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Once “MP3” replaced “sex” as the term most searched for on the world wide web, the music industry knew that they were in trouble. And though the Napster years may indeed be over, the iTunes years keep on growing, much to the chagrin of CD sellers everywhere let alone independent record store owners.
Yet is the click-record-distribute option of MP3 really to blame for the downfall of the independent record store or is it a combination of several factors?
Filmmaker Brendan Toller decides to investigate in his entertaining, hip and freshly edited title I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival of the Independent Record Store). In investigating why roughly three thousand stores have closed shop during the past ten years, he points a whimsical finger at the main culprits including Big Box Stores like Best Buy or Wal-Mart that can sell a CD at ridiculously low prices in the hopes of guaranteeing a sale on bigger ticket items as well as the record industry itself which took a darker spin in the 1980s when MBAs took over the executive positions and music lovers were pushed out of the decision making business.
However more than just whining about “the man,” Toller is an insightful filmmaker who offers us a succinct yet fascinating history about the way that music and money has always overlapped from the old payola scandals with DJ Alan Freed up through the commercialization of radio via the Telecommunications Act which finds Clear Channel owning 1 in every 10 stations that play the same music 73% of the time.
Additionally, in arguing for the need to create a profitable business model so that independent community oriented stores could stay in business and compete with CD prices, Toller looks at some of the contradictions in marketing wherein an unknown Amy Winehouse album sells at an impossibly low introductory rate until it goes up roughly ten dollars when she becomes in demand.
Filled with Catch 22s and passionate people, the film is imbued with some unexpected bursts of animation both literally and in the colorful personalities of those interviewed. Moreover, it's the type of work that not only celebrates the local stores that help foster friendships, bands and in some cases save lives but also makes the viewer take a little responsibility in reexamining their downfall from radio to record to CD to MP3.
Rightfully it argues the importance of the stores in catering to an under-served niche of music savvy collectors as radio listenership is at a 27 year low in celebrating diversity and opening one's heart, mind and ears to music they may otherwise miss in a world of Top 50 pop music that fails to foster unique tastes. Likewise, the film is certain to cater not only to its built in audience of indie stores still with open doors but music aficionados and audiophiles as well.
Due to its brisk 77 minute running time, Toller is unable to offer an authoritative historical analysis on the many issues introduced and we wish he would've gotten much more on film from music historians or scholarly sources instead of just “man on the scene” interviews. While the DVD is bursting with hours of bonus interviews in the special features section, overall the great thing about the documentary as mentioned is it invites you to do more research on your own and consider just how much you value the choices you're able to make at independent stores verses the ease of Big Box stores or Clear Channel radio.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.