I spent last weekend selling music on Ponsonby Rd. Rhythm Records, one of the last remaining independent music stores, fell into liquidation and, as its liquidator, I decided to keep the doors open for one last weekend.
It was an interesting but slightly melancholic experience.
Music connects us to our past. Old songs remind us what we were doing and who we were when those songs were current.
Listening to the B-52s reminded me of Melbourne University, several wasted years failing to complete my degree and some awful evenings exploring and expanding my alcohol tolerance. Playing the Blues Brothers soundtrack reminded me of who I was in the 80s; a completely different creature from who I am now. I doubt my 20-year-old self would understand or even like who he grew into.
The cause of Rhythm's decline is obvious. Small retailers everywhere struggle against barn-like outfits such as the Warehouse and JB Hi-Fi but the music industry has the added burden of competing with digital downloading.
Many of Rhythm's customers expressed sadness at the store's passing. "It's a shame," was repeated often and it is true but the world has moved on. Rhythm Records, like much of its remaining stock, was a quaint relic of a lost era.
I like to listen to a song as part of its original collection.
The real pleasure of small retailers like Rhythm is the ability to browse through an orderly collection, only knowing what you are looking for when you find it and if lost you can ask someone who knows their music. You cannot do this at the Warehouse or iTunes, which is no criticism of either business. We are the consumers and we have collectively decided to abandon the smaller outlets.
Despite the slow decline of stores like Rhythm, specialist providers such as Marbecks Classical and vinyl sales remain vibrant but these are well-positioned niche outlets selling to people who already know their tastes.
The internet was expected to demolish the power of the studios and connect artists directly to their customers but I wonder if this has made it any easier for musicians to become established.
The internet rewards noisy self-promoters such as Justin Bieber over less exuberant talent and the modern aversion to respecting copyright must make earning a living increasingly difficult for less well known performers.
Stores like Rhythm provided a chance to stumble across smaller or forgotten artists, their covers pulling at us to add them to our collections.
But like most readers, I was not a customer of Rhythm Records. I contributed to its demise and I now regret its passing.