Opening the doors to Harvest Music might stir up images of entering an old basement but without the dust and musty smell.
It’s a bit crowded and you’ll have to tip toe around in some areas but if you’re looking for some treasures you just might find it here. Boxes of used vinyl records line the floor and one could spend hours sifting through what any music lover would consider a gold mine. But that’s not all. Rows of CDs and DVDs form the aisles while tapestries and posters cover the windows. Bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles keep the sun at bay on one side while collector items line the walls on the other behind a large case full of rock and roll memorabilia.
Owner Brain Cossack, 55, opened his record store in Salem, OR in December 2002. After years of working on-air operations in television broadcasting in West Palm Beach, FL, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Cossack settled on the sleepy capital city of Oregon for his new career. It was intentional, he said, as the communities of San Diego and San Mateo missed out and those living in or near Portland, OR were already covered with places to find there muse.
Cossack looks like an old-school rocker. If he told you he played guitar for a band that opened for Rush in the 1970s that fizzled out soon after, you’d have no reason to believe otherwise. He owns thousands of new and used vinyl records most of which he sells at his music store along with their modern day counterparts and the original grim reaper of black wax – cassettes. He also offers repair service for CDs, DVDs and video games.
In January, it was reported that the vinyl music industry was set to reach a billion dollars by the end of 2017 something no one would have guessed just 10 years ago and figures not seen since the 1980s. Indeed, records or vinyl, as the kids say, have made a surprising comeback and even boasts its own “holiday.”
Cossack has an interesting perspective on Record Store Day the now annual one-day set aside that encourages music lovers to shop and support local record stores for their wares which was celebrated on April 22. He opens his record store seven days a week and was gracious enough to set aside time for an interview about the resurgence of vinyl records and the future of music.
1. Where do you get most of your used records?
People walk in off the street clearing out their homes. I respond to Craig’s List ads and go to garage sales. Most I get from people contacting me. After being here a number of years, people see you and know where to get rid of their stuff. I’ve been collecting music since 1973.
2. Why did you open a record shop?
It was something I had thought about doing but didn’t have the money to do it. I had the opportunity when I went out on disability years ago so I used the money I had coming in to start the store. I was trying to make the most use of my time and manifest what I wanted to do.
I either was going to start this store or delve deeper into video editing. I wanted to free myself and try my own project and be as independent as I could be.
I acquired thousands of compact discs while California. I was looking around for locations and went from San Diego all the way to Portland. Salem is one of the cheapest places on the West Coast so after performing some marketing research I discovered 60 percent of the people here were not getting what they wanted.
3. In the early days what sold?
CDs sold a lot more. And I still sell to this day. Some people buy all formats. I acquired my original inventory through making contacts at Tower Records distribution center in California. I made good relationships there and was offered significant discounts on damaged product so I learned how to use CD resurfacing machines.
I developed a friendship with someone who was in the music business and had his own store. I talked to him and picked his brain. I went to Amoeba Music in San Francisco and learned what it takes to operate a store successfully.
4. When did you start seeing an uptick in vinyl?
I would say in the past two years. It’s been slow going. It’s happened more in the past two to three years. It’s not like it’s taken off like a rocket. Other cities might be different, this is a small town. I pay as much attention to CDs as anything else. As far as I am concerned there is still a wealth of money in CDs. There are collectors and people that prefer that format over vinyl. It’s whatever the person grew up with is their preferred format.
5. Is vinyl the primary driver of sales, now?
No. I sell a little bit of everything including cassette tapes. I sell poster and tapestries. I do disc repair for people. I also sell on Amazon. I’ll get collector items that peak people’s interest and special imports.
6. Why has vinyl made a comeback, you think?
That’s a good question. I think it’s part nostalgia. People like to see the larger scale art work and the lyrics. The art work that accompanies the music, you don’t get that with downloads. With vinyl you get a full rich sound versus a compressed sound. The analog is fuller but with records it requires you to take care of them. Records weren’t meant for the masses because the masses don’t know how to handle records. You can’t remove scratch marks, overall a couple of scratches won’ ruin it but all it takes is one person to manhandle it and the record is ruined.
Now, there are so many bands trying to make records but only so many manufacturing plants. You’ll be put on a waiting list if you want an album on record. People get into these trends and listen to what others are doing. That’s what’s happening with records. Back in the day, people got rid of their record collections. These same people now kick themselves for getting rid them.
7. Who is buying vinyl records?
My best customers buying records are people over 35 years old – people who grew up collecting things, who grew up in the era of physical discs. Most young people don’t spend their discretionary money on records. The record store used to be the place to buy records now for them it’s the smoke shop.
