As part of Mixdown Magazine‘s Record Store Day 2017 coverage, I went along and interviewed the owners of three of Melbourne’s leading independent music retailers – Northside Records, Rocksteady Records and Heartland Records. See all three pieces below.
The aim of Record Store Day is to bring music enthusiasts and collectors of physical recorded formats together in a celebration of independent music retail. Over its ten year duration, RSD has grown to become a worldwide event, with some of the biggest bands on the planet releasing limited edition releases specifically for sale on the day, the majority of which are guaranteed to sell out immediately. It is the biggest trading day of the year for most stores, and something akin to Christmas for record buyers. More than simply about moving units, many stores choose to celebrate the day by putting on in-store performances and using the opportunity to highlight local acts and the community in their locality or area of expertise. So as Record Stores around the world gear up for the tenth anniversary of Record Store Day, we went along to chat with some of Melbourne’s best stores about their history, community and being an independent retailer in the current retail climate.
Northside Records occupies a unique position in the landscape of Australian independent record stores. Owned and run by the enigmatic Chris Gill, Northside has grown over its 15 years of operation to become a focal point for groove based music in Melbourne, and Gill as a facilitator for events and releases in the local soul scene.
“I started it because Melbourne didn’t have a very strong soul scene back in 2001-2002, like maybe one or two bands. Now there would be kind of 40 or 50 and that whole row is all local soul bands on 45,” says Gill pointing at one of the store’s racks. “So we’re in a better place now than we were.
“It’s very difficult to maintain and continue a retail store in town but I think, so long as you know why you’re doing it – you’re doing it predominately for the culture, for culture’s sake – then you’ll survive and you’ll keep going. The store is great because once you’re in this store, you’re standing next to people who also like music. So you’ve got that thing in common initially. The amount of customers I have that are musicians is amazing, because of course, all the musicians get the 10 per cent musicians discount. Often musicians will meet other musicians, or musicians will buy other musicians’ music, not only to support, but to check out and to see where they’re standing amongst the music of Melbourne.
“That helps a lot in terms of spreading the word about – of course music from all over the world – but we do make a point of shining the light on local stuff. When artists come through town we go out of our way to let them know they’re being supported here and that there’s other bands who also like what they do, and to show that other bands, local Melbourne bands, are doing the same sort of music as them.
“Record Store Day 2017 is the 10 year anniversary of Record Store Day, it will be a big one. Every independent record store in the world gets a party on Saturday April 22nd. Northside will be doing a 45 with Allysha Joy, the lead singer of 30/70, she’ll be performing as well. Cookin’ On Three Burners will be launching their latest 45, which is an original song, and then a cover of Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ on the flip. We’re going to have Briggs from AB Original do a signing in the store. We’ll have lots of DJs throughout the day and two, three or four bands performing.”
Northside Records are located at 236 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne. For more information visit northsiderecords.com.au.
Having opened Rocksteady Records less than a year ago, Pat Monaghan immediately found sure footing by forging a strong connection with the Melbourne music community, maintaining a dynamic customer relationship, and focusing on groove based music.
“It’s been a very encouraging response from Melbourne and Australia’s record buying public, getting lots of new customers and lots of returning customers across a variety of age groups,” says Monaghan. “I’ve worked at record stores, or in music, for well over 30 years. I’ve worked at other really great record stores that I’ve learnt a lot at, but I wanted to do my own thing that pretty much definitively reflected what I’m passionate about.
“I feel that record stores and radio stations and record labels and venues and magazines and websites; it’s all part of one creative community and I wanted to give back to the creative community that’s always stimulated and supported me, so this was a really good way to do it. I think it was always going to be difficult [to open up the store], but rewarding. I think the fact that so many people across a variety of ages and walks of life and interests are enthusiastic about buying music in a physical form on vinyl is definitely encouraging, it’s definitely inspiring, and I guess from that point of view the time was right.
“Record stores – particularly independent record stores – need to have a dynamic relationship with the community that they’re a part of in almost an intimate, and wide-ranging sense. They should stock records – new releases, new pressings by local artists, as well as second-hand records and classics and stuff from overseas. I think you could have a really good relationship with local radio stations, community radio stations, community press, magazines, websites, bands [and] record labels. If you want to break it down, you’re hoping to make a living out of presenting the works of artists to other people, and I think you’re honour-bound to give back as well.
“I’ve got a fairly keen focus on reggae, whether that be ska, rocksteady, roots, dub or dancehall, things like that. I also have a fairly considered and committed support and passion for Melbourne and Australian music, though this doesn’t differentiate from any other independent store in the world probably. I like to talk a lot about music.”
Rocksteady Records is located at Level 1, Mitchell House, 358 Lonsdale St., Melbourne. For more information visit rocksteadyrecords.com.au.
Heartland Records have been a staple on the Melbourne record store map for almost 25 years. During that time owner Paul Cook has seen a lot of changes occur in music retail, including the store’s location.
“We moved here about four years ago,” says Cook. “We used to be opposite the Victoria market. We were there 20 years, so all up nearly 25 years in the business. Started off with a market stall, and doing record fairs and mail orders and advertising, that kind of stuff, and just sort of fell into a shop, and then ended here in this larger shop, which is nice. When I started it was the 90s, which was tough already, and then they phased out vinyl, [and] you could only get it from certain places. We always sold a lot of vinyl, but I never thought it would come back like it has. It’s good, there’s plenty of choice, lots of stuff coming out, [it’s] quite exciting. The old shop, we were known for gothic and metal and Britpop and indie, they were the main things. But here we’ve crossed over more, we’ve got a bigger jazz section; a bigger 60s section; rap; a bit of everything really without having a huge selection of one genre.
“We have the second hand racks as well but most of our stuff’s new, I’m much more comfortable with that. [For Record Store Day] We have all the releases and specials, price reductions, things like that. It sounds like a money orientated thing but it’s not – it’s much easier to just try and sell records, because it’s that full on that you can’t really do anything else. It’s mayhem, you can’t move in here and they’re all really nice and behaved. There’s a queue right down the street and they all come piling in. It’s good though, that in conjunction with vinyl coming back’s really kicked things along for the shop. I think Record Store Day in conjunction with the vinyl revival has definitely made a difference, I mean you can see how many shops there are in Melbourne, the amount of record stores there are, it’s crazy.”
Heartland Records is located at 420-422 Victoria Street, North Melbourne. For more information visit heartlandrecords.com.au.
Originally published in Mixdown Magazine.