I was practically raised in some form of a media store. I have childhood memories of going to rent videos in my hometown. There were a couple of family owned video rental stores, but we were partial to one called Bronco Video, which was ran by an old man named Charlie (Charlie liked that we also had a dog named Charlie). Eventually we stopped going because my dad thought the prices were too high. Of course, he was comparing it to the new Blockbuster, which–in the span of fifteen years–put the family stores out of business and would file their own bankruptcy. Now that I’m thinking about it, it’s slightly weird to me that I’ll have to explain to my kids, who have any show they desire at their fingertips, that once upon a time, we collectively shared this specific format of media as community.
I also remember asking my mom if I could hang out by the magazines aisle at the grocery store while she shopped. I would read MAD magazine or Guitar World or Sports Illustrated. In fact, magazines are still probably one of my favorite mediums. I would frequently catch myself surfing the magazine aisles until, one night at probably 1am in a CVS in New Jersey, a store clerk told me they “were a store, not a library.” I was actually planning on buying the magazine I was holding, but felt so angry I left immediately and don’t really do that as much anymore. Thanks for nothing, Jersey!
But the mecca of media loitering for me was the Hastings in my hometown, Yukon, OK (home of Garth Brooks!) located on Garth Brooks Blvd. A usual Friday night involved going to a movie at the dollar theater and then walking to Hastings to (mostly) loiter.
Now if you aren’t familiar with Hastings, I can paint the picture fairly quickly. Hastings is a West Texas-owned media store chain for small towns mostly located in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico (although there are several scattered across the south). The store, at the time I most frequented it, could be broken up into four distinct sections: books, movies (mainly rentals), music, and magazines. Lightly sprinkled around the music section were pop culture novelty items like movie collectibles.
So we would make our way to Hastings, drink their complimentary Snickerdoodle flavored instant coffee, take advantage of their complimentary pay phone to prank dial our friends, and surf the CD section. I could spend hours in there thumbing through the various sections. There’s something to be said for the way you “discovered” music this way looking for small hints of a record based off the artwork or the record label who put it out.
Needless to say, I have fond memories of Hastings. Don’t get me wrong, Hastings was no independent record store, but it was our store. And when your options are Hastings and Walmart, Hastings felt like this direct connection to the rest of existence–a world not distracted by Friday night lights or Garth hysteria.
Recently, we moved across town and we are now in walking distance of the Hastings in Norman. As one does in efforts to relive their youth, I’ll occasionally dip into Hastings, which now has a full blown coffee shop in place of Snickerdoodle drip and has slowly started to look more like a Spencer’s Gifts than a media outlet. But there was some decency left. When my wife and I first got married, we opted out of cable and instead would rent DVDs there. They started carrying vinyl a few years back and I was able to store some real gems before the vinyl market really came back in full force and pushed prices through the roof. Their novetly section had certainly grown, but movies still occupied a fourth of the floor space while books took another fourth.
And then shortly after Christmas I noticed Hastings had nearly put the whole store on deep discount. Uh oh, here it comes, I thought. The book section has been trimmed to probably–at best–half the size it was. Instead, we now get branded toys.
Music is all the way in the back. A large section of movies now occupied by super deformed figurines called POP! Vinyl.
But the books being replaced with toys really stung. It appears to me that as media moves digital what is being peddled is no longer the media for which we interact act, but branded content that “deepens and extends the relationship between the art and the consumer.”
It’s one thing to see a bookstore close down. In some ways, it allows to close the chapter (no pun intended) on something. It’s another to watch it slowly change beneath your feet. I remember several years back returning to an ice hockey rink where I had first learned to ice skate. It’s now an antique market:
Photo by me. CC By or whatever.
And I recognize I’m a part of the problem myself. I buy vinyl (mostly) as a collectible because I listen to the music mainly from overpriced iPod earbuds. I rent my books/movies via Amazon. I stream a significant amount of content. Really, what’s left to buy? My relationship with media as a consumer is vastly different than it was ten years ago.
Of course, this change has been taking a place within and around me for along time, I’m just finally in a spot to open my eyes, look around, and recognize that I’m personally being affected by it.
Last week, Chance the Rapper released his latest mixtape, Coloring Book. It would be disingenous for me to say I knew who Chance the Rapper was before this happened. But there was some buzz about it around campus and I started seeing articles pop up on my Twitter feed about it. Pitchfork called it “an uplifting mix that even an atheist can catch the Spirit to” and compared it to Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, which I recently dug. I have to say I really, really enjoy it and see why it’s getting the attention it rightly deserves.
If you aren’t familiar with Coloring Book, look it up and read about it. It’s a quite interesting tale in that it’s been released exclusively as a stream. No physical copies exist. No record label was involved. Chance is, for all intents and purposes, an incredibly independent artist (or not–depending on which side of the argument you like), who made a mixtape he liked and shared it via Apple music. It’s now the first album to streaming-only album to chart on the Billboard 200.
But I get the sense that music executives who read this as how Chance “broke all the rules” and that “streaming is the dominant medium” will miss the bigger picture. The what (not just the how) is even considered to be media is now being challenged. This kind of change to me looks more evolutionary than necessarily disruptive.
In digging around for info around Chance, I found this quote in a 2013 Rolling Stone article in which Chance is commenting on his last record, Acip Rap:
The whole point of Acid Rap was just to ask people a question: does the music business side of this dictate what type of project this is? If it’s all original music and it’s got this much emotion around it and it connects this way with this many people, is it a mixtape? What’s an album these days, anyways? ‘Cause I didn’t sell it, does that mean it’s not an official release? So I might not ever drop a for-sale project. Maybe I’ll just make my money touring.
Chance not selling records can be perceived as a political statement about the industry as a whole. The idea of releasing something on a specific medium with a specific price point takes away from what Chance is doing, which is making “all original music with emotion that connects with people.”
One of the nicest people I’ve ran across in quite some time, Kin Lane, has put API Evanglist.com and @APIEvangelist up for sale, in efforts to fund a personal matter. As Kin says on the site, “if you want to follow the story of what I’m up to this summer you can head over to dronerecovery.org.”
This really spoke to me. The world spends a lot of time building “value” and “social capital” around our online identities. Kin and API Evangelist are synonymous. As Kin says, “API Evangelist is the only asset I own.”
I’ll just say this… One can only hope that if they had the same opportunity to trade their digital identity, they would.
Featured image is a flickr photo shared by CJ Bryan under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license