Twenty years later, it still shocks Judge Daryl Loomis to see Warner Bros. on his Mr. Bungle records.
What the hell happened to all our record stores?
For musicians and music lovers, the independent record store has been a fixture for decades. Appealing to a crowd that wasn't satisfied with the music on the radio or the videos on MTV (back before Snooki was a fixture and they still played music videos), these places were a fixture in the lives of many fringe characters who liked music off the beaten path. As we see in Brendan Toller's excessively-named documentary, I Need that Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store, these places have fallen on hard times. Forced to succumb to a music industry dominated by payola and nepotism from record labels and an internet that offers the product cheaper or free, the communities built in these hovels are disappearing. Why this happened makes for an overly romantic, but still interesting and entertaining documentary.
Would you want a bunch of punk rockers running a bank? I don't know about you, but my answer is no. Why, then, are financial experts somehow acceptable as CEOs of record companies? In any industry, whenever those who run it care more about money than they do the product they're selling, the product is bound to suffer, and there may be none more corrupted by it than the music industry. I understand there are teenagers who legitimately like Good Charlotte, and I respect that fact, I suppose, but the only reason a second-rate band like this achieves million-dollar sales is because of the mass marketing engine that drives radio and Big-Box stores across the country. When a record label pays radio stations big bucks to play one specific act at the expense of many others, you narrow the options for the listener and homogenize the art to the extent that record labels strive for one thing with the music: to get it onto the shelves of Best Buy.
This limited selection may be fine for some, but there is a massive population of music fans, from casual listeners to dedicated nerds, who are dissatisfied with the selection offered to them. They want much more than the top-40 pop that infects the radio airwaves and the Borders shelves of the world. Forever, the answer was the independent record store, a bastion of knowledge and love for music where people knew what was on their racks and could recommend new music to patrons based on their choices. Connoisseurs of any product appreciate the level of knowledge provided by professionals who care about their merchandise and whose livelihood depends on repeat, often niche business. These establishments enjoyed decades of success nationwide; I grew up with one myself (tip of the hat to House of Records in Eugene, OR, alive and well with their Terry Bradshaw LPs on the wall, still the coolest record store I've ever shopped at). In the days of the internet and multinational music corporations, modern independent record stores are an almost impossible proposition. They don't have the capital to compete with Walmart and Best Buy, who can buy in quantities that allow them to sell their cut-rate product, and they absolutely can't compete with free downloading and file sharing on the internet. Important a service as they provide, they just don't seem to have a place in the market anymore.
Toller interviews some very important and very intelligent members of the independent music community for I Want that Record, including composer Glenn Branca, Mike Watt (Minutemen), Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers, arguably the greatest band in the world today), and Ian MacKaye (Fugazi). They break down why they love records and why they love record stores, but more importantly, they provide a balanced and well thought out case for why independent stores have fallen on such hard times. They find it unfortunate, but musicians understand very clearly that the will of the people is what drives the marketplace. If they'd rather get their music free off the internet, nothing's going to stop them and it's the small shop owners who suffer. Toller also takes his camera to some of these proprietors, who either have been or are about to be forced out of their locations. Always, when you see individuals losing their jobs and suffering, it's easy to sympathize. They talk more about the tragedy of losing the community they built over the years in their shops and how the people forcing them out, be that landlords or major labels or downloaders, should be stopped from destroying what they have. This is the free market at work, though. Consumers have made their choice; they don't have to pay for music, so many won't. It isn't surprising and, as unfortunate as it is for the individuals, if the online revolution hurts the major labels, that makes me happy. If that's at the expense of the independent record stores, so be it.
MVD has done fine with their release of I Need that Record!, though it's nothing spectacular. The image transfer has some digital artifact and grain, but nothing overwhelming; for a low-budget video documentary, it looks fine. The sound is equally acceptable, with nothing special in the stereo mix, but nothing to complain about either. There is only one series of extras, but it's very strong and exactly what the market for this film will want to see: additional interviews with the musicians in the film. The segments come out to about two hours, and are as valuable in their insight into the music industry and their own work as anything in the film itself.
Though the documentary is overly wistful about what independent record stores mean to individuals and the community, it is still presents a cogent argument against major labels while remaining understanding of new technology and its bittersweet role in destroying their industry. Brendan Toller has done good work on a subject he obviously cares about and I Need that Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store is most certainly worth a watch.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
• Bonus Interviews
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