So it comes with no great surprise that HMV has finally had to call in the administrators after a number of difficult years buffeted by music’s move online and its own mistakes. I am not particularly saddened by this as the chain has long since lost relevance for me (despite it being the main destination for my teenage cash in Belfast and providing probably the first 150 or so CDs I bought); their stock was weak, too expensive and, in many cases, shoddy: broken jewel cases, ancient and heavily pawed books and dvds that have been stickered and re-stickered. Bleurgh.
It seems inconceivable that it won’t survive in some new, leaner format (as it has in Canada) but to succeed there are some things it really needs to address. Stock is one, there should be no difficulty picking up the classics of the rock, hip-hop, soul and pop canons and not having to pay £15+ for them nor should it focus on the stuff supermarkets kill them on i.e. Adele, Rihanna, the Mumfords etc. Offer some specialty and diversity. Secondly, the shops desperately need a refit to go from looking like a unmaintained B&Q to something resembling a nice place to visit and browse in – why can’t HMV have seating, coffee or even seize the vibe for all things vintage and bring back the listening booth? The people that want to spend money on physical product always will, if they can get want they want and, if the environment is right, they can stumble upon something they’ve been searching for or, gasp, discover a new artist altogether. They could do this in an reconfigured HMV. Rough Trade East in London could be a decent template or, closer to home, FOPP – both are chains that appeal to record collector types and ordinary punters – there’s nothing intimidating about them and they sell quality without a feckin’ Mars Bar in sight. Finally, staff could be freed up from whatever it is they do now to contribute esoteric records to playlists and ordering or organise in-store appearances to provide some variation from shop-to-shop with their own tastes and engage with customers…just a thought.
It would be a shame if record shops completely disappear from the high streets and became solely the preserve of hardcore enthusiasts existing in back streets. After all, music is the most immediate and democratic artform so it would be good if the retailers of recorded music could be visible and prominent. Yes it can be cheaply sold online (in both physical and download form) and in supermarkets by the bucketload but it deserves to be celebrated. In my opinion, no amount of phone shops, identikit chain cafes and bookies can really replace the enjoyment of frittering away a morning or afternoon through racks of albums and films in your own town centre. HMV could still be the place to do it.