Big Things in Store

When you visit your local record shop, make sure that's not the next Springsteen selling you a CD

For many, the retail experience serves as a launching pad. Bassist Malcolm Tent, formerly of the local punk-noise band Broken Talent, started at Leslie Wimmer's Open Books and Records in North Miami during the mid-Eighties. Tent went on to open his own rock shop in Connecticut (Trash American Style) and form his own label (T.P.O.S.). "When I was at Open, I was a spud manager. Just one of the potatoes in the bin," Tent explains. Now he boasts that his label is home to the Bunny Brains and is releasing a Broken Talent compilation of previously unreleased material in October.

Drummer Lee Levin took the retail rocketship to success. After working for more than two years at a Q, he moved to the Spec's across the street from the University of Miami, drawn by that store's extensive classical-music department. He spent another couple of years there, meanwhile earning two degrees (jazz and music industry) from UM. After visiting New York with K.R.U. (a Miami band that also starred Nil Lara), Levin landed an internship at Polygram, becoming an assistant to the director of marketing at the label's classical subsidiary, London Records. Currently Levin is working in the studio on new albums by Julio Iglesias.

Matt Pierson, the UM jazz student and trumpeter, blasted off from Peaches, where he'd ascended from sales clerk to buyer to manager. (He admits he originally applied in order to get his jazz tapes at an employee discount.) But Pierson didn't stop there. After Peaches he moved to New York and worked at Tower Records (for minimum wage) while waiting to hear about an opening at the Big Apple's Blue Note Records. After three years there, he was at Warner Bros. where, for the past two years, he's been the director of A&R for jazz and progressive music, as well as a staff producer. "I made a few connections while I was at Peaches because I reported the top jazz records to Billboard for their jazz chart," Pierson explains. "I learned how records were promoted and I got to know the promo people. I was in constant contact with them."

Jose Tillan, Forget the Name's bassist, worked at a Tracks emporium. "I didn't have to cut my hair," he says, a grin forming behind his curly locks. "You'd hang out there. It's not really a regular job because you're with all your friends in other bands."

When Forget the Name played Washington Square on New Year's Eve, a band called Voidville shared the bill, making its live debut. Voidville's singer, Diane Ward, is a buyer for the Spec's at Sawgrass Mills. With twelve years of retail experience, Ward has no complaints about the company's flexibility regarding her schedule -- with Voidville catching on, she's now at Spec's only part-time. But even before the shift change, she found her day job helpful to her artistic pursuits -- she would sometimes rehearse in the store's conference room.

The new guitarist for Young Turk, Tony Moyers, has experience at a store in Tampa, where he spent two years while he was in the band Love Junkies, and at Peaches. "I did shipping and receiving and was in contact with the local reps," he recalls. "When you're in a band, all you see is the music you make. In a store you get to see how music is handled after it gets recorded. There's a lot of bad music out there. We have to get back to making music for music's sake."

Indeed, this artist-seller relationship isn't as positive for some as for others. Another musician/clerk who reported to Billboard, Luis Diaz, is the drummer for Paradise Alley and a freelance sound engineer. Three years ago, Diaz spent six months working at BPM Records, a twelve-inch specialty store. "When I reported the rap chart, I saw how talent is definitely not the only thing that can make a hit," he asserts. "It's hush-hush in the industry, but there's a lot of persuasion with point of sales" -- that is, reporting a track as a hot item, even if it isn't, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Vinny Pereira, bassist for Excessive, spent nine months at Bassin. "I got to see that side of the industry," he says, "and if anyone starting in the business saw what I saw, they'd probably change their mind. It's dog-eat-dog."

Rhett O'Neil, vocalist for Young Turk, handled shipping and receiving for six months at H L Distributors. "It was easy," he says. "I needed the gig. And it was there. You do get to see how two-faced record companies are. One minute you're it, and the next minute they don't even know your name."

Another musician with a dim view of this business of music selling is Jim Wall, the drummer for Natural Causes. Wall worked at a Spec's last year. For one entire month. Although he wanted to be around music, Wall says now it wasn't worth it. In fact, he spits the name Spec's like it was a mouthful of sour milk. "I was hassled for wearing a peace-sign T-shirt. And when I missed some meeting, they fired me. It was also disappointing because I saw the kind of music that people were buying. Every once in a while, someone would come in and buy a Coltrane album, but most of the people were buying Latin or contemporary music. Frustrating."

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