The beat goes on at Marbecks

By Sarah Ell

Roger Marbeck, owner of Marbecks Music Store on Queen St. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Roger Marbeck, owner of Marbecks Music Store on Queen St. Photo / Jason Oxenham

First there were 78s, 33s and 45s. Then there were tapes. Then CDs. Now we carry thousands of songs around in our phones. But we're still listening to music, and after more than 80 years, Aucklanders are still shopping at Marbecks.

Current owner Roger Marbeck is the third generation of his family in the music trade, and his son Logan now also works in the business. His grandparents, Alfred and Eileen Marbeck, first opened a music store in Queens Arcade in 1934, selling sheet music that Alfred would demonstrate on a piano.

Roger started working full-time in the shop in the 1970s; at that time it was run by his father Murray and uncle Hayden.

"I did an accountancy degree, then I woke up one morning and thought 'that's not for me'. I went down and spoke to my father at morning tea-time. He said to come back at lunchtime and he'd talk to Hayden. Then I quit my job and started straight away."

The Marbeck family briefly let go of the reins in the early 2000s. Roger grew tired of the retail business and bought one of New Zealand's oldest record labels, Ode, in 2007.

He moved into wholesaling classical imports, but as the retail distribution business crumbled around him, he decided to buy the business back in 2013. "The people I'd sold it to got into trouble," says Roger. "Marbecks had become the leader in the classical field specially, so if it had closed, my distribution business would have lost a big outlet." Marbecks has since become the key source of classical music recordings for the whole country, and has found new life selling all genres.

"Now it's back to what it was in a funny sort of way. We are the last man standing."

The biggest changes over the years have come in music formats: "We used to buy 10,000 cassingles of one title if it was a big seller. Now that's all digital, they don't even bother making singles any more."

But digital is not all bad for business, Roger says. "A lot of people use streaming to sample or audition stuff before they buy it. YouTube is the biggest vehicle for music.
People will look at things and get a feel for what an artist is like and then come and buy."

For now, Roger is happy to be back behind the counter. "Before I sold it, the joy was starting to go out of it. You've got to enjoy the music as well as buy and sell it," he says.

"Now it's fun again. The day it becomes just a job, it's time to reassess things."

- Weekend magazine

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