Negotiating the Dense and Boorish Clots, Or Shopping for Music

Shopping for new tunes has always been my hobby, my greatest obsession, my pot o’ gold at the end o’ the rainbow, if you will. I’ve been a music junkie ever since my older brother brought home Billy Joel’s The Stranger LP back in 1977. I was only five then, but that did it for me. Ever since, I’ve wanted music and more music on top of that. I began “seriously” collecting probably around fourth or fifth grade, when I made sure to take extra care of my vinyl and all that crazy stuff audiophiles are known to do. Yes, I am of Generation X, the last generation to see actual records being sold in record stores. I couldn’t tell you what my last vinyl purchase was, but it was probably one of the Beatles’ albums that Capitol issued in its UK format when that group’s catalog was issued on CD for the first time.

Anyhow, I just thought I’d share some tips and ideas on how and where to shop in this modern age of digital music, the CD format, mp3s, and the whole concept of the “disappearing record store”. It’s all quite easy, actually. When you’re through reading my piece here, you’ll have yourself a few tools to get better bargains and learn how not to get ripped off, be it online or in the real world. Hey, I’ve been buying this stuff for over a couple decades now, and if I were Matthew Lesko, I’d be offering up an over-priced book on how to get free music from the government. But we all know that’d never happen. So let’s begin, shall we?

1. Buy and Sell Used Items Online. Forget selling your used CDs at used CD stores. Do what I do and sell them over on Amazon Marketplace. Yes, you need to have a credit card to be able to do this (simply because they want to be sure you’re an adult), but the nicest thing about it is you can set your own price. This is even better than wasting your time over on eBay or if you’re just selling general items that aren’t too collectible. Even Amazon Marketplace allows you to sell collectible items, though, and lets you set the price you want to sell them at. When you go to general used CD stores, they’re only going to give you between $1 and $4 in general for each single CD. And that’s if they even want the things. Yes, you’re going to often find that if you sell titles that everyone and their brother bought, say a Backstreet Boys disc, that large numbers of people are selling those at Amazon for as low as 50 cents. But generally, you can make good coin on most titles. I usually make between &9 to $11 a pop and have literally made hundreds of dollars selling on Amazon. Heck, the most I ever made was $70 for a Majandra Delfino CD EP that was sent to me for review. Some people will pay anything for any old junk. Try it, it’s a genuine thrill. Oh and do be sure what you’re selling is as scratch-free and intact as possible. People won’t want to be buying beat up merchandise.

2. Best Buy and Media Play are Two of the Best Chains. A lot of people may balk at buying music from big chain stores because they want to come across as hip and try to influence you that the mom and pop stores are always the best, but this simply isn’t true any more than saying shopping only at big chains is the best way to buy your music. However, I have found that Best Buy and Media Play are easily the two best chain stores I’ve encountered when doing my music shopping. Best Buy often has great sale prices on new CDs (sometimes for as little as $6.99), and usually carries a wide enough variety to please the folks into all the new music as well as those into classic, alternative, and even some indie rock. Media Play, on the other hand, has a killer used section and will often have those hard-to-find CDs hiding about (it may not be a big deal to anyone, but the other day I saw Huey Lewis’ Picture This on CD there; most chains will only be stocking Sports and a greatest hits disc by Lewis these days). Plus their Replay Rewards program is a must. It’s much better than Best Buy’s in that it’s much easier to rack up points spent per item that then get converted to coupons good for dollars off your next purchase. Probably the funniest thing about Media Play is that they’re an affiliate of Sam Goody, easily one of the worst places you could ever buy music from, which leads me to my next point.

3. Don’t Be Stupid and Buy Your Music at the Mall. I can’t stress this one enough. Mall stores, such as Sam Goody and FYE are absolutely horrible. These are the places you always read about in magazines that are charging $20 for a single disc. Their sale prices are often $14.99 — a price that is usually the high end retail base price for other places like Best Buy. I’m sure they’re chalking it up to being in the mall and having to jack the prices up due to high leasing contracts and having to make a profit over that, but that’s bullshit. You should never have to pay $20 for any single CD. You shouldn’t have to pay even $18.99 for a single CD. Perhaps for some, the mall stores are the only way to do, but unless you’re living out in the sticks, chances are you can find other places to buy your music for a lot less. Especially if you’re buying new titles, which most of the mall stores seem content to push the most.

