We're excited to bring you an interview with James Bradley, owner of Sound Fix and fellow vinyl aficionado.
Here's more about how he got started with vinyl, opening a record store and more. Enjoy!
How did you first get started with records? What got you hooked?
Well, I'm 45, and when I was a kid, vinyl records were the dominant format for music (ah, the good ol' days). I never bought 8-tracks, and I would only occasionally buy cassettes for my portable radio/tape player. There was this neat record shop where I grew up on Long Island that I really loved. It was owned by an old-timer, and it used to amuse me to see him pitch Black Sabbath LPs to the kids while their moms looked on horrified. But my fondest memories were taking the trip into the city to the old Tower Records on Broadway and 4th St. (RIP) God, I loved that place. To me, it was paradise. I could find all the records I'd read about in Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide, of which I was a devout reader. That was a real thrill.
What prompted you to open a record store?
You know, I get asked this all the time, and I still don't really know. I was frustrated with my life at the time, and I wanted to start something new. Something in me just said, "You can do this." Of course, everyone thought I was nuts.
I wanted to create a different kind of record store. I was tired of going into stores that looked like shit and were staffed with rude kids who were annoyed if you'd ask them a question. I wanted to a place that was colorful, bright and cheery. I loved the record store in "A Clockwork Orange" - that was my inspiration. I also thought Williamsburg, then blossoming as one of the most vibrant musical communities in the nation, if not the world, was being badly underserved from a retail point of view. The old Sound Fix (we moved to a new space last year; long story) had a bar and cafe and we hosted some amazing in-stores. Now we are just a record store, and I'm happy with that. We still have in-stores too.
How many records, cds, etc. do you have in the store?
I would say we have around 7,000 products in the store, nearly all of which are CDs and LPs, with magazines, books and DVDs too. One of my employees keeps nagging me to bring in cassettes. I would say 30% of our products are used.
Do you specialize in a particular genre?
Indie rock is our bread and butter. But we have a nice selection of electronica, experimental, psych, world, hip-hop, soul, reggae, jazz and roots too.
How long have you been open? What are some things you've learned or noticed?
We opened six years ago. The big change the past few years is the decline in CD sales and the growth in vinyl, but that's not news. What was true on Day 1 is still true today: If you create a pleasant shopping atmosphere, staffed with knowledgeable and friendly people and stocked with new and interesting music, you will build a loyal customer base.
How do you decide what to put on the shelves?
We try to mix things up. We prominently display the big sellers like MGMT and Spoon and Animal Collective, but we also like to highlight under-the-radar music that our customers will enjoy. We also try to find good local bands that are unsigned. You can't have a predictable selection. In order to ensure customers will keep coming back, you have to surprise them.
How are you using the Internet for your store?
We have a web site where we sell products online. It's a small part of our business, but it serves a useful function, not only for customers outside the New York area but for people who want to check things out before coming to the store. We are currently redesigning it to sell more vinyl, because that's clearly where out future lies. We also send out a newsletter every other week with record reviews and in-store news. As for downloads, that's just not my thing. I have no intention of going down that road. Sound Fix is very much about being a physical record store. Connecting with customers is what makes this job so much fun.
What does the record store of the future look like?
I hope it looks a lot like ours! I think about this all the time. Are CDs going the way of the dodo bird? I'm not so sure. CDs are cheap to make and convenient and there's still a sizable chunk of the population who likes them. (Personally, I love CDs for my car.) I'm delighted to see that CDs today are made with better sound quality and much more elaborate, inventive artwork than in the past. Their sales numbers will go down, certainly, and vinyl will go up, but I just can't see music going all digital. People like options, and getting all your music from iTunes is just not an appealing idea to many people. I think we'll see more record stores that are diversified, perhaps offering coffee, food, comic books, DVDs, anything. I think we might see kiosks where people can purchase MP3s on the spot, too. We'll see.
To someone just getting started with vinyl, any words of wisdom?
Get a good turntable. So many of my customers say to me, "Where can I get a cheap record player?" I don't get that. The whole point of vinyl is superior sound quality, so it defeats the purpose if you buy a crap record player. I know times are tough now, but save your pennies, search online, and get a good turntable and needle. Also, don't hesitate to buy a classic LP if you have the chance. Buying a great record will provide you with a lifetime of happiness, so go ahead and splurge a little. Years ago I saw the Harry Smith Anthology at a record fair going for $80. I agonized over whether to buy it. I decided to come back later, and it was gone. I kick myself constantly over this! I can't tell you how many times I've bought a record I debated heavily over, only to come home and play it and love it and think, "I can't believe I spent more than a second thinking about buying this." Building a record collection is a wonderful, exciting thing. Have fun.
To someone who only listens to digital music, any words of wisdom?
Without getting preachy, I urge people to give vinyl a try. Obviously it doesn't work for everybody. Records are heavy and unwieldy and take up a lot of space, and many like the convenience of a computer and an iPod. Fine. I don't want to take away anyone's iPod. But I'm troubled by the prospect of people solely listening to music through dinky earbuds or tinny computer speakers. There's a world out there you are missing, folks. The sound quality really is much, much better on vinyl. People equate analog with obsolescence, like some black and white TV with rabbit-ears antennas. Well, it's just not true, at least when it comes to music. You also feel a closer connection to the music when it's something you bought and own and is part of your own personal connection.
Anything else you want the readers of Analog Apartment to know about?
I want vinyl lovers to band together and combat this stereotype of us as Luddites who don't want to get with it in the digital age. I really hate that. Ever since the Crumb movie came out, vinyl collectors have been portrayed as cranks and weirdos who want to live in the past and not accept the wonders of digital technology. In fact, people who prefer vinyl are the true technophiles. We go out and spend good money to get high-quality turntables, speakers, needles, receivers, etc. And yet these dumb-asses who subject themselves to nothing but crappy, compressed MP3s are somehow considered more tech-savvy than us. It's bullshit. Other than that little rant, I just hope your readers in the New York area will come to Sound Fix sometime. No matter what their tastes are, I think they'll find much to like here.
Special thanks to James for sharing more about his experiences with vinyl. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to stop by Sound Fix Records and say hello to James.
Also, we'll be having a NYC Vinyl Meetup visiting Sound Fix on May 29th so if you're in the area, be sure to come out for that!
44 Berry Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211(718) 388-8090
Open Monday through Saturday, 12pm-9pm, Sunday, 12pm-8pm.