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WHY LASER DISC?

In 2010, I managed to get my hands on a laser disc player.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this format, basically it was an early version of the DVD.  It even looks like a DVD, although it is much bigger (about the size of an LP record).  Seeing that I am always fascinated with outdated technologies and obsolete formats, I was very happy to track down a player and start collecting this format.  It has been a fun adventure.
 
Many people have asked me....where on earth do you buy laser discs?  Well, that's a good question.  In general, they can be hard to find, although sometimes they pop up at yard sales, flea markets and your local Goodwill/Value Village.  I did find a business online that sells laser discs (discountlaserdisc.com).  Their prices and selection are very good.  Most of their catalog is in the $5 to $10 price range.  Which brings me to my next point.  No matter what someone tells you, I wouldn't pay more than $10 for a used laser disc, unless it's a real rarity.
 
So, what about the picture and sound quality?  Many claim that laser disc has the same quality of visuals as DVDs.  I'm not so sure about that.  Perhaps this was true of later laser discs (they were manufactured from the early 80s until about 1999), but I find that early discs are not that much better than VHS.  Sound, however, is very good, especially compared to analogue.
 
What is so special about laser discs?  Well, there's a few answers for that question.  First, many movies that were released on laser disc have still not been released on DVD.  Second, some laser discs featured alternate or deleted scenes that were not featured on any other format.  A famous example of this would be the movie "E.T.".  Apparently there is a scene involving Harrison Ford as Elliot's principal, which was not included on any other versions.  Third, they are lots of fun and look super cool.  :)  Plus, laser disc packaging often offers photos and visuals that are very different from later DVD packaging.
 
Anyway, if you decide to pick up an old laser disc player, it can be a very fun format to get into!

ARE SCENES NATURALLY PROBLEMATIC?

I've thought about this for quite some time, and it is something that I've had a fair amount of exposure to over the years. I really have to wonder, do music scenes do more harm than good to music?

In my opinion, it really seems to be a Catch-22. There are definitely advantages to having connections in a scene. If you are able to get out there and secure gigs, people get familiar with your music, you sell a few CDs, make a few more contacts, and pretty soon your web grows. Networking, as they say. Meeting the right people at the right time. That definitely can be a good thing.

But on the other side of the coin, things can get problematic. Egos can easily get frayed, and rather than making friends or fans, you can just as easily find yourself very disliked by the cognoscenti....the movers, the shakers, the promoters. The problem seems to be that for every one person who totally supports and appreciates what you do, there are at least 1 or 2 people who don't.

And then you have folks who are quick to point their finger and lay blame. "Well, I don't see him at shows so he doesn't care about the scene!". That's just juvenile. It seems to me that many music scenes are very much akin to a middle school mentality. You have to walk the walk and talk the talk, making sure you are "in", kissing up to the right people, otherwise you find yourself very much "out". I never liked this sort of group politic, and I find it runs rampant in many music scenes, especially in smalltown scenes.

George Carlin (rest his soul) once stated that he loved people, but only on an individual basis. He said that the minute you have groups of people (2 or more people together) you immediately have problems. As negative as that sounds, I can't help but see the incredible amount of truth in it. I find that the rules that are a given within scenes very stifling, and in essence very much a hindrance to the music itself. I always had the uneasy feeling that folks were not at a show to check out the band, they were there to make an appearance and "belong to the scene". I can't help but have a problem with that logic.

WHAT NEW WAVE MEANS TO ME

Anyone who knows me well (or even people who only know me partially) will tell you that I am an obsessive fan of New Wave. In fact, I can say that I have loved this genre since back in the days when New Wave was actually still new. This would have been the early eighties. I was about 9 to 10 years of age. I think that, at that age, children tend to be extremely impressionable to begin with. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Even at a very early age, I had a tendency to be drawn to the quirky, the bizarre, the strange. All of a sudden, the airwaves were inundated with this second British Invasion. All these strange bands who spoke with British accents, wore unusual clothes, had weird videos and sang GREAT songs. I was fascinated. It was like discovering music from another planet. Considering that I lived in the far-flung region of eastern Canada, England may as well have been another planet.

