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DAN HEARD: Music-shop Staff

Sounding Off By Dan Heard
Published July 2000

DAN HEARD: Music-shop Staff

Dan Heard wonders why music‑shop staff's desire to take your cash isn't matched by a similar willingness to deal with your needs as a musician...

I'm not old enough to remember the good old days. But from what I've heard, I'm sure things were a lot better then. Days when songs sold millions on the strength of their tunes rather than of the well‑toned young men singing them. Days when not even the Eurovision winners needed the help of a little black box to make them sing in tune. A time when well‑informed music‑shop staff spent as long as it took to ensure that the customer got the right instrument for his or her needs, at a price that was acceptable to both parties. Ahh yes, those were the days...

As a musician who learnt his trade in the heady, guitar‑wielding, shoe‑gazing mid‑'90s, my experience of music shops does not have such a rosy hue. Well do I remember my first tentative steps on the road to becoming a guitar hero. What fond memories they are — mainly of the sniggers from shop staff as I blushingly groped for a C chord, whilst a scary man, replete with red goatee beard, indulged himself in some pseudo‑Van Halen fret‑tapping next to me! Thankfully these early trials didn't dissuade me from taking up music as a serious hobby. They did set me wondering, though, and the question still remains with me today — do music shops actually want to take our money?

It wasn't until I, too, had joined the ranks of the fret‑tapping fraternity (although, I might add, without the crimson facial fluff) that I felt suitably prepared to venture into music shops once more. By that time I had eschewed my native Wiltshire for the bright lights of London and left behind my belief that guitar music was Good and electronic music was simply the sound of the devil's doorbell. What I brought with me was the naïve idea that the hallowed tarmac of Denmark Street might offer a more conducive shopping environment than Turnip Music back home. With this dizzy notion in my head, and a student loan in my pocket, I ventured forth to buy a synth.

The shops on Denmark Street, and their overflow on Charing Cross Road, have an atmosphere quite unlike any other. It's like all the other shops fused together into one super‑dense muso hell. The fret‑tapping is still present and correct, but it is joined by ill‑fed techno‑youths interacting with buttons and lights, ubiquitous claims that "Noel was in here yesterday" (a favourite one that) and year‑round 'sale' stickers.

I had done plenty of research using Sound On Sound, and was sure that the best synth in my price range was the Korg N5. The shop assistants had other ideas. "We don't stock it because it's not very good," sneered one. "Do you want real‑time controllers? Do you need multi outs? What about VL, PCM or S/PDIF?" demanded another. It was not until later that I was able to translate these as "We don't stock it because it's not very expensive," and "I'm busy and am going to scare you away with jargon." At the time, however, I thought "I just want to be able to play music on it," and headed forlornly home to practise my sweep‑picked arpeggios.

A couple of years passed, guitar music went AWOL, and the time came when I felt those student loans burning a hole in my pocket once more. Scouring SOS again, I decided that a Trinity was now the machine for me. "Perhaps," I thought, "my bad experiences have been due to my modest budget. Now I am in the market for something a little more professional. Surely I won't be treated like a minor annoyance in the otherwise blissful existence of the music shop assistant." The innocence of youth, eh? You know the story, of course — lies ("We can get one, but it'll take four weeks"), damn lies ("You can't buy the Trinity anymore, it was discontinued three years ago") and, well, even bigger porkies actually ("Nah mate, I just sold the last one in England five minutes ago"). In case you're wondering, all these are genuine quotes, the last one being from a very big retailer indeed, who should've known better.

Nonetheless, I was determined to get my hands on a Trinity, and eventually found a shop which was willing to sell one to me. How very kind. When I finally got my space‑age acquisition home, and after having returned to said establishment to remind them that it is customary for disks and manuals to be included with the synth, I discovered that a little plastic cap for one of the sliders was missing. I registered this oversight with the retailer, who, to my astonishment (note how innocence has given way to cynicism!), vowed to despatch it straight away. I can only surmise that the immense weight of the item, placing a huge burden on the postal service, was the reason that it took six weeks to arrive...

I asked the question of whether music shops want to take our money. Of course they do. They want it bad. You walk into the shop and the assistant mentally undresses your wallet. The problem is, they don't have a clue about how to get at it. Many of them can't understand why the customers would rather go to a shop where they will get personal advice and assistance even if, horror of horrors, they have to pay a little bit more money. It's sad to say, but the day will come when I will pop down to Tesco's to buy a compressor, safe in the knowledge that it'll be in stock and fully working. I might even get a smile from the checkout operator on my way out...

About The Author

Dan goes under the stage name THEinfamousDH. He's 21 and just about to graduate from University College London. He took up guitar in 1995, and formed an indie band called The Special Guests. He has just finished his Bad Comma EP, a collection of dance tracks blending trip‑hop, drum and bass, and his very own 'dope house'. He's got a small bedroom studio based around a PC running Cakewalk, a Korg Trinity, a Korg N5 and a Yamaha SU700. He likes Buddy Holly, The Pogues, DJ Cam, Asian Dub Foundation, crisps and cake. He is also the enviable winner of our recent Drawmer Masterflow competition.

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