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5/16/2004

Music sings the blues

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Customer: Hi, do you have the song “I Just Called To Say I Love You?” It’s for my daughter's birthday.

Barry: Yea we have it.

Customer: Well, can I have it?

Barry: No, actually, you can’t.

Customer: Why not?

Barry: God. Do you even know your daughter? There’s no way she likes that song. Oops, is she in a coma?

OK, maybe that exchange from the movie “High Fidelity” isn’t exactly representative of what happens in the typical Boulder County independent record store. The staffs at these stores are much less aloof.

But there are similarities.

“It’s like that movie ‘High Fidelity’ when the guy says, ‘I’m gonna sell a record,’” says Pete Roos, the co-owner of Louisville’s CD Depot. “You can still kind of do that now. Not just for yourself, but for the artist.”

As he’s speaking, Bob Schneider’s 1991 release, “Lonelytown,” is playing through the store’s speakers.

You’ve never heard of this Austin-based singer-songwriter? Well, that’s the point, Roos said.

“People get to hear Bob Schneider (in the store) — they’re not going to hear him on the radio,” he said.

Introducing music fans to new music is one of the missions of 5-year-old CD Depot, one of the few remaining independent record stores in Boulder County.

The small building on Front Street is jammed wall-to-wall with new and used CDs and videos. A couch in the middle of the space sits in front of a CD player on a coffee table, serving as the store’s “listening station.”

Roos, who’s been selling music for about 25 years, said there’s plenty of blame to go around for why record sales have been falling the past several years.

“We’re the original MP3 files, used-record stores,” he said, adding that he is well aware of the large portion of the music-listening population that gets its tunes from methods other than going into stores and buying it.

“It is kind of stealing, but I have mixed feelings about it,” Roos said. “It’s taking money away from the artists, but they don’t get anything from the big record companies anyway, so what do they care?” Roos said. “They have to sell a million copies to get any money (from the labels).”

The Britneys and Justins of the world notwithstanding, most artists don’t go “platinum,” industry jargon for a million copies sold (or shipped, depending upon whom you believe).

As a concept, “burning” CDs isn’t new. But CD burners and the blank CDs themselves have become dirt cheap. Anyone can afford to do it.

“Yeah, burning is a bit of a problem, but back when I used to buy records I used to buy a blank (cassette) tape with that album so I could listen to it in my car,” said Angelo Coiro, the owner of three Angelo’s CDs & Tapes in Thornton, Littleton and Aurora.

Coiro co-owned the Angelo’s in Longmont in the 1990s, until he sold his half of the business to his partner in 1997. The store here later moved from North Main Street to Third Avenue and Main, and it closed a year later, the last mainstream indie shop in town.

“That market was a little on the slower side,” Coiro said of Longmont, noting that many music fans would drive to Boulder to shop because of the choice of stores, or else simply go to the chain store in the mall out of habit.

And, Coiro said, he became convinced that the Longmont of the mid-to-late-’90s perhaps wasn’t ready for a store like his.

“People thought we were a head shop or something, which we never were,” Coiro said with a chuckle. “People saw an independent record store and (thought) people (were) sitting there doing bong hits in the back. That’s the old days. You can’t do that anymore.”

Andy Schneidkraut, who bought Albums On The Hill in Boulder in 1987 — sold to him by Buddy Day, who now partners with Roos in CD Depot — recalls a time in the mid-to-late-’90s when Boulder had more square footage devoted to the selling of music than any other city its size in the country.

“Yeah, that’s probably true,” said Coiro. “People used to say to me, ‘Why don’t you open a store in Boulder?’ And I would say, ‘Why would I? There’s too much competition.’”

That’s not the case any more. Though Boulder still has its share of places to buy music, it’s nothing like its heyday.

Rocky Mountain Records used to have its flagship store on the Pearl Street Mall. It later became Wherehouse Records, which later folded. Now that large, prominent space is a sports bar.

Trade-A-Tape, Wax Trax, CD Warehouse (later Radical Records), Replays (where Roos was manager for years) — Schneidkraut has outlasted them all.

“My best years, business-wise, were when Boulder had the most stores,” he said.

With his location on The Hill, two blocks from the University of Colorado campus, Schneidkraut’s business has benefited from a steady stream of university business over the years.

But Generation Y — the most tech savvy in this country’s history — isn’t interested in simply dubbing a couple of copies of their favorite new records onto cassettes for friends.

Schneidkraut remembers reading a newspaper story in which a CU student bragged of downloading the equivalent of 700 albums in his first semester as a student.

“I was probably the first store to see the impact of downloading and of burning CDs,” Schneidkraut said.

For example, he said his store might have sold between 1,500 and 2,000 copies of a Dave Matthews Band album during the album’s shelf life.

“Now, I’m fortunate for that kind of title to sell 150 to 200 copies,” Schneidkraut said.

He said he sees downloading and burning CDs as a “moral dilemma” faced by the music fans of today. “I do feel because you’re capable of doing something doesn’t make it right,” he said.

Schneidkraut isn’t completely on the side of the record labels, whom he chides for “suing people for loving music and downloading music.”

For him, and perhaps many in his generation, it might be an issue of respect — respect for the music and the artists who make the music.

“For many people, music has been an entree for them; it’s been a focal point of their lives,” Schneidkraut said. “Anymore, I think for many people it’s more of a side dish.”

He also notes that while copying music without paying for it isn’t new, “it’s never been this easy.”

“They built some return to the artists into (blank) cassettes at some point in time, and there’s nothing there in CDs,” Schneidkraut said, adding, “I won’t carry blank CDs in my store because it hurts me too much to sell a CD to someone with 25 blanks.”

If there’s one thing the three independent stores interviewed for this story have in common, it’s been in learning to adapt to the changing times.

All of them tout the music knowledge of their staffs and the ability to get special orders in when necessary. At Angelo’s, Coiro sells not only new and used CDs but posters, patches and even lava lamps.

“We’re having a record year,” said Coiro. “For the second straight year, we’re having our best years, and I attribute that to good customer service, which you can’t get at Best Buy.”

And like the fictional clerks in “High Fidelity,” these three independents take their roles as purveyors of music very, very seriously.

“Before I owned my store, I’ve bought albums just for the cover,” Coiro said. “I liked the cover and I said, ‘Oh, this looks pretty cool.’ Nowadays, we have listening stations.”

“Everything’s gonna change,” adds Roos. “You can’t fight the tide. You’ve gotta go with it and learn to grow.”

For Schneidkraut — and perhaps many people not in the Generation Y age group — it’s a shame to see the “tactile record-buying experience” fading fast.

“One thing the computer has not been able to do,” he said, “is replicate the gleam in the eye of a human who’s telling you about some music he’s excited about.”