Thursday, 07 April 2016 07:45

As Record Store Day Approaches, Kalamazoo’s Vinyl Scene Thrives

Written by  Dwayne Hoover
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Satellite Records in Kalamazoo Satellite Records in Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo is stocked with sanctuaries for vinyl-record collectors and Sean Hartman, manager of Satellite Records, thinks he might know why. 

“A lot of it is a natural reaction to how disposable media has become,” said Hartman, who runs the shop located at 808 S. Westnedge Ave. in Kalamazoo. “There’s definitely something to having that physical piece that you had to look for and find. It’s fragile, you want to take care of it and you want to be able to appreciate it for the rest of your life. The artwork is cool and you can put it on the turntable, actually watch it play and listen to it in the order the artist intended as a complete work of art.”

Formerly the Corner Record Shop, Satellite Records made the move in 2014 from their location on West Main to a new locale on Westnedge in Kalamazoo’s Vine Neighborhood. The new spot has given the store closer proximity to a large student population and increased foot traffic, both of which have contributed to a sizable increase in sales and access to quality inventory.

“The majority of people walking in the door are selling to us,” Hartman said. “We’ve done a little bit of advertising, but over the years our reputation has been built up to the point that we rarely have to leave to find stuff. We’ve got a couple of secret spots that we go to every once in a while if we need to pull up a few extra things, but we haven’t had to do that in months.” 

In addition to providing the community with a wide selection of vinyl, tapes, CDs and movies, the staff is also involved in, and supportive of, the local music scene. Not only do they stock albums from local bands and help get the word out about shows, they participate in local events like a monthly Vinyl DJ Night at Bell’s Brewery, Fat Guy Fest and even the annual WIDR Block Party. On top of that, many of the employees have been involved with the semi-underground basement shows coordinated by the loosely-knit group known as DITKalamazoo.

The main goal of Satellite Records is to get people excited about music, and they do so by providing the most welcoming atmosphere possible for seasoned vinyl veterans and first-timers alike. No High Fidelity-caliber smugness. 

“We do everything we can to try to get rid of that record store stereotype of elitism, being music-snobby and all of that,” Hartman said. “I’m just as excited about selling the most common record as I am selling something ultra-obscure. I just want people to come in and be excited about being part of the culture.”

You won’t find that same culture when buying your music on iTunes. Just ask Abe Savas, owner of Green Light Music and Video on West Kl Avenue, who said he knows all too well the crucial part that people — actual human beings — play in both the creation and sharing of music.

“Human contact is important when you’re talking about music because it’s art, it’s not just a product,” Savas explained. “When you go to concerts, there are a lot of people there and you go with your friends. It’s the same thing when you’re shopping for music. It’s a communal thing.”

Record Store Day 2016
April 16, 2016
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And much like watching a video of a performance is not a substitute for a live show, music recommendations from a website will never replace the personal touch a record store gives, nor will it replace the experience of simply sifting through the albums randomly just to see what’s there.

“When you’re looking through the racks, you’re going to see stuff that’s not algorithmically chosen by a computer,” Savas said. “It might be something that’s totally different or it might be something that’s in the wrong section — there are just sort of those happy accidents in a record store.”

And while digital delivery methods have certainly given people an additional option to find and buy music, investing in an album is different than downloading individual songs a la carte at 99 cents a pop. It’s a deeper, more enriching experience and it means more than simply having yet another song in your seemingly endless catalog.

“It becomes kind of overwhelming when you’ve got like three gigs worth of music,” Savas said. “It used to be, in the old days, you’d spend 15 bucks on an album. You made your investment so you needed to make it worth your while. You didn’t necessarily like every song on the first try but you went through and listened to it again and it was more of a commitment.”

Not to mention, having an extensive playlist isn’t exactly communal.

“Nobody says, ‘Hey, do you want to come over to my house tonight and scroll through my iPod?,’” Savas joked. “But you might say, like in the old days, ‘Let’s pull out a stack of 45s and play some random songs.’ It’s a lot more fun because you’ve got the thing in front of you.”

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