R.I.P. Natural Sound
Albuquerque's oldest independent record store closes shop
The past year and a half has been punctuated by change for the business. In late 2010, the store relocated from its longtime, hyper pedestrian-friendly spot on the corner of Central and Amherst to an Upper Nob Hill storefront east of Morningside. Then the store moved again—this time back to Nob Hill proper—to its current location at 205 Wellesley SE. Coincidentally it's the former site of Alibi world headquarters.
Like so many other people, once upon a time Natural Sound was my main source for buying music in Albuquerque. The store's passing gives me pause: I'm suddenly nostalgic for those days of being impossibly broke, trying to decide which combination of CDs would give me the most value for my paltry music allotment. This was back before digital music libraries, before my video camera / web browser / appointment keeper / phone contained thousands of songs. Life was simpler then, sort of.
On the other hand, I love the freedom of looking up almost any track or album on the web and being able to buy it (or, if it's too obscure, download it for free) without having to take a shower and drive somewhere. More than that, though, I'm thankful I no longer have to mess with relatively expensive CDs and their shoddy plastic jewel cases. Storing music on a computer, where it just takes up megabytes and not a corner of your apartment, makes more sense. This is the future—it’s supposed to be convenient.
There's never been a more accessible time for music, which is great for the fan/collector, good for the musician and bad for the shops that sell it. Despite falling music sales since the late ’90s, the future hasn't changed people's affinity for music: It's changed their consumption habits, which, to the Recording Industry Association of America's dismay, have been dictated by the volume of free material on the web, both legal and illegal. Yes, this has also been a pox on the independent record store. But it doesn't change the fact that people like physical formats—you can't caress an MP3. (Though I’m sure there are plenty of kids today who’ve never even purchased a CD, tape, record or whathaveyou, and therefore have never known the pleasure of being 14 and stroking Robert Smith's hair as pictured in the liner notes.)
Independent record stores can and should still take the form of culture emporiums, by attracting people who don't necessarily need to shop at them. That means selling things besides CDs—like comic books, zines, clothing, coffee, live music, vinyl. I love digging for big scores at the record shop. It's an exercise in searching out music history and learning more and more about this beautiful and unspooling universe. The fact is, your favorite musicians probably keep record collections and practice the art of digging. That’s a comforting notion. And it makes me certain that independent record stores aren't going away any time soon.
Attention iPhone and Android users: Music blog The Vinyl District has created a new, free app that locates the nearest U.S. record store to you. I downloaded it and Mecca Music & Books appeared, although it was the only one in Albuquerque that did. TVD takes user submissions, so go tell them about the other stores you like for vinyl.