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Thursday, November 7, 2013

CD Shops… Still There?

Mr. Ho, Memphis Music

What is CD abbreviated from? While I am well aware of the answer but I bet no everyone knows what it stands for. For example, do you know what MP3 means? (Scroll to the end of the article) Anyway this blog post is about recorded and published music and the theme is CD, a.k.a. Compact Disc.

For the post internet generations, the recorded music you are most likely associated with is MP3. Needless to say that those who born before the internet era must have experienced CDs as well as vinyl records. Those were the days, isn’t it? Let me walk you through the timeline of this fast forgotten technology that has served every music lovers on this planet for decades.

The above weblink is where the information I would be sharing below is extracted from.

In 1978 September was Sony’s inaugural public demonstration of an optical digital audio disc with 150 minutes of playing time. 2 years on in 1980 Philips and Sony laid down the CD-DA data storage format and that sets things in motion. In 1982 the researchers of Sony and Philips manufactured the first “CD”. Shortly after this technology advancement, the CD player was created in 1983. Incidentally it was known as the Big Bang of digital audio revolution. The CD technology was pushed a step ahead. The CD-ROM was introduced in 1984 to enable users to store and retrieve data from it. Meantime the recorded and published music industry was going into high gear as vinyl records made antiques by CDs.

In 1985, a British Rock Band Dire Straits sold the very first million album in CD. The album was titled “Brothers in Arms”. In the same year, computer readable CD-ROM was brought into the market. The next few years until 1990, we saw the dawn of VCDs and CD-R. At its peak, CD was the career of choice in music in 1991. After a gap of 6 years, CD-RW was introduced in 1987. Sony and Philips continued to push the quality of digital recorded music by introducing the Super Audio CD a.k.a. SACD in 1997. While CDs are advancing in its technology, MP3 was discreetly being developed in the background. Personal computers weren’t widely available in the early 1990s however the tipping point came in 1998 when two university students, Justin Frankel and Dmitry Boldyrev ported AMP to Windows and created Winamp. This software player became a free MP3 music player boosting the success of MP3. No licensing fees are required to use an MP3 player. Coupled with the ease of online sales transactions, buying anything online was only getting easier. Thus CD was relegated to relic status in no time. It was down hill henceforth.

Like vinyl, CD resisted the fate of extinction. There are still a number of music lovers who prefer to listen to CD recorded music over MP3. These people usually appreciate the artwork of CD albums as well. While I don’t have any sales figures to substantiate, my best guess is the surviving CD shops in Singapore are primarily supported by these “CD lovers”.

Through my online research, several huge CD shops are in operations. They are,

2. Gramaphone
3. HMV

It is tough running a business and it is imperative to sell what sells. A visit to these CD shops quickly impressed upon me that they were trying very hard to get their stuff off the racks and shelves. So where can I find a CD shop that find balance between real music and tunes that sell?

For me, at Memphis Music of course! This very underrated CD shop is located at the basement of Excelsior Shopping Centre. Mr. Ho who is the proprietor of this CD shop is one who is passionate for music. While he is passionate, he recognizes the reality of running a business as well. I have visited his shops many times and the genres of music offered by his shop are indeed different from the big shops. Suffice to say that if you are looking for top 40s, it will be hard to find them in Mr. Ho’s shop. If you are hunting for some serious classics by artistes like Joe Pass, Barney Kassel, Herb Ellis, Ella Fitzgerald, Ronnie James Dio, Wishbone Ash, WHO, Ramones, Richie Kotzen, Jason Becker, etc. you will find them in Memphis.

It is known to many guitar players that Excelsior and Peninsular Shopping Centers have the highest concentration of guitar shops at its basement. Memphis Music is located right in the middle of it. It comes without surprise to see many guitar related publications in his shop. They range from periodicals, music sheets, score and instructional materials. Memphis Music is surely a treat for guitar lovers to pay visit to. Even the most obscure music liked by those hardcore guitar lovers can be found at Mr. Ho’s shop. What if you can’t? As long as you want them, Mr. Ho will order them for you.

It was easy to strike a conversation with Mr. Ho whenever the topic was about music. Of course I have engaged lengthy discussions about the changes in the music industry from one generation to the next. I took the opportunity to find out about Mr. Ho’s aspirations, thoughts and vision for recorded music. So it was an interview and here it is.

1. When did you start Memphis?
(Memphis was) started in August 1991 as in a suburban shopping mall called Coronation Shopping Plaza. I have relocated to a few places, like from IKEA at Alexandra and to Jelita Shopping Centre at Holland. Currently I am operating in Excelsior Shopping Centre.

2. Why sells recorded music?
Then music remains as a popular and affordable hobby and lifestyle, even for now.

3. Is this a business or passion?
Definitely as a business, ideally it is one whereby the commitment and interest remain strong.

4. Do you sell what people like or what you like?
As a business that provides services, it must cater to the customers’ interest and needs. If interest and business coincides, that makes the business enjoyable.

5. Sum up your sentiments on retail music industry.
The music business has undergone many changes both in format (cassette/LP/CD and downloads) and musical preferences. The way music was distributed to the consumer has since changed tremendously. Consumers can enjoy a variety of choices from online shopping, downloads or browsing in shops. Competition is not only between shops but also with those alternatives sources. Shops have to work harder to get the music lovers to spend on recorded music. It is by this trend, shops must stay relevant to the customers’ interest.

6. Share the ups and downs in selling recorded music.
Recorded music enjoyed a larger audience in the past because there was less competition from other recreation hobbies. Music was still affordable and people are spending on it. The demand was demonstrated by the sprouting of mega music stores and chain stores in those days. Small operators have to face the twin threats of bigger players and the ever-increasing rental. Today the large store is no longer a factor but most retailers will still have to reckon with the constant high rent.

7. What is next?
The internet has transformed the music business totally. Distributors have merged or downsized. Correspondingly the obsoleted and lesser popular titles were being phased out. The music labels are still releasing so much music out there and with the convenience of the internet the buyer has a lot of knowledge of what is available. The radio station is no longer the main source of new music. The real challenge for the retailer is to be alert to the ever-changing music preferences. Stay relevant in the business by knowing what the customers are looking for. Despite the gloomy outlook there is still business in recorded music. There will be that someone who will look for a Mozart tune or a Beatle classic.

That was the short interview with Mr. Ho. I hope you have gotten some depth of comprehension in recorded music especially on CDs. Guitar lovers or music lovers, come on and show our appreciation to those hardworking musicians who work tirelessly in giving us their best compositions of music.

If you have not been to Memphis Music, wait no farther! Go to Excelsior Shopping Centre, #B1-35 to check it out!

MP3 stands for MPEG Audio Layer III and MPEG is Moving Picture Experts Group

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