Virgin gone, music industry screwed, unemployed man changed forever (twss)

The record industry trudges on, in a sort of synchronized, death march. Consumers have stopped buying compact discs (or lately anything else), and labels don’t quite know what to do except stay the course and ask themselves, “why doesn’t this work anymore?” CDs had a good run, but sales have declined for much of the past decade. And digital downloads haven’t picked up the slack. Who, besides the federal government, wants to pay for something they can get for free? Oddly enough, there’s as much great music out now as there’s ever been… maybe more.

Selling music is about to get even harder for labels…

Like a Virgin Megastore, shut for the very last time

All six Virgin Megastores in the U.S. will be shuttered this Spring, including the New York locations in Times Square and Union Square. And that’s a big chunk of floorspace dedicated to CDs gone, never mind the 1000+ people who will find themselves unemployed. New York will also be left without a major record store, though Other Music suits my occasional need just fine. The closings will mark the end of an era, closing the door on the dreams that brought me to New York in the first place.

I moved to the city in the summer of 1999 on the hottest day in the history of the universe. Unpacking the U-Haul, I actually managed to sweat through my leather belt. My hope was to make it in the music industry (whatever “make it” means… probably not repeated layoffs and unemployment). At that point in time, consumers were buying CDs like they were (ahem) going out of style. This consumer was broke and unemployed. I didn’t know anyone, except for a new roommate and one friend who lived an hour and a half away by subway. The Virgin Megastore in Times Square was my place to go. It was open to the public and no one cared about people hanging out for hours listening to music. Staff probably didn’t even notice, given all the traffic. The store felt social, inviting. And it was the only place I knew. Every trip to NYC prior to the move included a visit to stock up on CDs. In the days before Amazon and other online stores (nevermind iTunes and eMusic), Virgin was the place to find the obscure music to match my obscure tastes. It felt like the center of the city that was the center of the music industry. And to me there was an air of possibility.

What did I know? I was fresh off the bus, as it were. Within weeks of arriving, I learned to loathe Times Square and avoid it at all costs, like any self-respecting New Yorker. There were just too many people in too small of a space aiming cameras in every which direction and pointing at tall buildings. Besides, the Virgin in Union Square, 30 or so blocks south, was way cooler. That’s where locals went, and that’s where I began to go. (Again, what did I know?) The store was centrally located between work and home and perfect for meeting friends – having bribed, err, met some – before a movie or dinner or a show. And who cared if they were late? I was surrounded by music, some of it even good. I killed many an hour perusing the aisles and sampling the albums on display. Some nights, that was my sole destination and my sole activity.

Jobs came and went, inside and then outside of the music industry. Bands came and went, leaving many more CDs on my shelves. Much of my discretionary income ended up in Virgin’s tills. But somewhere along the way I discovered that downloads were cheaper and took up less space. I became more patient and selective in my CD purchases. Amazon always seemed to have a better price, and waiting two days mattered less than the extra few bucks. I also discovered that the music industry wasn’t going to give me the life and career I wanted. It would be lucky to survive in some recognizable form. I moved on not because I wanted to, but because I had to.

I haven’t been to Virgin since Christmas. In that same time, I’ve added at least 30 albums to my collection. (Like I mentioned, there’s some great music coming out these days.) Many of them I even paid for. Virgin’s moment has passed for me and most consumers. But I’m glad it was here to occupy my time, take my money and usher me through my first decade in New York. That decade, unfortunately, seems to be ending the way it started… broke and unemployed.

Thanks Richard Branson. Try not to get yourself killed jumping out of an airplane or anything.

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  1. JoblessandLess (Norm Elrod) on Friday, March 13, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    New blog post: Virgin gone, music industry screwed, unemployed man changed forever (twss)