Jul 07, 2008, 05:46AM

Be Cool

Having a record-store-nerd-worthy knowledge of music isn't as hard as you may think. Plus you can hold a well-paying job while doing it.

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Photo by Mash Down Babylon

When people ask how I find out about new music, the answer is simple: for the last 10 years I’ve worked at hip record stores. That’s the key; if you see everything come through, have hours upon hours to browse and the toughest part of the day is choosing what to listen to next from a whole mess of promo CDs, you’re bound to have a pretty good idea about what’s worth your time. Of course, that’s not the only way to find out about music—there’s the Internet, and if you’re old-fashioned, a bunch of quality periodicals at your local newsstand, but bear with me for a minute.

Of course, we can’t all get jobs at hip record stores—they’re few and far between and don’t really pay that well. So I’d advise you to do the next best thing: pretend that you work at a record store. It may sound borderline psychotic, but it’s easier than one might expect, and in no time you’ll be scooping up limited issue releases and cool new music before they hit the racks at your preferred local retailer. And besides, you don’t have to be one of those jerky record store clerks gazing down from on high with aloof indifference.

The first step is to familiarize yourself with the various distributors that most independent record stores use. One of the best is Forced Exposure. Even though I’m no longer responsible for ordering from their business-to-business site, I still check the new releases each week. Forced carries a lot of exclusives from smaller labels, a lot of obscure foreign reissues, and most helpfully, everything they carry has a short, punchy description.

The other major indie distributor, Revolver, has a site that’s slightly more difficult to navigate, but worthwhile for the sheer quantity and breadth of their stock. Beyond Forced and Revolver, I’d recommend signing up for the newsletters of larger indie labels Drag City and Sub Pop. Both carry diverse and respected rosters of artists, as well as distributing a few smaller labels. And if you order direct from them, they’ll often throw in a few extras (stickers, posters, limited 7”s and assorted ephemera).

If Forced’s eclectic mix of world music’s and Revolver’s spectrum of rock or indie rock record labels aren’t your thing, stop by Fat Beats' site. Besides having one of the best hip-hop stores in New York City, Fat Beats is the main distributor for the venerable label Stones Throw. In fact Fat Beat’s retail site is actually better than their distro—you can order rare Jazzman 7”s and all the really cool underground East Coast 12”s at the same price most record stores pay.

If you have DJ aspirations, or just want to pick up that white label remix you heard in a club last weekend, Turntable Lab is a must visit. Their weekly newsletters are indispensable guides to what’s cool now, but if you want something, order it immediately. What’s in stock doesn’t remain for long and most of the items labeled “restocking” are never coming back.

Or if you’re like fellow Splice scribe Gabriel Baker, and old soul is your thing, head over to Dusty Groove. The famed Chicago record store also runs an impressive web distro, as well as a burgeoning reissue label. Me, I try and stay away from that site—it’s a money pit for my jazz LP habit, but their customer service is top notch and if they recommend it, you know it’s a scorcher.

On the other hand, if you’re like me, and trying to stick to a budget, maybe it’s a good idea to ignore all of the above links. Have you ever tried finding an apartment in a new city without a job? What a nightmare. Thank God for Couchsurfing.

  • Record and Tape Traders is Maryland-exclusive as far as I know. I think they're going out of business too. I know the Annapolis and Charles Village branches both closed down. But I will definitely check out some of these sites since I always feel the employees at my usual record store look down upon me.

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  • Thanks for this. I was always curious about the life of an indie record store clerk and if it really is as High Fidelity as I'd imagined.

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