Support the news
Independent record stores are hard to find these days. Over the past decade, more that 3,000 shops have closed across the United States. Today one of every five CDs is purchased at Wal-Mart.
A new documentary, "I Need that Record: The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store," tries to figure out what happened. It screens Saturday night at the Independent Film Festival Boston.
"I Need That Record" is a personal project for 22 year-old filmmaker Brendan Toller. He says he started tracking the demise of indie record stores as a teenager. Then, in 2006, the record store that he grew up with, Record Express, in Middletown, Conn., became the latest casualty — and Toller knew he had to tell the story.
"I really wanted to profile a few stores that were closing down and visit ones that were doing well and kind of figure out what had happened in the past 10 years in the music industry."
So Toller did what any aspiring filmmaker would do: He broke out his camera and headed down to his own favorite shop to document its last days. In the film Toller interviews the owner, Ian, who is visibly distressed about the fate of his store.
"How long have you been here?" he asks on the tape. "Are you ready to move on?"
The owner can't answer Toller's question.
"To have to break down all your CD racks," Toller explains, "it's an extremely emotional thing for any owner, because they put their heart and soul in it; they're passionate about the music, and it's so sad to see it go to a Wal-Mart or just some big chain store."
Toller is talking about people lamenting the loss of passion people have for records, and he's 22. He's part of the iPod/download generation, so some people may be surprised to know Toller even knows what a vinyl record is.
"There's a lot of kids my age that are vinyl enthusiasts or collectors, and at age 7, I was handed a old turntable and an old Beatles record," Toller says. "So from the get-go I had that sort of education. Now kids are just of growing up with music as something that's a digital file and a line of text — but I think people realize what's missing with the digital."
So what's missing?
"The object, the artwork, the smell, the touch, the grooves, the crackle, the warm sound and definitely the sense of history," he says.
The film shares a lot of the wistful sentiment from customers, their beloved record stores closing.
In one clip, a customer says: "I'm a record junkie, and this is a record junkie place to go to. Let's face it, a lot of people can steal a lot of stuff off the Internet."
Another customer laments: "The last five years I've been coming every day, I'm going to miss the store. There's an endless supply of music, but not an endless supply of good people."
"In terms of a social place for a lot of people who go to record stores, or bookstores or comic good stores, that's their only social interaction for the week for some of these guys or girls," Toller says. "You know, you're going to take that away from them when these stores close, so it's a real sad situation."
The film is a pretty sturdy point-of-view lament. But Toller says he reached out to people who might try to defend themselves.
"I reached out to Apple, to Wal-Mart, to iTunes, to EMusic, to CDbaby, to Best Buy. I can remember this phone conversation with Best Buy. They said 'Let me transfer to somebody else, oh let me transfer you to somebody else,' and then by the time the fifth transfer they just hang up on you." Toller laughs. "And you can keep trying and trying and writing and writing but, you know, I think they've all gotten that Michael Moore memo where, oh, documentary filmmaker, for a 22-year-old college student, they're just going to brush you off.
But film festivals aren't brushing Toller off — although he 's trying to find a distributor. He says he made "I Need That Record" for about $5,000. It includes interviews with a slew of musicians and industry types, such as Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and the CEO of Newbury Comics in Boston. Even Noam Chomsky.
And while it chronicles the end for many indie shops nationwide, it also shows stores that are doing well. By adapting. In that sense, "I Need That Record" isn't all doom and gloom.
This program aired on April 25, 2009.
Support the news