Posted by: *carrie* | April 19, 2010

The Boy Culture of Record Stores

This past Saturday was Record Store Day. I was reminded of this when, Saturday morning, I stopped by Feministe and was greeted with a post about it. I was kind of surprised to see mention on a feminist blog because, as Cara states:

And to still manage to throw in a small feminist tidbit, I notice that most record stores are direly lacking in other female customers when I go and visit — it’s time for us to get out there and represent, and to bring along some friends.

My first reaction was to check my local record stores to see what was going down. (A bonus of living near a giant state university: there are multiple independent record stores).

I discovered a musician I very much dig, and have listened to since my high school days, was making an appearance. This is when everything stopped at our house, and all focus went to heading out to support a favorite local record store.

Due to the impending appearance of a celebrity, there were a lot of people at the store. There were even a lot of girls and women. As anyone who semi-regularly goes to a record store knows, this is not so common.

We rarely go to record stores anymore. I eagerly joined the digital revolution. It’s convenient, it’s inexpensive, and it’s less “stuff” to clutter up my apartment and, eventually, the earth.

I know this is blasphemy to some people, those people who were pouring over the vinyl Saturday, looking for a rare find, or something new, admiring the artwork and connecting to physicality of their music. I don’t need that to enjoy my music. I can appreciate the sentiments behind it, but when I enjoy music, I’m really enjoying the music.

But it wasn’t always this way. In the late 90s, in a time before iPods, I was in college. Almost every Saturday during my freshman year a small group of my friends and I would venture out. In addition to stops at the mall and head shops and novelty shops, we frequented several record/used CD stores.

This group was almost always all female, although sometimes one or two guys might join us. A big part of our afternoon was spent at the record stores. This was before the giant re-emergence of vinyl. Some of the stores had decent vinyl selections for those hardcore collectors. Most importantly for us, they had cheap used CDs. We would pour over them, recommend bands to each other, discuss music and generally hang out.

I love both the book and the film versions of High Fidelity. I related completely to the way those guys related to music – it permeated their lives. I had elaborate organization systems for my CD collection. (Another reason I love iTunes and my iPod: almost infinite methods for organizing my music collection!) I got the music snobbery and the excitement over finding a new band to fall in love with.

But I realized that my record-store experiences did not resemble that of the boys and men, either in real life or in High Fidelity. As we were browsing the selections Saturday, and occasionally calling out to each other over the racks “Hey, do you already have To The Five Boroughs?” and similar questions, I was mulling this over. Despite the fact that my friends and I were weekly visitors to these record stores, where we usually saw the same few clerks, we never developed any type of reparte’, or even acknowledgement other than that of ‘customer’. The clerks never suggested their hip music to us. They never even derided our purchases (Silverchair? Really?)

I realized that the record store experience is very much a part of Boy Culture. It’s not a part of all boy’s culture. There are probably plenty of boys who do things other than spend hours of their time hanging out in record stores, deciding what release to pick up every week. (I do imagine that Record Store Boy Culture is very similar to Comic Book Store Boy Culture.)

This Boy Culture is one of the many venues available to boys to develop their tastes and opinions, and to exert their authority in this subject in ways that girls rarely do. While very much of Girl Culture (make up, magazines, making up an entire dance to Walk Like an Egyptian, etc.) centers around learning to perform femininity, Boy Culture is about developing an expertise.  It could be as a music connoisseur, as an athlete, as a comic collector, as a guitar player, as just about anything they develop an interest in.

This is good stuff. The kind of stuff girls should have regular access to. Had there been anything resembling a record store in my hometown (rather than, say, the KMart music department – where I did manage to score both a Who cassette and the Cure’s Disentegration, also on cassette), I might have engaged a bit in this Boy Culture. The real question is, why don’t more girls embrace Record Store Culture? Most teens and young adults I have known are into music. Quite a bit. Why wouldn’t they want to engage in discussions such as “Who is More Important: The Sex Pistols or The Clash?” Is it that girls are less interested in such important questions? Or is it that, by the time they’re old enough to hang out at record stores, they’ve already learned that the boys are the ‘experts’, not the girls? Did the (always male) clerks at the record stores I went to really not remember seeing me every Saturday for the past two months? Or did they think that I either (a) didn’t matter, because I was a girl, and therefore didn’t know what I was talking about, or (b) didn’t take music as seriously as they did and wouldn’t want to get into discussions and debates about it?

Not every woman that has seen High Fidelity has thought of her local record store, and wished the staff would try and engage her like that. But I did. And I do. The record store we went to actually had both male and female employees, and in approximately equal number. A few of the women shopping seemed to be active music collectors. Had it been a normal day, I think I might have received the kind of interaction so many boys get at record stores. It gave me hope that the landscape of record stores has shifted a bit.

Ben Folds

We made a few purchases. Sold to use by clerks sporting Devo hats, as they tried to work around the unusually long lines and general chaos. There were a few obviously regular customers trying to shop. No one seemed shocked to see so many women in a record store. Maybe, while I’ve been relying on iTunes and friends and other, um, sources, for digital music, the girls have already started embracing Record Store Culture. I hope so.  And I got to meet Ben Folds.



  1. Interesting post! And as I said over at Feministe, I agree — in many, many ways, total boy culture.

    It’s funny, though, because while I’ve read High Fidelity and watched the movie many times, I’ve always been grateful that my record store experiences haven’t been like that. Because what I remember from the movie isn’t the clerks engaging with the customers, but them being total, condescending dicks to those customers. I was actually kind of intimidated by record stores to start with precisely because of that.

    I’m sorry that you’ve been left out of the conversations and such, though. That hasn’t been my experience so far, and it’s something I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by. But while I wish that it was, I don’t kid myself that it’s the universal experience. Hell, anytime I go someplace new, I’m worried that it’s precisely the sexist snobs I’m going to finally run into.

    • To be fair, the characters in High Fidelity (for example) are kind of extreme characters. I wouldn’t necessarily want someone yelling “THERE’S NO WAY HE WOULD WANT THAT RECORD” at me.

      And, when I first ventured into record stores, I didn’t even realize the difference. It’s kind of an after-the-fact observation.

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