Record StoreI have a fond affection for the MP3 format and the economic model that it advances. Stores like iTunes, Amazon, and streaming services like Napster, Rhapsody, and Lala have made discovering and obtaining new music easier than ever. You can listen to a full album on Lala, then open the iTunes store and have it on your machine within mere minutes. Of course, the more exciting way to get your music fix is to find someone with a massive music library, connect a portable hard drive to his or her computer and proceed to transfer what you want a la carte to your computer. Not only can this help you bolster your collection, it can be a social activity that allows you to learn about the other person and can form lasting friendships. At least, that has been my experience.

Despite the MP3’s varied uses and strengths, I still buy at least two to three CD’s a month from record stores if I have the money. I am one of the few people that I know who still prefers albums over singles, and I don’t mind paying a few extra dollars to more thoroughly support a band.  Although I do admit that buying music online and getting albums from my friends is extremely convenient and easy, there are several reasons why a trip to the record store still has its place in a digitally dominated society.

First, buying a CD requires a certain commitment that downloading a single will never have. When you buy a song off of iTunes, you can do it from almost anywhere. Whether it is on your laptop at a coffee shop, at home on your television, or on an iPhone in a busy airport, if you have a connection to the internet you can have your music. Going to a record store requires planning to make a special outing, the time to escape from the house or the office, and the desire to want a full album rather than a single song that had a catchy synth line. This makes the trip itself a sort of special occasion, something that can be looked forward to at the end of a long week. When the music is delivered to you through fiber optics, that sort of magic is taken away, and buying music becomes more of a habit than a cherished moment in time.

Secondly, record stores are unique in the sense that you are in the presence of a physical catalog. Being surrounded by thousands upon thousands of albums can give one a sense of omnipotence as he or she chooses the one or two that will be taken home. I can spend hours at a time looking through the racks at a store.  This is especially true of the used sections, where the selection is completely random. Thumbing through the CD’s in these sections can yield some great finds, which oftentimes cost less than an album on iTunes. It is a great way to get music on the cheap, and a great way to try out albums that you are unsure about.

Perhaps the most important arguments that can be made for independent record stores come from the feelings that can be derived from going to one. There is something about the thrill of going to a place like Waterloo Records the morning an album comes out and holding the physical product in your hand. It is almost as if you holding a piece of art. Additionally, these stores have their own unique qualities. Whether it’s the knowledgeable staff, the funky atmosphere, or the plethora of in-store performances, there are many endearing qualities that can be had at a record store.  Then, there’s the epic struggle to break the shrink wrap off of a jewel case, which only amplifies the amount of anticipation to hear the packages’ contents. One feels a great a sense of triumph when at last the case can be opened. None of these feelings can be replicated when music is bought on a computer.

At the end of the day, even though I will continue to download music online and establish friendships via a portable hard drive, I will always have a soft spot for my local record stores. They are places that you can spend hours by yourself, or with good friends, browsing through their collections, taking in the overall aesthetic of the place, or see an up and coming artist. Until the online stores and services come up with a way to accurately replicate the qualities that are unique to brick and mortar establishments, I will continue to make my trips to Waterloo, Chaeapo, End of An Ear, or any other of Austin’s many record stores at least twice a month.