Store Owner interview with Melanie & Kevin of Music Saves
Music Saves is one of the cool record shops of Cleveland. It’s run by Melanie & Kevin who collectively call themselves “Team Music Saves.”
QRD – Why did you start your store?
Team Music Saves – We started talking about opening a record store when were in college at Bowling Green State University & hosted a radio show. When we finished school, moved back to Cleveland, & couldn’t find good jobs, we started to do more than just talk about it. It’s just something we wanted to try, & knew we would regret it if we never did. We’d rather fail at this than succeed at almost anything else.
QRD – How does your store particularly appeal to your city?
Team Music Saves – I guess we cater to that pool of 300 people you see at all the good shows around town. We also work closely with The Beachland Ballroom (next door to us) & The Grog Shop. We have supported the local music scene since our inception, having a great section of local music, putting bands in our listening station, setting up shows, & helping with advice & distro.
QRD – What¹s a mistake you¹ve made with your store that you’d warn others against?
Team Music Saves – Try & have prices on your stock before you open your business. It took us about a week to get prices on everything.
QRD – What do you think indie record labels could do to best help both themselves & indie stores?
Team Music Saves – Know the stores they are dealing with. We get far too many CDs & promo materials from bands & labels that we would never carry in a million years. It’s just a waste of money for the labels & a waste of time for us to deal with the crap that they send us.
QRD – How was the representation of indie storeowners & customers in the movie High Fidelity accurate & inaccurate to your experience?
Team Music Saves – It’s accurate in sense that the best part of owning a record store is just hanging out & listening to & talking about music. & that some people who come in are just plain stupid. It’s inaccurate in a sense that they were never drinking in their store. We are always drinking in our store.
QRD – What type of research do you do to decide what to put on the shelves?
Team Music Saves – Pretty much the same “research” we did as normal music consumers – reading magazines (both print & online), going to shows, etc. Our selection is rather small compared to a lot of stores, so we have to put a lot of thought into what we carry. We think about things like, “Is this something our customers want?” Or “Is it something they should want?” We also pay attention to what our regular customers are buying & asking us about, & sometimes they even clue us into new bands before we’ve heard of them.
QRD – Is it ever difficult to find the right distributors to get something you want to stock?
Team Music Saves – Not really. If one of our distributors doesn’t have it, there’s a good chance that no one does. It’s rare that there is a release that say, Insound carries that we cannot also get our hands on.
QRD – What do you wish labels or bands or distributors did more of to work with you?
Team Music Saves – Most of the labels we deal with are extremely helpful because they’re independent, like us. It’s easy to set up listening stations, & our reps have helped us set up in-stores, special events, etc. More labels could include a DIGITAL DOWNLOAD with vinyl.
QRD – What do you think is your store’s all time best seller?
Team Music Saves – Menomena - Friend & Foe! Radiohead - In Rainbows is doing really well this year. Downloading is killing music sales? HA!
QRD – What do you think most leads to a particular record being a good seller in your store?
Team Music Saves – The right combination of great reviews & us really liking it, too. & usually, it’s just really good.
QRD – How does one get an independent release into your store such that it’s recommended to the clientele instead of just sitting on the shelf?
Team Music Saves – Make it really good.
QRD – How do you feel about so many stores closing & how does it affect you if at all?
Team Music Saves – Obviously, it’s sad whenever a store closes, but it’s also sad when the owners try to blame the industry or a new generation of fans on the failure of their store. It seems to me that most of the stores that are closing are the really large ones. A lot of the smaller niche stores are still around. Since they are small they can easily adapt to the changing clientele & have a specific selection of things that are hard to find elsewhere. They are not relying on selling a lot of copies of one particular title to pay most of the bills, & they aren’t trying to compete with big box stores like Best Buy.
QRD – What type of competition do you get from the big box stores (Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc.) & is it difficult to compete price-wise - i.e., do you find that potential customers will shop at the chain because they can afford to charge less for the same discs or do they support you if the disc is a dollar higher in price?
Team Music Saves – A lot of our customers make a special effort to come to our store. Even when we point out to them that a certain release is cheaper at Best Buy, they usually say, “I’d rather buy it from you.” I’m sure we lose business to those types of stores due to price & convenience, but those same people still frequent our store regularly because we carry titles Best Buy won’t touch.
QRD – With portable MP3 players & iTunes, is the concept of the album (in any form) dying?
