Reports of the death of the music industry have been greatly exaggerated. The multiyear slump in sales seems to have ended. Many predicted that independent record stores would be the hardest hit, especially in the face of ferocious competition from discount big-box retailers such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart. Surprisingly, a survey of local independent stores finds that their condition is good.
If you want to know the true state of independent music in Indianapolis, you have to ask the grunts on the front line — the record clerks who eat and breathe music. Most of the stores NUVO spoke with — Luna Music, Vibes, Indy CD and Vinyl, Rockin’ Billy’s and Funhouse Guitars & Records — had a surprisingly sunny outlook on their prospects.
Will Engelking, a manager at Missing Link, sees the secret to continued success as “having a strong customer base, helping people find what they want and keeping in touch with what people want.”
Tajuana Washington, co-owner of Funhouse Guitars & Records, claims that she “didn’t know anything about the music industry” when she started the store in 2000, but that the store has succeeded because it’s been able to be “versatile and cater to individual needs.”
The record stores seem to be echoing the results of a study by Harvard Business School and the University of North Carolina, released March 29, which found that in some cases, downloading actually boosted sales by one CD for every 150 songs by an artist that were downloaded. Aaron Klepfer of Vibes didn’t believe it at first — but when he kept on hearing customers ask for albums that they had downloaded, he changed his tune. “That made them want to buy it … people must really want to hold it in their hands.” James Davis, at Rockin’ Billy’s, was the lone exception downloading and burning do seem to have hurt business there.
What’s most impressive is that the independent record store presence in Indianapolis has been expanding in recent years, most prominently with the addition of Indy CD and Vinyl on Broad Ripple Avenue. Time and time again, the clerks and managers at the stores spoke of the cooperative relationship they have. They constantly referred to each other. With little prompting, Indy CD’s Ryan Faubion enthusiastically said, “Missing Link fulfills a very specific vinyl niche.” And his counterparts at Missing Link were quick to point out Indy CD and Vinyl’s collection of indie records.
The record clerks were excited about the state of independent music in Indianapolis. It’s part of a national trend — there’s more control for artists due to the explosion of digital media and the increasing popularity of independent labels. Most importantly, artists have “the freedom to do what you want,” in the words of Luna’s Jason Pierce.
Sales are steady, and the stores are excited about new venues such as United States of Mind. Mark LaFay, partner in promotion company Kulture Entertainment, seems to capture the mood: “Indianapolis is the new Seattle.”