And of course, what really fascinated me about these artists was that they used this brave new instrument called the synthesizer. Wow. This was such a breath of fresh air compared to all the rock geezers like April Wine and Trooper. Even at that young age, I liked many songs that were guitar based, but there was just something about the synthesizer that really intrigued me. It reminded me of science fiction films and video games. It was space age and futuristic. Considering that I was all ready a huge Star Wars/Buck Rogers/Battlestar Galactica fan, this music couldn't have come along at a more perfect time. I was hooked.

As time went on, New Wave died an inevitable death, and the guitar came storming back with the grunge movement of the 90s. I hated the 90s. I remember wishing I could just go to sleep and wake up when it was over. It's funny, because now I am a fan of Nirvana and their ilk, but at the time I hated them. Dirty scumbags in filthy clothes playing loud, angry, unrefined music. That's what I thought. It was the exact opposite to what I loved about New Wave. New Wave was stylish, polished, clean, intellectual and artsy. Grunge was not.

Anyway, New Wave has always had an immediate connection with my heart. I have such a profound love for this genre, and I always will. It speaks to me, it makes sense to me, it moves me. I was always someone who loved the avant garde, the weird, and the unusual. New Wave was all of that. I love New Wave because it is a blend of excellent songmanship, memorable melodies, and a touch of strange. It was one of the few periods in pop history where a perfect balance was struck between catchy songwriting and experimentation. I don't really know of any other period in pop where this happened. You had all these British kids who got together for a passing second in time, grabbed some synths and made some music that pushed boundaries and made the world sing along. The genre exploded for a very brief moment in time; a glittery, colourful splash of excitement and style that roared for a moment and then faded.

I will clutch this style of music close to my heart forever. New Wave, I love you.

HOW TO RUN A RECORD SHOP
BY DAVID CROSBY

Taken from David Crosby's blog

How To Run Your Damn Record Store

by David Crosby

Walking around Sydney, NS today, I happened upon a record shop on George Street which I will not name that was, as I opened the door, a non-stop horrorshow. This isn't the first craptastic record store I've visited (by the way, by record I mean vinyl moreso than CD's), but certainly it has led me to reflect on the good stores I've been to, and what makes them successful.

When I walked in the store, the first thing I noticed was that the place reeked of tobacco. We're not talking an occasional cigarette kind of smell, but a full blown chain-smoking-grandma kind of smell. Whatever, I can deal, I say. After leaping over boxes of comic books and assorted junk, I'm in the record section. It's dim. As in, there are no lights. I stand squinting, searching through stuff I can't quite read for five minutes until the clerk watching Star Trek notices me. This could be understandable if I wasn't the only damn person in the shop. I spy a Psychic TV remix record with no price tag on it. Cool. I ask the clerk the price, with him answering 6 bucks. Fair price, but I'm a uni student with little cash, so I'll pass. What I notice as I go through the records is that about 1 in 30 records actually have a price sticker. GAH! The records aren't any discernable order, so I strike up a conversation with the clerk. It turns out he owns the store (?!), and he brags about the amount of records he has. Admittedly, there's a huge wall of records, and a fair number of boxes littered around the store that I would assume have records as well. He tells me that there used to be a system when he opened the shop seven months ago, and that since then his stock of records exploded ("I'll probably have twice as much in another 7 months!" he gushed). After searching for a good 20-25 minutes, I come out with Michael Jackson's "Off The Wall" and a Gary Numan record. Both look a little sore, in worse condition than the stuff I get at the Salvation Army for 50 cents. There's no sticker on either of them, but I figure they shouldn't be too much. "I'll give you 3 for the both of them," I say. "Heh, they're not all 3 dollars each." I scratch my head a bit, wondering if he heard me right. "I'll give em' to you five dollars each." Unblinking, I take the records from him return them to the shelves and leave without a word.

