For the past 41 years in Edinburgh, Ripping Records has been the go-to for fans of rock/country/indie/folk/dad music, achieving cult status. Surviving the rise and fall of commercial high street music stores such as HMV, it comes as a shock to many then, that on 26 November, Ripping will be closing its doors for good.
You may think that this is due to competition from an increasingly commercialised market, and with headlines such as “three quarters of all independent music shops have closed down in the last decade” (The Telegraph, May 2010), I do not blame you. Luckily this is not the case; John Richardson is retiring at age 61 having enjoyed a rich, successful career as owner of Ripping. While John might have been successful, how can smaller, independent music stores continue to thrive in an increasingly commercialised market?
When Ripping was still in its infancy, vinyl records were the most affordable and accessible way to listen to music at home. Record stores, then, were a necessity for anyone looking for some cosy home listening. With the advent of cassettes, CDs, the iPod and eventually music streaming, the casual listener made the switch to these more convenient ways of listening. This meant paying fewer and fewer visits to the local record store. Independent stores kept with the times and began stocking CDs and cassettes but the wholesale business model of high street giants made them able to undercut independent store prices, which led to the mass closure of these stores in the 90s and 00s. Through thick and thin the better stores like Ripping were able to sustain themselves through other means; selling gig tickets, T shirts, posters and other merchandise. But more crucial to the survival of these stores was the support from the communities of vinyl-heads that continue to surround these stores today.
Vinyl purists and DJs saw value in the tactile nature of music vinyl, applauding its ‘warmer sound’ versus digital. For less hard-line vinyl enthusiasts, independent record stores still offer far more than a high street store with knowledgeable staff and regular customers making them forums for musical opinion.
Sporadic conversations with shop owners have left me walking away with musical gems that I would never have thought I would like. Crate digging (an old school hip-hop term for sifting through old records to find gems) has led me to find Jimi Hendrix tracks that are unknown to the internet. Vinyl as a format allows the cover art of an album to be viewed properly as intended by the artist. This cover art adds further to the allure of the vinyl. On occasion, it has even lead me to buy vinyl based on its weird cover art, and later discover its even weirder and wonderful funk-reggae Steelpan goodness. Record stores, with their often long history, support entire subcultures of local DJs, vinyl fans – and they even offer momentary refuge for passing hipsters from the Guatemalan-sustainably-sourced-coffee soaked high streets of today.
With the fall of HMV, the rise of hipster culture (for which the vinyl record is an emblem), and the recent trend in analogue musical equipment, it looks like independent stores are going from strength to strength. It was said that the Kindle would kill the bookshop yet thankfully our bookshops remain. This gives me faith, demonstrating that a good few of us still value the object, not the file, as a source of artistic material.
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