As CD sales continue to decline, local music retailers are seeking creative ways to stay relevant. For Amoeba Music in Berkeley, this fact coupled with the changing demographic of students at UC Berkeley has led the independently owned retailer to decide to build its own indie version of iTunes.
"We've been working on it for years — it's very exciting," said Amoeba co-owner Marc Weinstein. "We're going to let it loose in the fall, let it build organically."
Weinstein says creating the site has been very challenging — not to mention costly. "We barely have the resources to try," he said. "It's very expensive." The site aims to be very comprehensive, but Weinstein says negotiating "exotic" licensing deals with the major labels hasn't been easy. He figures they might start with 7 million songs. The Amoeba site will offer music in all formats (digital, CD, vinyl), plus information about the artists — for example, what bands influenced them, who they've influenced, who they've played with, etc. "iTunes doesn't give you any of that stuff," he said. "Our aim is to give it the justice it deserves."
In the meantime, don't expect the physical stores to disappear anytime soon. Weinstein says they just signed a five-year lease for the Berkeley store, and that's the only store that they'd ever consider closing. "It's not as busy as it used to be," he said, adding that the store sells about half as many CDs as it did five years ago. "I think in the long-run there's gonna be a market for people who want a hard copy of music — it's just smaller than it used to be."
Weinstein blames the drop-off at the Berkeley store in large part on the changed culture of the university town. "Telegraph was a cultural mecca almost unparalleled for records and cafe culture, and to some extent that has suffered terribly," he said. "The real estate is so expensive and a lot of people don't go there anymore like they used to." In addition, he sees the university attracting a more business- and engineering-oriented crowd, instead of those interested in social services and the arts. Still, Weinstein says the decline in CD sales has been partially made up by the increase in sales of DVDs and vinyl.
Ashkenaz Turns to Public Access TV
Meanwhile, local venues have been coming up with new ways to get folks out of the house. Uptown has free shows and burlesque nights; 924 Gilman is seeking nonprofit status; the Stork Club has added Rock Band nights and shows booked by different promoters. Now, Ashkenaz will start airing a show on Berkeley public access channel 28 in the next few weeks. Initially starting as a half-hour program, Ashkenaz Live will feature select live performances from some of the diverse bands that appear on its stage, plus interviews with the principal performers, according to Executive Director Larry Dekker. He hopes the show will help the venue reach a new, larger audience and eventually expand into an hour format.
With Ashkenaz Live, which was just awarded a grant from the San Francisco Foundation, Dekker thinks that some people will learn about Ashkenaz for the first time, others will be reminded that it exists, and a younger crowd might think of it in a different light — i.e., not "an old hippie place." And he's not worried that folks will stay home in front of the boob tube rather than pay cash to see the shows. "No one's going to choose to watch it on TV versus coming here. It'll be cool to see but I don't think it will discourage people — in fact I think it will encourage more people to come check it out."
Dekker got the idea to do the show late last year while filming a public service announcement at Berkeley Community Media, which operates Berkeley's public access cable channels, BTV 28 and 33. "We were trying to find new and innovative ways to reach out into the community because after 37 years, it's easy to sort of blend into the woodwork," he said. Dekker approached Berkeley Public Media Executive Director David Jolliffe, who was receptive of the idea. In fact, Dekker says the whole process was pretty easy; all they had to do was become a member of Berkeley Public Media and pay to get his staff trained on BCM's equipment. Now, Ashkenaz can use BCM's cameras and editing equipment for free. They started filming in late April and submitted the first show — which will feature performances by Baba Ken and the West African Highlife Band, Cuban outfit Pellejo Seco, and dancing from a recent Haitian benefit — two weeks ago. Dekker estimates it'll air in early June, but doesn't have a firm date yet.
Outside Lands Lineup Announced
The lineup for the 2010 Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival was announced June 1. Headlining the two-day fest (August 14 and 15 in Golden Gate Park) are Kings of Leon and Further featuring Phil Lesh and Bob Weir. Other acts include The Strokes, My Morning Jacket, Phoenix, Social Distortion, Al Green, Gogol Bordello, Nas and Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, The Levon Helm Band, Cat Power, Wolfmother, Bassnectar, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, The Devil Makes Three, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, and many more. Two-day tickets go on sale June 2; single-day tickets are available June 6.
La Peña Cultural Center is throwing a week's worth of special events for its 35th anniversary. A street festival kicks things off on Saturday, June 5. ... Neurot Recordings will reissue Neurosis' Enemy of the Sun, with a fully redesigned package by Josh Graham, on August 30. ... New local releases this week: Sleepy Sun, Fever (6/1; record release 6/10 at Great American Music Hall); Times 4, Eclipse (6/1; show 6/2 at Coda); Felonious, Live City (6/8; show 6/10 at The Independent).