4. Wal-Mart’s not a good place to buy your music, either. Why? Because they have that idiotic self-censoring way of selling everything in their store. Chances are if you want the hottest new rap album that comes with an explicit lyrics sticker, you won’t be buying it at Wal-Mart, or if you do happen to find it there, you’re going to get it in one of those idiotic edited versions. Hey, I’m all about protecting kids’ ears from potentially hazardous lyrics, but really, that should be up to the parents and not some idiotic chain giant that’s quickly taking over every inch of retail space in the States.

5. BMG Music Club is Rockin’. Yeah, I know you’re probably sitting there thinking I’m high right now, but I assure you I’m 100% serious about this point. There have always been rumors flying about that music club discs are in fact overpriced second-run printings that don’t sound as good as the ones you buy in the store. This is absolute bullshit. I have a high-end Yamaha 5.1 Pro Logic II digital yadda yadda home theatre system and I’ll challenge anyone to come over and take a blindfold test on a BMG disc versus one bought in a precious retail outlet. How or when this rumor got started, I have no idea, but it makes about as much sense as the other old myth that marking up your discs with a green magic marker would make them sound better. But the real point here is the deals you get with BMG. Forget Columbia House. You might get more discs in your intro package to start with, but then you have to buy at least five more to fulfill your contract. With BMG you get seven free discs to start with, then you only have to buy one (which with shipping and handling is a bit of a rip), but then you get four more free. Basically you wind up getting 11 discs all told for $50 when all is said and done. But here’s the thing; don’t continue to be a member after you’ve completed your contract. Simply cancel your membership and then rejoin. You can do this over and over, they don’t care. Hell, they want you to keep coming back. And in this day and age, BMG now carries discs that Columbia House sells. Long ago there was no cross breeding, but this is a thing of the distant past. Plus, BMG’s blowout prices on overpriced box sets are amazing. I just picked up the Duran Duran’s The Singles 81-85 box, which includes 13 discs for fifteen and a half bucks, plus shipping. It came out even less than buying it new on Amazon. BMG is fantastic.

6. Buying mp3s Might Be the Wave of the Future, but it’s Still Shitty for Now. Hey I have an mp3 player, too, but I just prefer having my music on a CD first and then ripping it. Buying mp3 files seems like a lousy idea to me at this moment in time. Yeah, I know you can buy ’em, download ’em, and then put ’em on a CD-R, but I still really like having all that artwork and knowing full well that my tunes are going to sound good out of the box. Some mp3s don’t sound great, period, I don’t care where you’re getting them. Congrats to the bigwigs for actually conning folks into buying mp3s, though. Hate to say it, but the p2p phenomena is still going strong, and it doesn’t look like that any amount of FBI Anti-Piracy warnings printed on the backs of some of the latest discs, or threats from the RIAA have really changed anything at all. Let’s all just relax. Remember how the RIAA got all worked up when home taping exploded, and then about threw up again when used CD stores started popping up? It’s nothing but greed all around. Anyway, the only album I ever purchased online in mp3 format was They Might Be Giants’ Long Tall Weekend. It wasn’t one of their best, and now languishes on an old zip drive disc (Remember those?) in a shoebox somewhere.

So there you have it. Six tips to get you up and running for future music purchases. I know, you might be saying, “What if there isn’t a Best Buy or Media Play around here?” Or, “I really like buying my music at Wal-Mart!” Hey, I never said these were foolproof, but then what is? Hopefully you can at least work with some of these ideas and become a better shopper. Hey, not even those high-falutin’ mags like Esquire are going to be savvy enough to point these grooves out. So enjoy and may you find some great bargains out there.