This store owner, my friends, is a clown. He doesn't know what he's selling, and if he was only dealing in records (he also managed to have room to sell video games, comic books and action figurines), he would be out of business in short order. He bragged that he had 25,000 records (a number I find dubious), and yet expects the world to beat on his door.

This made me think of a mental list that a person can apply to their store if they happen to have one (this is for vinyl, but can really be applied anywhere).

1. The first five seconds you spend in a store is usually the impression you get of the place. If the place smells disgusting, then it might be worthwhile to remedy that situation. My favorite store burns incense which covers up the musty record smell, and simultaneously loosens the grip on my wallet.

2. No one cares how many damn records you have. What they DO care about is A) what you have and B) how to get it. Even basic categories (country, rock, classical) can save a customers patience. I shouldn't have to go through 50 Patsy Cline records to find a single Miami Sound Machine album. If this is too big a job at first, try alphabetizing. In fact, doing both is a good way to shift product.

3. Take care of the stuff you DO have. Stop acting like a frigging Wal-Mart and start reinforcing your shelves. Those bends in the shelves from all that weight just adds pressure to the records, which isn't kosher. Further, I've had one time where there was a record avalanche from a crappy shelf. I helped pick up that time, but I'm not putting up with that again.

4. If there's not a blanket price, then tag every record. It doesn't matter if it takes time: it has to be done. While that owner was watching Star Trek, he could have been pricing a box of records. Hell, in one 45 minute episode you can get a good 100 records all marked. There's no excuse, ESPECIALLY if you've been open for 7 months.

5. Have a dollar bin. They're great for getting rid of merch which is piling up and going nowhere (hint: stores full of junk don't often scream "we've got decent stuff!"), and also alert cheap brats like myself where the bargains may be had. If it's torn up to hell and isn't some rare exotic European release, toss it in.

6. Have a record player with headphones, in case the person wants to check out something before buying it. I tend to buy stuff when I have a better idea what it is.

7. Unless you're selling those Star Trek episodes, TURN THEM OFF. Get to better know where and what stuff you have. Better yet, play your cool records on the in-store sound system, and watch them fly off the shelves.

I can't guarantee you instant results, but doing these seven simple things will bring you much more repeat business.

One of my favorite stores is Strange Maine, which is on Congress St. in Portland, ME. They have this formula down, and in turn have a fiercely loyal following. Go there if you get the chance.

********************************************************

Gary's e-mail to David:

Hey David! How are you?

I just read your blog about "how to run a record store" and I felt compelled to contact you. I thoroughly enjoyed this entry. You hit the nail right on the head.

I have been collecting vinyl hardcore for almost twenty years. I collected vinyl back in the early 90s when vinyl was considered very passe and uncool. I've been in every dingy, dark record shop from Newfoundland to Toronto and as far south as Nashville. The shop you described sounds like many shops I've been to.

It does totally frustrate me when records are not organized, or priced. So kudos for bringing that up. A few years ago I was in this store in Montreal called Mars. They had a shitload of vinyl, probably tens of thousands, but they were not arranged in any fashion whatsoever. Many of their records were not priced either. I think they have since gone out of business, which is no surprise to me. Here was a store that had the potential for being awesome, but because the owners were too damn lazy to organize things, it was a headache to shop there.

And another thing, I get really frustrated when I see people selling vinyl for wildly inflated prices. Perhaps I am just cheap, but I have a really hard time paying more than 6 or 7 dollars for a used LP. Let me be more specific. I am mostly referring to domestic releases. Chart toppers from the past, that sort of thing. If it's a rare import or something like that, by all means, I will pay more if I really want it. But I think $12 on an album that you know is not that rare is kind of silly.

BTW, I have been to Strange Maine. I agree it's a great shop. My current favorite record shop on the east coast is Select Sounds in Bedford, NS. I've come out of there many times with rare stuff I didn't even know existed. Their prices aren't that bad either. The best store I was ever in was Peter Dunn's Vinyl Museum in Toronto. They used to be on Dundas West, but they've since gone out of business. The store was huge, and they had a massive dollar section. I once clipped a "half off everything" coupon from the local paper, went into that store and came out with a stack of something like 30 albums for 15 bucks.

