wrong hands. Middle men were the millionaires. The artists were seeing a mere pittance of the returns from songs they wrote and performed. The markup on CDs was ridiculous. When albums started popping up for free online, illegal downloading seemed like a natural reaction. Fuck those guys, right? If only it was that simple. Walk with me.

Screwing over the record company by not buying the record trickles down to everyone. It especially hurts the artists, some of whom live or die by record sales. When the artists and the label lose money, so do the producers. When the producers, artists, and label are running low, so are the record stores and concert venues who make their money off the success of the artists. Jerking the record label brings everybody down. It’s like bombing a whole town to attack a few insurgents. That’s some George W. Bush shit. C’mon, son.

Now I’m not saying you should run out and buy every single release. That’s absolutely too much to ask at this point. But the moral of the story is: things cost money. Even these free albums and mixtapes we snap up ungratefully from our favorite artists on a daily basis are costing hundreds, even thousands, in equipment, producer costs, and studio time. We can’t reasonably expect them to continue down this path of bleeding, sweating, and toiling over tracks only to essentially gift us the fruits of their labor. It’s time for us to do our part. Buy a song. Cop an album. Go to a show. Buy a T-shirt. Do something, anything, Lord have mercy Jesus! And if you don’t wanna pony up your money, that’s okay too, I guess. But I definitely don’t wanna hear your whiny complaints about record stores closing, bands breaking up, albums going out of print, or anything else. ‘Cause it’s your fault.

35 thoughts on “Letting the Record Skip: How You Killed Your Favorite Record Store

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  1. totally agree. I will throw up the argument that this me me me generation may have hurt the artist ultimately, but liberated the concept that a label was needed. The equipment is cheep enough now, and the fan base is already on the internet downloading. The distribution method has changed, and people need to wise up. Joe budden was kinda doing it before anyone in rap honestly…

  2. I remember back in the 80’s when we first heard of ‘sampling’, it was right then and there that we said that the game has changed. If you recall hip hop started with a similar rebellion. Of mix-tapes passed from hand to hand. If you know anything about the business of music, then you know the artists make their money from doing live shows. Now this is what we should support. Going to the live shows of your favorite groups/acts.

  3. There are some solid points here on both sides of the argument.
    Yes, the market is over-fucking saturated. Yes, this musical Darwinism is bullshit. Yes, it sucks that your favorite record store is closing. Yes, they should’ve adapted to the changing business landscape (though it looks like they did).

    I’ve never been to Fat Beats so I don’t know to what lengths they went to keep their doors open. My local record store – Radioactive Records – hosts shows, has signings, events etc. By doing all this, they’ve kept their doors open. And whenever they have a rough patch, you can bet your ass that everyone flocks to their store to keep them open. The trick with this is that they let people know that “hey, we may be closing soon; we need your help to stay afloat”. They haven’t done this in a couple of years so they’re doing pretty well now

    We all know the CD format is dead but vinyl and cassette sales are higher than they have been in decades.

    I think it all boils down to demographic.

  4. Craig Jenkins is climbing to the list of favorite bloggers at Uncommon, haha.

  5. ^ You speak truthiness.

  6. This musical Darwin shit you guys are kicking is easily 25% of why rappers and record stores are where they’re at today. When you care for something, you struggle, you fight to keep it alive. If y’all motherfuckers don’t care, who will! I don’t know how any serious music fan can sit back and eat popcorn while this is happening. It’s crazy to me.

  7. @elandyo

    Black Thought can afford to say that, most of us can’t. Black Thought didn’t tell you to steal MY music, he told you to steal HIS.

  8. The least weak will survive.

  9. I wanted to make another point here after giving this some more thought.

    1 – Hip-hop heads just aren’t buying CDs/vinyl/music anymore. In terms of vinyl, this clearly has become an issue with the use of Serato and other similar DJing programs. Obviously, LPs aren’t going to sell if DJs aren’t using vinyl anymore. But beyond that, I look no further than a few local record stores, some small, some huge.

