SS Archives: Issue 1 Aboveground with Mike Barnes

Aboveground Records Photo by Angel Russell

“What came first – the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music? People worry about kids playing with guns,and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands -of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most.”
— Nick Hornby (High Fidelity)

Used CD’s, DVD’s, and LP’s are big time sellers at Aboveground, a record store here on Martha’s Vineyard.
Owner Mike Barnes discusses owning a record store in this down trodden economy.

S.S.
In this day of Itunes, MP3, and music downloading software, what are people missing out on by not going into record stores.

Mike:
Seeing me! Seeing my new dog, her name is Bearice, people would really like her. They miss out on sound quality.
Sound quality of CD’s and Records is better than mp3’s, I’d say that’s probably the most important thing. People spend so much time recording and getting certain sounds and then they get compressed and you don’t get them, but I guess you can download wave files they just take longer. So, I guess your not missing anything, except for seeing me and my dog.

S.S.
Come on, that’s not true.

Mike:
You get to name your price by going on line, at the record store you usually have to pay more than you feel like you
should. I think people are much better off going online, (laughs) Ok what’s the next question?

S.S.
A lot of record stores and recording studios have gone out of business with the onset of new technology and home
recording software, how have you stayed aloft despite these challenges?

Mike:
B and E’s

S.S.
B and E’s?

Mike:
Breaking and Entering’. Diversifying, You know, not having anybody work for me, used stuff. There’s a little more
of a mark up on used CD’s and Records, than there is on new records, and so people are a more interested in
buying things used because they’re cheaper. It works for the consumer and for me. Buying those light bulbs that
last longer so I’m not always spending money on those light bulbs that are going to go out. I wanted to start
selling drugs but my wife forbid me. The used stuff could be anything, you know, it’s like the ultimate money laundering system. But my wife said no, not while she works for the state and we have kids in the schools here.

S.S.
What other challenges do you face?

Mike:
I face enough time in the morning before I get to work to take a shower, and enough time to walk my dog so she
doesn’t bark at me the whole day saying “ I just need to go for a walk!” The same problems everybody faces right now in a troubled economy, you know, just making sure your not loosing money. You might not be making money but just breaking even. Because what’s the point in doing the same thing everyday if it’s just putting you further in the whole. The record store has been here for 15 years and there’s nothing else I’ve figured out I want to do in the last 15 years except hang out in a record store. So, the troubles I face is figuring out how I can hang out at the record store without the bank coming and taking everything away from me that I have worked somewhat hard to get. Making sure my kids have fresh nickers in the morning, you know, stuff like that.

S.S.
At aboveground records you sell, used CD’s, DVD’s, and Records. Is there a larger market for used items now that
the economy is flat?

Mike:
Yes, 100%. There’s still the people who like to buy things new, because they don’t like the idea of people owning the
things they own before them. But for people who think straight, used CD’s make a lot of sense because their as good as new. Not to insult anybody who doesn’t like to by used things, but I just think they’re stupid. Wait, that’s insulting, I guess I can’t get around that. But yeah, in the summer as more people are on the island they seem to gravitate to used stuff. It’s a way we can beat Itunes which is one of our big competitions, is we sell a tangible product for less than they sell a digital product. And people like having something in their hands to hold and
cherish and love and sleep next too and look at themselves in the reflection of it when they get lonely. People get lonely it’s sad. You never get lonely at the record store! Unless you work there and no one comes in all day cuz they don’t need records anymore.

S.S.
What are some of you favorite things about running your own record store?

Mike:
Being able to bring my dog to work, to see my friends and hang out at work. When I really don’t feel like working I
don’t have to, but then that leads to feeling guilty, meaning, I can just sit here and read and I don’t have anybody yelling at me. But then I have the voices that haunt me at night. But that’s not the question. Um, the best thing about
working at a records store is, that I work at a record store, and record stores are cool, even if they are irrelevant. but I’m not saying they’re irrelevant.

S.S.
What paths would you recommend people use to find new and interesting music?

Mike:
Ten years ago the way you would find new music would be reading magazines because you couldn’t hear new music on the radio, So, you had to find independent publications to read about music you like before you could hear it, if you didn’t have an older sister or an older brother, or crazy uncle to send it to you or tell you about it. Um, what was the question?

S.S.
What paths would you recommend…

Mike:
Go to concerts, rock out, make your own, get a guitar, get a banjo, get a mandolin, no, don’t get a mandolin.

S.S.
Harmonica?

The Goods Photo by Angel Russell


Mike:
Harmonica’s are cool but you have to buy different ones for different keys you play in, talk about limited! Stay away from harmonicas, they’re addicting. And so many people play harmonicas terribly. It’s not even like a saxophone that you have to learn to blow into it. All you need is a respiratory system and you can blow into a harmonica.

S.S
What is your assessment of the music industry now-a-days? And how does it compare to when you started Aboveground.

Mike:
The people who ruined it don’t have control over it anymore, that’s the best thing about the music industry. There’s a reason why people jumped ship on CD’s so fast. They were way overpriced and the music industry just kept thinking they could sign crappy people and put out their albums for one single and charge 20 dollars for it. Those people aren’t really calling the shots anymore, in some little worlds they are but they’re loosing grasp of it very quickly. And so, I think independent music is what is coming to the forefront now, like people are actually seeking out and hearing more things of quality because there’s not such a strong hold where radio used to dictate what people would buy. And radio was all owned by the same corporations no matter what state you went to or what city. And now they cant control what people hear so much so now is a much more exciting time for music because if somebody records something in Australia anybody in Idaho can hear it the second they post it online. So, you hear about a band or your friend tells you about a band you don’t have to go buy it, or search it out, you can listen to it first and then decide if you like them first before you go buy a hard copy.

S.S.
Are there any labels that are up andcoming?

Mike:
Tons of them, Tons.

S.S.
Like, Sub Pop type labels?

Mike:
Well yeah, there’s big ones but, a friend of mine is starting a new label and she’s putting out a magazine.

S.S.
Really?

Mike:
Yup, and she’s going to put out a compilation with all her friends from all around. So, that’s exciting. My friends doing labels and things. You don’t have to sink a bunch of money into to do it anymore. You know, anybody that has a computer can record their own stuff, or four track. And they can put it out themselves, so, there’s tons of up and coming things. I don’t know about them because I don’t listen to music anymore. I find it way too contrived.

S.S.
What new bands are you most excited about?

Mike:
Um, that’s actually a good question because I just heard of this one band and I can’t believe how good they are. They take like that classic blues sound and they make it sort of new and add a rock and roll dynamic to it. They’re called the Rolling Stones. (Laughs) I can’t believe how great they are. And they go on these huge tours and like, thousand of people go see them, and they’re old, but they still can run around on stage. I hope when I’m that old I hope I can rock, like a rolling stone.

S.S.
What new bands are you horrified about?

Mike:
There’s this band that everyone’s been making a big deal out of because they have this big catalog and they just remastered it. They’re called the Beatles, and I’m afraid of beetles. They’re always climbing all over you and flying around…
Actually I like the Beatles, more than I like the Rolling Stones.

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