Pay phones. Blockbuster Video. And now, the compact disc selling behemoth, HMV. His Master’s Voice succumbed to the mighty Internet and announced this past month it will be shutting its doors countrywide. HMV alumni Nick Lamberink, 32, who worked with the store from 2005 to 2010, recalls a particular moment when the decline of HMV was imminent.
“I remember going to a manager meeting where they said, ‘So X-number of years ago, audio was 80 percent of our sales and now its 30 percent of our sales. We need to figure out what we are doing,’” Lamberink explains. “That was when it became no holds barred.”
This marked the period when HMV began dabbling in the video game market, scaled back their CD selection, loaded up on DVDs and began selling everything from graphic novels to Sons of Anarchy pillowcases.
The transition did not register with customers, nor did it stimulate the cash register.
It is reported in the Toronto Sun that HMV was losing $100,000 a day in sales. Yet out from the ashes emerged a potential saviour, Sunrise Records. Sunrise will overtake 70 of the HMV stores countrywide, with the intentions to heavily push vinyl records along with the continuation of CD availability.
Music guru/Canadian radio host Alan Cross believes HMV missed the mark by jumping into the vinyl game too late and if Sunrise has the right formula for success, they better find it quick. HMV was known for having properties in sought-after corners of downtown cores, and with the massive rise in downloadable music in such a rapid span, one couldn’t actually call the mass HMV grave burial a surprise.
“With so many stores and so many high rents, it was just a matter of time before the reaper came calling,” Cross says.
He points out that 12 million albums were sold in Canada last year, which he called ‘not insignificant.’ What is significant is the way individuals choose to experience music and entertainment.
“The reason MTV and MuchMusic don’t show music videos anymore is because nobody cares. You can now sit down in front of YouTube and watch whatever you want—there is no longer a generation waiting for their favourite video to come on,” Cross explains. “Every single individual can customize their entertainment consumption in a way that was never possible.”
What will undeniably be lost is the music junkie culture that encompassed HMV buyers and especially HMV staff. Lamberink compared working during the HMV golden era to getting a job at Empire Records.
“To get a job there was like a fuckin’ dream. Everyone knew what they were talking about. It was all about just getting lost and searching and learning about music.”
The particular store that really pierced his imagination, along with the rest of the city, was the HMV in West Edmonton Mall.
“It made you feel that much closer to the real, big American scene,” Lamberink says. “It made you kind of think, ‘that band might come to Edmonton one day, but for now at least I can get their CD at HMV.’”
Our Lady Peace’s classic album Clumsy came out when Liam Killeen was in Grade 9. He remembers this day vividly because his mother wrote him a note allowing him to miss the first period of class, take the train down to Younge Street and be one of the first people to purchase a physical copy at the downtown Toronto HMV. He proudly showed off the album at lunchtime, as other students gawked at what would become an iconic 90s album.
Killeen, now a university professor and band manager of rock group USS, believes there will still be consumers that crave the physical product. What has changed is the number of methods there are to now reach fans in every nook of the world.
“There will always be those people that consume music by going to a physical location,” Killeen explains. “But I have had a lot more success selling albums online because I can bundle it with concert tickets and VIP experiences. I am thankful that there is a larger audience that can now access music in rural areas or in cities that are not as dedicated to going down to a store, but are still showing their support in other ways.”
He will cherish his OLP moment forever. But he refuses to discount future memories for the current generation’s musical experience or to suggest we as a culture have abandoned our societal love for music.
“People remember where they heard a song for the first time, but this particular memory of how we consume music and how we purchased it—it is changing. It’s not necessarily desertion—it’s evolution.”