    On the small side, we have a shop named Armageddon in Providence, R.I., mostly specializes in punk, metal, garage, and other genres of rock while also providing a decent selection of jazz, electronic, hip-hop, and what-have-you. But the focus there is clearly on metal and punk, both of which have a ridiculously supportive fan base. Anytime I go to that store, which is about the size of Fat Beats NYC, I see at least a handful of people in there buying $30 to $50 worth of records, CDs, T-shirts, etc… It might not seem like a lot, but it’s consistent business. They have also done so well that they are opening another shop in Boston.

    On the bigger side of it, you have Newbury Comics. Now, this is clearly kind of a stretch here because I know that most of their revenue comes from merchandise and all that weird shit they sell. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go in there and see a bunch of people actively perusing the CD and vinyl sections, usually with a CD or two in hand. Again, like Armageddon, Newbury appeals to a different demographic. Sure, some locations have a killer hip-hop selection, but just think about this — only one out of three Newbury locations had a copy of Freddie Gibbs new EP. And I’m 99 percent sure that includes the Norwood, Mass., store, which is gigantic.

    Now, I’m going to end this with something that pretty much negates everything I just wrote. Almost everything in life is cyclical. What we’re seeing now is the downturn of hip-hop as a business…but we are sure to see it rise again. I don’t see it going the unfortunate way of jazz, which has struggled to reach the masses like it did for some many years. Hip-hop, thanks to its prevalence in clubs and on the radio, will not disappear, but it will certainly be weakened in a business sense. And that’s just what we’re seeing right now, for now.

    OK, I’m done.

  10. I hate saying this, but when my local record store still sells CDs for 15-17 dollars and the Best Buy, etc is selling the same CD for 9.99, I would be foolish not to save 5 dollars. And I’m not talking about new releases, I’m talking mid-90s stuff. Plus the local record store doesn’t have the ticketmaster seller. That would be nice too.

  11. Rappers say a lot of shit you shouldn’t do.

  12. I mean I buy CD’s when I can but…
    “If you ain’t got no paper then steal the CD”
    Black Thought, Don’t Feel Right

  13. @ Captain
    understood on the amount of purchases, etc.

    As far as in the future, more free music being made. Not really.

    1) It will always cost money to make music, whether it’s studio time or buying equipment.

    2) With more music being made available, free or otherwise, it will cost more to be seen or heard. Whether you are paying a PR company, or investing the time yourself doing it on your own (time is money).

    Those are just two examples, there are many more. As long as it costs money to make/promote music (and it will) money will need to be made.

    Bottom line is this:
    You get what you pay for.

  14. @ Nasa – you might be misreading what I wrote. I buy all of the music I listen to unless it’s being released for free. And I don’t listen to or support mix-tapes that are made by recording artists. I said nothing about stealing music or being unsatisfied with the amount i can buy. However, I did say this:

    1). I’m buying & listening to a lot as it is.
    2). It’s more than what most people I know are doing.
    3). If I had the money to buy every good release, I still wouldn’t have time to listen to it all.

    In addition to that quote from Datahowler’s comment, I doubt this situation improves. There will be more artists who aren’t interested in making money and they’ll continue to drive the release of free music. Pretty soon, you’ll have to give your shit away if you want it to be heard.

  15. @Ivan

    I love my community. But the respect for someone who passed tragically’s family and a record store are two different things. The original piece addressed kids and their stealing ways *shakes fist*. The bottom line is, it’s going to be hard to get kids to spend money on music without something like this happening first.

  16. @Zilla Rocca

    We are no more responsible for cats DLing discogs of artists we put them onto than we are due a cut of their success. It’s a matter of stewardship, of morality,of loyalty, and of respect. If there’s only a scant portion of hip hop’s base of listeners that’s willing to pay for the music they acquire, then there isn’t much you or I can do, is there? Then this whole building is on fire, and light me a cig and pour me a shot so I can relax a little while my whole culture disintegrates, replaced by a spidery network of usershare dumps disguised as sites toting the exact same array of exclusives, behind the scenes video previews, and mixtapes from the same forty emcees, being viewed by the same faceless army of trolls, stans, and internet rappers. Potholes exists to break up that monotony.

