Image: Still from High Fidelity.
Through the years, the most common response to telling people that you work in a record store is ‘Just like High Fidelity!’ As if we all stand around having deep and meaningful conversations about bands for hours, sneer at customers with lesser taste than thou, and endlessly think about our partners and get unhealthily obsessed with our love lives (how weird is that part of the book?). Now, this is only partly true. While the prospect of hanging out and talking about the merits of mono versus stereo for certain Beatles’ albums with staff and bonding with customers over the music that’s playing can truly be what makes the job worth doing, this is only part of the equation.
A co-worker once told me that a degree in social work would be more useful in working at a record store than a wealth of music knowledge, and I’d have to agree. Music is a safe haven and a sanctuary for many people across all walks of life, even more so for the vulnerable and the lonely. And when you’re dealing with a person who just wants someone to talk to – or talk at – no amount of desert island lists are going to help you to calm them down and efficiently move on to serve the next person waiting in line while keeping everyone happy and satisfied.
Working in a record store can be as thankless as any other retail environment where you’re dealing with a public of various levels of knowledge and experience; and yet also as gratifying as it can get when you’re recommending a young girl clad in school uniform which Sleater-Kinney album she should buy as her first-ever vinyl purchase. Those things stay with you.
My favourite moments are recommending music to out-of-towners looking for something they can’t get back home. Of course it’s enjoyable connecting others to some of your favourite bands, but tailoring their tastes to what you know you’ve got out in the racks is even more rewarding because you’ve put thought into it, and you know what they’re going to like and why. Not to mention selling an album that you chose to play in the shop, bonding over a customer’s purchases, or better yet, learning something new.
Talking to customers about music can make you feel like you’re a part of something bigger – a global music scene where we’re all open to and learning about each other’s musical histories. An international interconnectivity between cities and soundscapes. That is, until you get back to some guy wanking while he’s talking on the phone with you, a person demanding that record companies should make better inner-sleeves for records, or someone physically trying to look around you for a more informed and authoritative-looking staff member.
In short, working at a record store is nothing like High Fidelity. With all of its perks of working somewhere vibrant and impassioned – and challenges of dealing with difficult people or tricky transactions – it can be so much better, and so much worse.