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Music + Retail


Today I am talking about music + retail- past and present. Let’s start with the past… I don’t know about you, but I lived in Tower Records as a teenager. I would go to the mall with my best friend and buy endless amounts of cassette tape singles and CD’s. A truly awesome aspect of my childhood that I miss a bit these days. But despite me being nostalgic, the truth is music and retail have changed significantly since then. Nowadays, we live on our phones, and have instant access to a thing called iTunes- where any song or album we wish for is at our fingertips. And although I have never worked for a music retailer, and just happen to be a fan- I wanted to share a bit of history on the past and present with you. Let’s get to it…

Tower Records was founded in 1961 by Russ Solomon, with the first ever store located in Sacramento, California. The chain went on to become the “go-to” destination, especially in the 90’s, for music fans everywhere. And it wasn’t just about cassette tapes, vinyl, and CD’s- it was magazines, posters, and books too. They created a cult-like following due to their music knowledge, passion, and the individual style each location represented.

In 1995, tower.com launched, making it one of the first ever retailers to expand on-line. And as the years went on the company continued to grow. At it’s peak, Tower had over 200 stores worldwide representing $1B in annual revenue. Sadly, however, in 2004, they filed for bankruptcy and in 2006 shut down it’s doors. Based on everything I have read, three aspects of the business contributed to their downfall… over-expansion, increased competition with discounted retailers (think Walmart), and the Napster movement.

As of today, you can still shop at tower.com, and I believe there are a few overseas locations as well. But that iconic, vintage red and yellow storefront (that we all know and love) has become part of music's history. One that Russ Solomon should be proud of, due to the effect it forever has on it’s fans/ customers.

Which brings me to the present- my current music retailer- Apple

iTunes launched in 2001 from corporate headquarters in San Francisco, and our world was forever changed. I wish I could say that was me being dramatic- but think about the effect two words in particular have had on society since then: iPod and playlist. Pretty amazing, no?

In 2003, the iTunes Store launched and it became the primary destination for all things music related. This would be the moment we stopped illegally downloading music and began paying $0.99 per song (that statistic is per memory).

So what does this mean? How has it impacted the music retail world?

Well, if you look back to 2005, the digital music industry represented $1.1B globally (and it was just getting started). Fast forward to 2015 and its revenue is around $6.7B, with iTunes representing 64% of that revenue. In addition, 2015 is the first time digital downloads beat physical albums as a portion of total sales- which we all knew was coming, but represents a huge milestone in music history.

Here’s the one negative in terms of our digital success… as the trend continues to grow, the rate at which artists and song writers get paid does not increase along with it. If anything, the talent behind our favorite “windows down, don’t care what I sound like jam sessions” are getting paid less now that you and I aren’t purchasing actual albums. And I personally don’t know how to fix that- but I wish I did.

To me, music is a huge part of who I am, and I bet who you are as well. There are songs that make me light up, make me dance, fill me with memories, and yes, even make me cry. It’s what I look forward to in the car, at the gym, and when my house is empty (sorry neighbors). So even though there is no “call to action” on this post, my hope is that I taught you something about music + retail that you may not have known, and/ or made you smile along the way.

To Tower Records- I am truly grateful you are a part of my story, and know I miss walking into your stores even now, eleven years later. And to iTunes, I will see you tomorrow when I push that app on my phone and purchase yet another favorite song that brings me pure joy. I admire all of the advancements you have made/ continue to pursue, and especially the man who initially inspired you all. Wishing you the very best, always.

Sources: Billboard, IFPI, Wikipedia, NPR, and Statista