    Most of the freebies you see posted here were submitted by the artists themselves for inclusion on the site, or else they were passed out by one of many publicists with express instructions to spread them around. Nobody’s being shortchanged that GIVES us music to post. Everything that gets posted is screened and given a thoughtful write up by our hard working staff. We have the utmost respect for the craft. That shit is sacred to us. I think you got us wrong.

    That said, I love your work and i appreciate you taking time to read and react to my shit.

  17. @Nasa They did the same for Dilla’s moms… at Fat Beats! Trust, the community would pour in support…

  18. Extras:

    @Ivan I usually agree with most that you say, but to say that if Fat Beats put out some sort of beacon call for help that people would have run to thier aid is just plain nieve.

    @Zach Record stores are the hearbeat of music communities in any city. Where would the MN scene be without Fifth Element, where would Boston be without UGHH, where would LA be without Amoeba, where is NYC now without Fat Beats? Big time trouble. I understand fully there are more reasons then the ones Craig mentioned, as does he, but bottom line is, it’s sad. And that’s from a big time digital RETAIL proponent.

    @Kid Captain
    Don’t let your eyes be bigger then your stomach (as mom used to say). This is a competitive business, if you can only afford to buy 3 LPs a week, or 3 a month, whatever it is, then that doesn’t give anyone licsence to steal the rest they want. There are streams, mixtapes, free releases, etc to tide over the musical appetite.

    And finally, in regard to the grocery store thing, that’s just crazy. What was Fat Beats supposed to do? Re-invent the music industry? As Craig pointed out, they modified their business, and are still alive in some form because of it. The fact that they were still open and didn’t close in 2005 or 2006 is a credit to their creativity and value in NYC. If you think it’s the product that put them under then your saying they didn’t carry dope hip-hop in their store and that’s not true. Everyone reading this can name their favorite artist from the last 20 years and I guarantee Fat Beats had their shit, probably on vinyl.

    peace.

  19. Don’t listen to Justin :).

    You are so, so right. I don’t need to write a blog about it, because this has expressed all my thoughts exactly.

    There is room for some discussion, there are many other contributing factors to why a place like Fat Beats has had to close, but it’s base is in this piece.

    Bottom line, without an infrustructure you can’t build a community and without money, you can’t build an infrustructure.

    If you are about to say something in reply to that statement that comes off making you sound like a hippie, please don’t. I’ve got bills to pay (for music, then for my apt.) Get real.

    peace.

  20. There’s a lot of reasons that stores like Fat Beats have closed and labels like Def Jux have gone on hiatus.

    But from the viewpoint of the guy pretty much running the site right now in Dave’s absence, I’ll say this: We try to make this into a magazine/radio type of experience where we don’t just copy/paste what’s in the submission e-mail or what we saw written on another site.

    We have plenty of those sites and, truly, they serve their purpose and serve it well. But what we try to do here is hip people to new artists. You don’t have to read every damn post and from seeing the stats here, I know what most people gravitate toward anyway. That aside, I think we do our “job” if you purchase a CD or go to a show based on our posting a limited number of tracks we think are high quality — five-to-seven songs daily is not really that many compared to other sites.

    I could go on about this for days.

  21. “Right now we have too many artists and not enough sales.”

    You’d have to be rich as hell to buy all of the (good) music that comes out. I buy 3-5 albums per week and consider that to be a lot. I almost can’t enjoy them becuz of the pace of new releases. If I don’t buy them within the month that they come out, i risk not hearing about them again. Dj’s rarely replay records on their podcasts, bloggers don’t re-post an entry and many of my friends are always making their own music. As a consumer and a fan, it’s more than one can handle. Cuz even if I could afford to buy it all, I’d never have enough time in a day to hear it.

  22. Datahowler|

    Not to mention I have to say the finger pointing in the music industry is so over the top and ludicrous. Point all you want but every single artist, blog, record label, agent, lawyer, distributor, etc has contributed to this in some way.

    So if you are going to point fingers I’d rather you stick it up your ass and sit on it.

  23. Datahowler|

    I’m going to say this short and simple from my perspective:

    Let them all die and pass away. It’s natural economic selection and while the Internet ripped a hole in out beloved music industry things to naturally be corrected.

