Where does a Bay area music fan go to buy new music on CD?

"Where the hell do I have to go in Tampa to buy a new CD, anyway?"

The question is flung my way by News and Politics Editor Mitch Perry as he strides purposefully over to my desk. At first, I take it as a hypothetical, since his question is followed by a tirade on the demise of Vinyl Fever (a place he not only frequented but featured in a December story about how local indie record stores were successfully maintaining their viability), and the bankruptcy of his big-box fallback, Borders, which is closing all three of its Hillsborough County locations.

But he expects an answer from me, so I give him one — "Mojo?" — that ultimately turns out to be wrong. While Mojo Books and Music does carry an impressive array of new and used vinyl, the store doesn't offer new CDs at all, only used trade-ins.

Mitch enlightens me about this fact after he returns from his fruitless trip to the North Tampa store. As we're jiving on the dire future of CD sales, I begin pondering just how much our listening habits have evolved.

In a little under a half a century, we've jumped from vinyl to 8-track to cassette tape to CD to a range of digital formats and back to vinyl as technology has advanced and our needs and desires have changed. Nowadays, we tend to choose convenience over sound quality, digital downloads over hard-copy discs. We want our music faster, we want more of it, and we want to be able to store it all in one easy-to-transport place.

The result is that shopping for new CDs at physical record stores is becoming an obsolete tradition because getting what you want is now as easy as tracking it down online and hitting a button. You can even preview a new album in its entirety for free before it's out, either by downloading an illegal file-shared copy or listening to it on the band's website or wherever it may be streaming in the weeks leading up to its release.

In Mitch's December report, he found indie record stores were surviving by diversifying their offerings and doing anything and everything to get potential customers off the computer and into the store: selling concert tickets, stocking a wide range of vinyl for the rising tide of enthusiasts, beefing up online sales, catering to niche and youthful audiences, drawing traffic with weekly specials and events like listening parties and in-store performances, and offering exclusive merchandise not found anywhere else.

Like indie record stores, bands also need to diversify — get creative with how they market and sell themselves and their music, and establish a distinctive brand their fans can rely on and want to invest in. Make the hard copy CD a keepsake instead of just a means to carry the music, increase its inherent value with unique packaging, super-special liner notes, exclusive photos, a bonus disc or DVD, thoughtful artwork, and offer plenty of appealing merch above and beyond CDs: T-shirts, handbags, hats, lamps, limited edition posters. Bands also bring plenty of merch with them on the road; folks who may not typically buy new CDs are more inclined to part with their hard-earned money at a concert, when the alcohol is running freely and the adrenaline is pumping hard.

Of course, this brings us back to the original question: Where do you go in town to buy new music on CD?

I surveyed my team of music writers and a handful of local promoters for suggestions and the most common responses were Sound Exchange and Daddy Kool. I also asked about their music consumption habits. While the answers varied, every person used the internet in some way to listen to music — via jukebox and playlist services like Rhapsody and GrooveShark, distribution platforms like Soundcloud and Bandcamp, YouTube, band or label websites, or online streams. While a few couldn't even remember the last time they'd purchased a hard-copy CD and others said they'd be more likely to buy vinyl, if given the choice, many still hold the hard copy in highest esteem. "The physical product will always be most dear to me," Scott Harrell wrote, while former Vinyl Fever employee/local audiophile Gabe Ezechabal commented, "A physical CD feels like a closer connection with the music and the artist ..."

In the end, there will always be people who prefer a tangible product to a download. Just what this product will be in 10 years is anyone's guess, as CD sales will continue to decline and smart bands discover new and better ways to deliver music. The only surety is that no matter what, the music itself will remain in high demand.

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