Team Music Saves – Ultimately, most music, especially the music we carry, is made by record geeks who consume music on an album basis. The album as an art form will not be going away anytime soon, & if you’re a music fan that only consumes music on a song-by-song basis; well, I’m sorry to tell you, but you don’t really like music. Albums are art; songs are commerce.
QRD – How has the downloading scene impacted your sales - do you find that people buy less CDs now because they can download them for less or do you or do you think illegal downloads are more of a culprit?
Team Music Saves – People do buy less CDs & now buy vinyl instead! Downloading helps a store like ours. Most of our customers are downloaders. That’s how they decide what to buy, & they don’t have to waste their money on crap or something they won’t want to keep. Since our store has a discerning selection, we tend to have the titles that people actually want to spend their money on.
QRD – Record & CD buyers tend to be of a certain age (21-34), as the upcoming people who will be of that age group are mostly download-buyers, would you like stores to eventually have “iPod filling stations” hooked up to an indie network that stores can be part of?
Team Music Saves – God I hope not. I feel bad for kids whose entire “record” collection is on their iPod & they don’t actually own any physical copies of the music they supposedly love. I still get goosebumps when I look at certain album covers, & you’re not going to get that from the LCD display on you iPod. It also would defeat the purpose of downloading if you left your house to do it. In our store, over the past year or so, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of high school kids who come in & go straight for the new vinyl. That has not only reassured us that our future looks good, but it makes us damn proud.
QRD – With the increase in digital downloads, low prices in mega-chains, & so many online specialty stores; what is the job of the local indie shop now compared to in the 1990s?
Team Music Saves – To carry titles that the other stores won’t & carry the titles that the people that still want to buy music are interested in. I think you need to know your customers better than stores had to in the past. There’re probably 150+ customers that we know by name.
QRD – What are the biggest misconceptions people have of record stores in general & yours in particular?
Team Music Saves – That we know everything about music, & that we know about ALL KINDS of music. We know a lot, but we don’t know more than our collective customers. Especially in the internet age, with so much music & so many outlets, we’re not going to know about every band that’s made a blip on blogs, etc. But hey, if they’ve got a record out with some type of distribution, we’ll try & get it for you. & it drives us crazy when people assume we carry things that we don’t - just because something is on an independent label doesn’t mean it fits into our genre of indie rock. Our customers know exactly what that means instinctively. & some people think we carry EVERYTHING. With one look at the size of our store, any person with any common sense can see that it’s just not possible.
QRD – What is the most frustrating &/or frequent question you get from customers?
Team Music Saves – “Are you open?” -said while standing in the store. If you are standing in the store, WE ARE OPEN!!! Other than that, it’s the very general open ended questions that are really annoying, e.g. “The Hold Steady, now what are they about?” “They still make records?” That question always comes from middle-aged people, never from younger people, & it makes us chuckle.
QRD – How do you decide who to hire as an employee & when you need one?
Team Music Saves – When you have the money & you want a day off. And anyone that has or will ever work in our store will start off as a regular customer. We have one employee, & we asked her if she wanted to work here. She didn’t put in any kind of application.
QRD – If you weren’t in the music business, what would you do?
Team Music Saves – Spend a lot more money on music.
QRD – How did your schooling & previous work experience prepare (or not prepare) you for your store?
Team Music Saves – Neither one of us ever worked in a record store or managed a retail business of any kind. Can’t say anything specifically prepared us for owning a business, but I’m sure school & work had some effect. Apparently we got smart enough to pull it off somehow.
QRD – Have you ever refused to sell something purely because you disliked the music, even if it was popular & would sell?
Team Music Saves – Yes. The Killers. Kind of a fringe band for our store (mainstream, but appeals to enough indie buyers). I really hated everything about that band, & refused to stock it.
QRD – What is your personal “holy grail”? (i.e. the one rarity you’ve been looking for forever.)
Team Music Saves – There was a bootlegger in the USSR during the early days of rock that worked at a hospital & would cut records on x-ray film. If I ever found that artifact, I’d max out a few credit cards trying to purchase it.
QRD – What makes you feel like you had a good day at the store?
Team Music Saves – Obviously making enough money to pay bills & bring in new stock, but also holding events that everyone enjoys & appreciates. Our store makes people happy, & it sometimes feels like we’re part of a secret society tied together by a love for great music.
QRD – Anything else?
Team Music Saves – For us, one of the best parts of owning a record store is when we get to relive our own excitement over a particular record over & over again through our awesome customers, as they discover something for the first time that we already love.