    Less CD sales means less money which eventually also means less artists. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Right now we have too many artists and not enough sales. Companies grow and die and so do cultures. This change is going to bring about room for new things to exist and form in the music industry.

    It also arms most of you are concerned with the last 30-40 years of this business. Once upon a time bards existed traveling the landscape as freelance song writers and most musicians were hobbyist. Even as the industry bloomed the biggest sales were in singles. This trend is reemerging. The album is a dying art that will eventually come back in 10-20 years…..

  24. I’m gonna ask you, the writers and proprietor of Potholes in my Blog, a serious quesiton with the highest level of respect in the world (you were the first site to ever do a feature on 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers, so you guys are always aces in my book):

    One time, I was trying to watch a video at home from an artist you posted the day before and had to dig around. I counted the number of free songs you guys posted in that 2 day span since I couldn’t find the video right away. The number was 14. That’s 14 different artists. I know you guys don’t play the EXCLUSIVE game and post illegal stuff that causes a ruckus….but the point is that you fed the machine a sizeable meal with FREE music. It’s good to be prolific and be up on the latest stuff at the minute I suppose, but that kinda weirded me out when I stepped back and thought about it.

    Do you honestly expect your readers (or the dedicated readers of most music sites) to seriously purchase ANY of the 14 artists whose music you shared? I’m an old head who likes physical CDs/vinyl, plus I’m a collector. Conversely, I’d be hardpressed to say I bought any of the music you had up there, and my penchant for willingly exchanging MONEY for MUSIC makes me a freakin’ dinosaur.

    I’m not blaming Potholes personally for the closing of Fat Beats, piracy, the oversaturation of free music, the death of Rodney Dangerfield, or the strange fad of hipsters wearing outdated NBA jerseys. But on some level, don’t you essentially play INTO this culture of giving everything out free all the time? If I’m 21 years old, I’m not buying shit–I’m spending 10 minutes googling an artist and acquiring their entire catalogue because that’s the culture of music consumption I now live in. Potholes, and 50,000 other sites, are gatekeepers of that culture for better or worse. It’s not your intention to shortchange or disable the livelihood of anyone, but 14 free songs translates to $14 missing at iTunes.

    Does anyone have a responsibility to request commerce for music anymore? Should standards be held or not all? If blogs vanished tomorrow, would the industry rebound or recede further? And where the hell is my twelve inch for Lil’ Kim’s “Queen Bitch”?

    I bring this to your door because unlike Nah Right or Dope Boyz, 2 sizeable offenders if we’re talking text book “piracy”, I feel like I’ll get an honest and thought provoking response rather than “Deal with it f*ggot!” in the comment section

  25. Yeah, I get it, there’s a million reasons why these kinds of places are going out of business: rent, recession, location, the convenience of net-based shopping, the lack of an overhead on mp3s, dirt cheap digital media price points… I’m well aware of the complexities of the problem. That’s not what this is about. This was an angry rant about dubious music fan morality and dwindling record store loyalty. And the “tough shit” mentality I’m seeing here is depressing.

    PS The grocery store analogy is off base. That industry hasn’t sprung a leak. Best believe if there was a way to cop produce, dairy, and meat for free from home, both your Stop-n-Shops and your local general stores alike would be proper fucked!

  26. I think the mom & pop grocery store reference is spot on. Let’s face it this is the era of proficiency and if you can increase efficiency by maintaining huge storages and cutting of the middle men (aka the big hypermarket) or in this case digital record stores, you can supply the consumer with much wider line of products with a much cheaper price. For example here the old record stores (with a few exceptions) died out a long ago because their outrageous prices and small selections, but at the same time internet stores like hhv.de flourished. It basically comes down to the fact are you willing to pay more to shop for your records in an actual store

  27. @Zach
    ::sharpens axe::

    A. Fat Beats has adapted. They have a website and label. By all accounts, their online distribution game is proper, and they’ll have a furtive afterlife long after they leave NY & LA. They’re likely doing more business online than in store, which I gather to be the reason they’re sacrificing the storefronts.

