Industry Chat: Marc Weinstein, Founder of Amoeba Music

Music Features Marc Weinstein
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Industry Chat: Marc Weinstein, Founder of Amoeba Music

We love record stores. Always have. And we hope we always will have actual, physical stores populated by living, breathing human beings to love/loiter in. That said, the brick and mortar store, like nearly everything else associated with the music industry, is struggling to adapt to a world dominated by pixels rather than atoms. There are signs of life, however, in the record store biz, and this being Paste, naturally, we like to point them out. We’ve been big fans of the first two Record Store Days, and like the energy they generate from both buyers and sellers of music. The good folks at CIMS and AIMS have done a nice job creating some clout for the hardest-working record stores.

Perhaps the greatest of them all at this point—and it’s certainly true if you look up the dictionary definition of great—is Amoeba Music, founded in San Francisco and now a mini-chain of three stores. So who better to take the temperature of the record-store biz than Amoeba co-founder Marc Weinstein?

Paste: Blah blah, the music business is crashing…..yada yada nobody buys music….the CD is dying, etcetera etcetera. I’m sure you’re tired of all of it and are just trying to run your business. But seriously, what’s your take on things right now from the perspective of the record store?
Marc Weinstein: The music business, as we knew it, is luckily a thing of the past. I could go on about all the ways these giant corporations systematically destroyed their own markets… At Amoeba, every minute we’re open, we’re celebrating all the beautiful objects that are prints of artistic creations by musicians. We believe the market for those objects will be strong for some time to come. We will always offer any collector far too much to look at in one day.

Paste: Now that your website is a significant part of the business, combined with your record label and fairly ambitious schedule of live performances, is thinking of Amoeba as a “record store” even accurate anymore? What business is the Amoeba brand really in long term?
Weinstein: We are absolutely a record store. Anything else we do is from the perspective of a record store. Our live shows bring home what we’re really all there for. Our label very much acts to teach us what it’s like from an artist’s perspective as we eventually grow our website into a digital store. We want to create a venue online where artists feel truly respected and honored. Our ‘brand” is that we love music and musicians first and foremost in whatever we do.

Paste: How are your customers today different than your customers in the 90’s? Are they less reliant on the expertise of your staff since the Web has sort of democratized access to the buzziest and most underground of bands?
Weinstein: There are a few new breeds of customers out there that may not need the same kind of help finding what they’re looking for- and the internet has certainly helped educate many of our customers before they come in. Suprisingly, though, the types of questions we get at our info counters are much the same as they’ve always been. So many people still love and count on being able to come in and talk to real live music freaks. The passionate feelings on both sides of the counter have not changed one bit.

Paste: I’d love to hear your thoughts on vinyl. I’ve had this little pet theory that at some point in the future, vinyl unit sales will, as they continue to incrementally grow, actually overtake CD unit sales as they continue to crater. Will it happen? What percentage of your sales are vinyl now and how does that compare to, say, 10 years ago?
Weinstein: I have honestly been saying for many years that labels should have been offering more of their catalogues on vinyl—now the antithesis of an mp3. It’s fantastic to see how many releases are now offered on LP. A beautiful LP is the highest form of a print by your favorite musical artist. The cover art and notes added to the marvel of an analogue reproduction on vinyl—it’s the best! Our vinyl sales have always been amazing and have increased steadily over the last ten years, up, maybe 30 or 40%

Paste: Does Amoeba have any involvement with digital music? Have you tested any models for selling downloads in-store? Is this something that’s part of your future or simply something that won’t work at physical retail?
Weinstein: Amoeba does have plans for selling digital music. It’s an obvious extension of who we are. The digital universe offers us the opportunity to take what we’ve been doing all these years to the next level. Whereas now we are sure to have a bin card for every artist and make it easy to find, online there is the potential for every artist to have their own store, complete with bios, reviews, merchandise, links to label, sessions, etc. in addition to their music. The depth of our “inventory” can forever deepen as far as any collector can travel.

Paste: One of the best things about Amoeba is your omnivorousness – all music welcome. What are some trends or particular types of music that seem to be energizing your staff and customers these days?
Weinstein: I really have to say that the very “omnivorous” nature of both customers and staff really IS what keeps the energy so high. The beauty of that is seeing how, year after year, generation after generation, every kind of music “energizes” customers depending on how the door is opened and how someone discovers the music. And we are often the path to that discovery. The cross-pollination of different cultures as seen in the bins of our stores is one of the most idealistic views of humanity many of us can get. It’s why so many of us record store “Lifers” stay with it: for that idealistic view that music really does hold the key, certainly to our inspiration, if not to our salvation.

Paste: BONUS QUESTION: As a magazine publisher, my only complaint about Amoeba is that you guys have (to my knowledge) never carried magazines. Why is that?
Weinstein: Each store carries select magazines, and each store has a different selection based on the very local market. We have a full rack with, maybe 60 titles in Berkeley. In San Francisco, a cool indie book store down the street has a deep selection, so we just add a few titles here and there to augment. In L.A., there are also alot of cool indie stores that have deep magazine sections that we don’t necessarily need to compete with.