Gold In The Bargain Bin – Where To Buy Music

Today’s post is about buying music, a topic I like to cover here from time to time. This time it isn’t so much how to buy it or what it costs, but it’s about where to buy it. And, more to the point, where I’ve bought it over the years.

While I was born in the late 70’s, I was a child of the 80’s and music was a big deal back then. Radio was huge, MTV was going full blast (with actual music), and people were scooping up albums left and right. Records were still a thing, cassettes were likely the predominant format, and CDs were around but just getting their legs under them.

Pop music was massive in the 80’s. Rock and metal were at their highest point of exposure and sales. Rap was emerging as a force. Country, well, it wasn’t necessarily great in the 80’s but a few legends of the game were setting themselves up on the scene. Music was everywhere – in ads, in movie soundtracks, it was big business in the decade of Reagan and cocaine.

For a good part of the population, buying music in the 1980’s was as simple as having the money for it. Mainstream releases flooded the shelves of both specialized music stores and general retail outlets. Mail order buying clubs existed, even if their best use wasn’t exactly above the board. It was pretty easy to get what you wanted when it came to music.

Well, mostly. I had it a little different. I didn’t grow up in a big city, my hometown’s population was around 2,500. It left one option, that being Wal-Mart. This wasn’t one of the SuperCenter Wal-Marts, either – this was a plain, old-fashioned Wal-Mart. The store was a different animal before the SuperCenter concept took off.

And as a side note – while I rarely ever visit my hometown anymore, I’m fairly certain that the store there is still a regular Wal-Mart, which is an oddity.

Anyway, Wal-Mart is where I had to buy music in my younger days. The selection was honestly pretty decent – I remember records still being in stock when I first really started paying attention to music, but I took to the cassette format due to cost and all that. I was into rock and hair metal at the time, and the store carried all a person could want and more of that.

As my tastes evolved in the early 1990’s, Wal-Mart would still serve a purpose but did become outmoded. I sought more and more stuff with the dreaded “Parental Advisory” sticker, and a holy site like Wal-Mart wouldn’t sell that.

They sort of did, once. I’ll post about it someday but I have to try to dig up more info on it first.

Thankfully a music store opened in the college town just 20 minutes down the highway from me. They had no qualms about selling PA sticker stuff to minors (that was never a law, despite many peoples’ misunderstanding of it) and they’d special order stuff that wasn’t on their shelves. I made out my remaining years of high school with that and the occasional order from underground distributors and labels.

I was in the military for four years and over in Europe during that time. While it seems nice on the surface, since a lot of metal comes from Europe, here’s a reality check – the music there is still just as underground as it is here, or at least was in the late ’90’s. There were plenty of music stores where I could get cool stuff, but mail order was still the lord of the land for more underground fare. That got easier with the advent of the Internet and online ordering, speeding up the process quite a bit.

After returning to the States just before the dawn of the new millennium, things began to shift. Music stores were still in force when I got back, but the digital music revolution clearly eroded the physical distribution model. Music stores began to decline as album sales fell, though the shops were far from extinct.

I was lucky for a very long time – a very quality CD store held out for a long time. Its name was CD Warehouse, and it was an awesome place to buy music. They had a great selection, the staff were super cool, and it was easy to spend a lot of time just browsing for something with no specific purchase in mind. A lot of what still sits on my shelf today came from CD Warehouse over the past few decades.

Sadly, the changing times caught up to the store, and they closed in the late 2010’s. It seemed as though buying physical music was confined to the online retailers. I was at a point where I had too much stuff anyway, so I was only making selective purchases when I really, really wanted to have something. It seemed that the idea of collecting music was going the way of the dinosaur.

But that’s not quite what happened, is it? I wasn’t paying all that much attention to it, but all through the last decade, a once thought-dead format was surging forward in a massive way. Even before my beloved CD store died out, vinyl was again a booming market. What’s old was new again, and the vinyl resurgence has carried into the 2020’s.

While there are plenty of places to buy records, we’ve been lucky that independent shops have seen a comeback. It’s so much better to buy in a shop run by people who know and care about what they’re selling, and the vinyl comeback has been a great opportunity for that sort of business.

Of course it’s getting to be a more rocky road. Vinyl prices are high, inflation is shit and it’s getting tougher to buy music. I’ve personally cut things off entirely for a bit as I regroup financially, and I know many others who have curtailed or eliminated purchases altogether. It’s a necessary thing in the present reality, but it’s a terrible thing for those independent stores who rely on those sales. Big box stores and online monoliths can get buy without music sales, but it’s the thing keeping the good shops alive.

And that sums up the journey of buying music from 1980-whatever through to the present day. I’m sure there will be further adventures in that regard, that is, if I can ever find that elusive thing called “surplus money” again. Nothing beats hitting up the store and finding that perfect album to haul home and put on.

8 thoughts on “Gold In The Bargain Bin – Where To Buy Music

  1. I always go the preorder route on Amazon as its cheaper as sometimes when albums are released they spike in price. I also stream as a try before you buy feature as well which helps u decide as well. My town we are finally getting some people to do Record Fairs and a new/used shop opened so things are looking up so to speak.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah I stream a lot of stuff these days, not too many no doubt purchases for me anymore. We have an annual record show here but I have almost always missed it due to working at the time it went on.


  2. We have a handful of local record shops where I get music (probably 5-6 places to choose from. Then we have 2nd & Charles which sells used CDs/Vinyl. For the CDs, a few times a year they have Buy 5 Get 5 Free sales and then I stock up. The selection can be hit and miss, but it is usually the best deals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s one thing I don’t have access to anymore is a good CD sale. The store I mentioned used to have them now and again, and they had a really nice selection. One of the two record stores will have some sales on occasion.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like collecting vinyl but the prices are just insane. Even when I go to record fairs, the used vinyl prices are a rip off.

    So I’m all over the shop when it comes to purchasing. Sometimes from the artists direct or the web store they have via their label or some of the online marketplaces when they have sales.

    Liked by 1 person

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