    B. It’s probably a function of having palled around in record stores a couple hours each day for most of my formative years that it’s a sharp knife in my side every time one closes. Maybe there isn’t so much room for them anymore in the age of digital distribution and armchair freeloading, but they’re more than just places to purchase records to me. They’re little outposts of music junkie culture we’re losing, and it hurts like hell whenever one disappears. There’s this wide-eyed sense of wonder, an odd feeling of home almost, that I get when I walk into a record store that’s sure to be a thing of the past by the time this decade closes.

  28. There was an interesting debate over this same matter on Twitter the other day. Mr. Davey D actually won my vote with his argument (and this is coming at the situation from a purely marketing perspective). It’s not the consumers’ fault. If a local mom-and-pop grocery store goes out of business, is it the consumers’ fault for not shopping there enough, or is the grocery store to blame for not being awesome and marketable enough to draw in paying customers.

    To me, I view this as a similar scenario (except for the whole part about how you can’t download your groceries for free). I don’t think Fat Beats retail stores closing down is the consumers’ fault. I think the fault lies entirely on Fat Beats for not adjusting properly to market needs and providing consumers with the preferred purchasing format. Granted, there is really not much they could do about this, as digital music is unquestionably the present and the future of the industry. Every industry sees trends come and go, and it is up to businesses to adapt. If traditional record stores can’t compete with the iTunes and Amazons of the world, they need to find a new way to bring in customers. Those that don’t will go the route of Fat Beats.

    **Before everyone beheads me, I’d like to say that I fully support buying physical copies of CDs, but I’m not entirely upset when a record store closes. It’s a new market, and I’m adapting too.

  29. @Ivan
    The people that care get deeper into it. Those that don’t, don’t. Hip hop being one of the most powerful and prevalent forms of music on earth guarantees a boatload of glommers and hangers on who aren’t so much interested in the culture as they are in a catchy tune. Drake selling 450k one week and Big Boi selling 50k of an infinitely superior record two weeks later goes to show where the priorities of average hip hop listeners lie.

  30. I love this post, Craig you are surely becoming my favorite to read on this site or any site for that matter, and Justin I too am looking forward to your article, please post the link in here or tweet it at me.

  31. Great article though I don’t entirely agree. There’s a difference between spending money with an aim to support the “industry” and spending money to support the record shop(s) – two different things entirely. When I’d walk into Fat Beats, I’d buy EPMD & Nas 12″s and LPs by Ultramag, ATCQ and Gang Starr. I wouldn’t cop the new Rick Ross and Eminem. They don’t need the money. But the record shop does. I support the music I want without feeding the money-hungry majors. Besides, that’s the music I prefer to A) listen to, and B) support. In other words, I viewed Fat Beats as an antique store if you will. Hip hoppers, being a young demographic, probably/typically don’t see it like that. Who gives a fuck about antiquity when you’re young? Some cultures eat their young. We eat our old. Double pause on that one. We need to learn to value the history and culture of rap – and that includes the record shops.

    I can guarantee you, though, that if Fat Beats – and other shops – became more proactive in saying “yo, guys, we need you to buy our shit, please” BEFORE closing down, the culture would swoop in to save the day. I’m sure of it. Ah well…

  32. @Justin

    All I’m really saying is the give/take is out of whack between artists and listeners. Can’t wait for your response, though.

  33. Not having to pay for shit, of course, is and always has been the chief reason people DL, but I think a lot of people rationalized doing it in their mind by with the anti-establishment bit. The behavior contains a faint hint of rebellion.

  34. You are so wrong I am going to write an entire article about it. Still, very well written. Just utterly, utterly wrong.

  35. You’re right in all of your points and that’s one leg off of the table. I also think you’re being generous with the reasons for people pirating. The anti-big business fans were still buying music, but they chose to buy it from the artists themselves. I doubt these people have changed in theory… and I doubt even more that this new age has morals.

    The gift and the curse to hip-hop is Serato and no one’s gonna complain about that. I honestly think this was Fat Beats’ demise and I’m sure they didn’t see it coming. I feel for music’s new generation becuz they’re missing the values behind it. There’s no ranks to climb through and no respect left to be earned. Just a lot of cheap props from unknown user names…

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