Exiled records and over-the-counterculture: A cultural political economic analysis of the independent record store
Gracon, David D., 1976-
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Gracon, David D., 1976-
This study examined the cultural political economic significance of the physical "brick and mortar" independent record store in the digital era. The research was built upon two critical frameworks -- the political economy of communication and critical cultural studies. The political economy of communication situated the independent record store within the dominant music industry, and was concerned with the corporate structuring and standardization of music culture. The study analyzed the extreme market concentration involving the "big four" major record labels (in terms of vertical and horizontal integration, diversification and product synergy), their interconnectedness to the major corporate music retailers, and the implications for the manufacturing of popular musical artists. The independent record store (to varying degrees) counters these tendencies by offering greater cultural diversity in terms of "independent," local, used and obscure music. However, the independent record store is influenced by the policies and practices of the major label system, distribution channels, big box chain retailers, and on-line commerce. The study examined the dominant industry policies and practices, including buying (centralized versus localized), music as a loss leader, co-op advertising, retail "payola," retail censorship, and the overall range of musical diversity, vis-à-vis the practices and semi-autonomous nature of the independent record store. This project was equally invested in the cultural aspects of the independent record store in terms of communities and scenes. Various subcultures gather and connect with each other at independent record stores, where anti-corporate and counter-hegemonic narratives circulate, and individuals learn about the depths of musical history and culture. This project explored the physical atmosphere and vernacular culture associated with the stores, as well as the cultural significance of vinyl record collecting. However, these cultural attributes are framed in terms of the harvesting of commodification, where the perception of "independence" is rendered problematic in terms of the economic realities associated with the logic of capital. The primary ethnographic field sites for this study included the House of Records in Eugene, Oregon; Music Millennium in Portland, Oregon; and Amoeba Music in San Francisco, California. Numerous specialty independent record stores within these geographic areas were also included in the study.