Anyway, thanks for writing a great blog. I had lots of fun reading it.

Cheers,

Gary

IS IT TRUE THAT ONLY PEOPLE WHO PLAY ACOUSTIC GUITAR CAN BE SONGWRITERS?

I have been writing songs for a good many years now, and I have learned something that never ceases to amaze me. Whenever you say the word "songwriter", people automatically think that you must be referring to someone who plays acoustic guitar. It seems that those two concepts ("songwriter" and "acoustic guitarist") are forever married in the minds of most people. I really have to wonder why. Is it just because that's the image that we are constantly fed in the media? Is it because synths and home keyboards are still a relatively new technology, and it will still take some time before people realize that you don't HAVE to write songs on acoustic guitar? I don't know.

I certainly don't lose sleep over this, it simply fascinates me. I have noticed various TV shows that are broadcast on my local channels, stuff that features local "songwriters" and I swear that 98% of the time, they are holding an acoustic guitar. And I have even found that when I tell people I meet for the first time that I write songs, invariably they will say something like "Oh really? So, how long have you played guitar?". This is almost a given.

I'm not sure why, but people can't get their heads around the notion that you can write songs on all kinds of various instruments. Heck, it doesn't even have to be a guitar or a keyboard. I'm sure many songs have been composed on gamelin, theremin, cello, perhaps even wooden spoons. Why is there still this persistent belief that a song has more validity if it is presented on a tired old acoustic guitar?

Old modes of thought do take forever to change, it seems.

Doesn't Anyone Care About Liner Notes Anymore?

One of the negative ramifications of the whole downloading culture that has swept the music business over the past few years is what I perceive to be the death of liner notes. In my opinion, liner notes are not just accidental. They're not bothersome. They're not just ornamental. They're not unnecessary. They are crucial.

Maybe many people nowadays who download all their new music off the net really don't care about liner notes. Maybe they never did. But for me, I know that I always paid very close attention to the little details. When I bought an album, I would read the liner notes throughly as I listened to a new album. It was all a part of the whole experience.

Okay, you're probably thinking "well, just because that's the way it was for you, that doesn't mean "I" had to pay attention to liner notes". I understand that. But what I think is important to remember is that getting an album without the liner notes is a slap in the face to all the musicians, producers, technicians and numerous other folks who put so much work into the completion of that work. To me, it is akin to the consumer saying "I enjoy this music, I love listening to it, so much so that I will pay my hard earned money for it, but I really don't give a shit who worked so hard to put it into my waiting hands".

Imagine buying a book with the cover ripped off. Imagine a friend of yours asking "so, how is the book?". Imagine you responding "well, it's great, but I have no idea who wrote it". This may sound crazy, but to me, albums without liner notes are the same exact thing.

Or imagine going to a movie. Imagine no opening or closing credits. Just the film. Again, this to me would be a travesty. Personally, I want to know who did what. Maybe that's just part of my curious and inquisitive nature. I also tend to think that this information is critical to record for archival purposes. I cross reference albums all the time. I'll hear something on one album and think "hey, that sounds like the same phrasing I heard on album X". Then I'll rush to my collection and dig out album X to verify if my hunch was correct. This is all part of the fun, all part of the enjoyment of not only listening to music, but collecting it. At least for me, anyway.

I get the feeling that many people who download nowadays (although not everyone) just don't care about this anymore. Maybe there are music services out there on the internet that allow you to download album cover inserts as well as the album itself, but if there are such places, I'm certainly not aware of them.

To me, an album is a work of art. It's the whole package that matters. Yes, the music is important, very important. But it's definitely not the only factor that is important. I can't help but cringe when someone says "But the album should stand on the music alone". Crap, I say! The artists probably put a lot of thought, care and attention into the visual presentation of the album cover. It is a carefully rendered reflection of the music within. One element reflects the other. Again, I feel that selling albums without covers is, well, kind of like my previous anology of books without covers or films without credits. It's just not right.