The problem with records with young people is they don’t have the attention span to sit and listen to a whole record. Plus you have to be stationary and most people want to pick up and go and sacrifice sound qualify for convenience and mobility. In this high tech age everything is small and compact. In order to hear records at their best you need a good system with big speakers.
8. What do you think about Record Store Day?
The young crowd shows up once a year on Record Store Day. Record Store Day should be every day. No business can survive on one day of support a year. Three main people make money off Record Store Day. The organizers. The distributors that sell the records of which there’s only a handful in the country. They contact the stores buying the product. Then the third person is the record collector that walks into the store, buys it at the price pledged by the store to sell it no more than 20 percent over list price. That guy throws it on ebay and sells it for double or triple price.
Record Store Day also couldn’t come at a worse time because it’s around tax day, so between that and figuring out how much money you want to spend on these special releases and then hoping you can sell it, sometimes Record Store Day is a bit of a drag. Any of the releases, if they’re so spectacular the artist would put those out and sell as many units as they possibly can, not just a limited release. It’s often not the best music in the world.
However, there’s no doubt Record Store Day brings us recognition along with an increase in sales so it’s also a positive thing. It’s a mixed blessing, so to speak.
9. What genre of music is benefiting from vinyl record sales?
All genres are enjoying sales though country music isn’t getting as much. Some hip hop artists are getting enjoyment even though they don’t all have their albums out on vinyl.
The momentum is going to get lost though because of greed. Everyone is trying to push the envelope. I wish every record could be bought and sold for less than $20. Prices are all over the map. All this trendy colored vinyl is cool but what the hell is the purpose? I’d rather have a standard black record for under $20.
10. Harvest Music is a bona fide record store. But you also sell on Amazon. Could you survive without the online sales?
I’d survive without them but it helps. In the future, if I had time and energy I’d like every single item in the store on the internet but its takes a lot of time. Any item worth over $5 I’d like to sell. I don’t get much time to put stuff up but anything I think sells I put online.
I get about 20 to 25 percent of total sales off Amazon. I’d get more if I put more items up. I probably have 75,000 discs in the store and only 4,100 on Amazon. That’s just five percent of inventory. If I had a bigger ratio online I wouldn’t even have to open my store. I could work on my house and sell online all day. But I like the energy and sense of community with the store; it’s something you don’t get off the internet.
11. So no longer can you buy cheap old vinyl, even the original used albums come with a price?
There are plenty of vintage records that don’t go for much money. It’s a matter of whether the band commands interest in the first place. Nobody cares about a Neil Diamond first pressing of his second album. But first pressing of Led Zeppelin’s first album you can make a buck. It’s artist driven. If a record is severely damage I’ll sell it for a buck or $2 top. If the actual record is damaged I look at the album cover as a piece of artwork somebody can throw on their wall. But people still want old records for listening.
12. You also sell cassettes? Don’t tell me that is coming back?
There are some artists still making cassettes to this day. I have no idea, why. Maybe it’s something for the kids who grew up in the 90s. There are certain artists that do better on cassette, too, like hip hop. I just sold a Dr. Dre cassette for $20. Grateful Dead also does well and their fans love the format. Blink 182 and Nirvana cassettes go for decent money
13. Where do you see the music industry going in the next five to 10 years?
I think it’s going to be a scary road. Records will still be around and I think CDs will be made on demand. I’m already seeing that now. Distributors are burning discs, made on demand and I predict they will go to that.
So, if you want an actual physical disc of an album the distributor burns it on demand and mails it to the buyer. These records labels have gone through so many format changes. I think it’s gone as far as it’s going to go. I also think the MP3 files will be refined to be better quality. But physical discs have reached its saturation point and will diminish.
Note: Shortly after our interview, Cossack received an email from WebAMI, one of his vendors, introducing Music On Demand (MOD) services for music and movies.
14. What’s next? This a fad you expect to fade out again or is vinyl here to stay?
I’d like to see it stay. It’s been here for 100 years but I don’t think it will go away entirely but it will drop off because of the greed factor and charging too much money for them.
I like perpetuating the type of record store I grew up with. That’s one of the reason I enjoy what I do and I like not having a boss and doing things my own way. Ultimately my goal is to make lifelong relationships and have people come back and buy more.
Cossack buys, sells and trades all genres of new and used music, repairs compact disc and offers disc transfer services. Visit Harvest Music at 1055 Commercial St SE in Salem, OR in person or check out the Facebook page. On Amazon, he sells under Harvest Music.