8 Questions with Ryan of Galaxy CDs

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Welcome to another edition of “8 Questions with…..” an ongoing interactive interview series featuring the folks who share my MySpace page. With Wendy (our beloved,sexy and wholesome publisher)’s permission I am posting these interviews just as they were posted on my MySpace page.

I love indie music stores…the smells, the hard to find CDs no one has anymore,the old concert posters, the free zines at the front door and the clerks who make Kat Von D look like a poser but upon a closer peek are floating Avengers and Germ buttons.

Back in San Jose, I used to shop a store called Streetlight Records. The first store was small but the bargain bin was always great and the store was ALWAYS busy. Streetlight then moved into a much bigger area and it really took off! In-store performances and even better prices and selections. My favorite employee was a great guy named Craig,when he was working I would come in and we start ragging each other but good. The insults about my schedule at Marsugi’s and his band playing covers at some weak Los Gatos meat market would fill the air. Customers thought we would be coming to blows and clear out…then one of us would hit a good zinger,the other guy would laugh and then we hug and catch up with each other. Try doing that in a Best Buy!

The other thing I loved was when I was hunting in the 2.99 and below section…I would score such great deals about bands I read about in Flipside or MMR. Craig would come from behind, snatch the 6-7 CDs from hand and yell “Spend some fucking money in the new section”…it always made me laugh. Many of times I can recall walking up with those 6-7 CDs and end up paying for 5,thanks to Craig. I always had zines waiting for me to pick up as well……such was life at a indie store.

Which brings me to Ryan and Galaxy CDs. I asked for a Friends Request knowing this was someone I wanted to interview very much…especially in the light of the various chains like Tower Records and many of the Detroit area indie stores closing shop. How does one stay in business and thrive in such a hostile enviroment?

So when I requested this interview,I tried hard to ask the many burning questions that I feel you should know the answers to.

Hope you enjoy!

1. How long has Galaxy CDs been in business?

Since June of 2000, made it a lot longer than I think a lot of folks thought we would. I’m a stubborn s.o.b. 😉
2. What led you to start a indy music store?

I’ve always been a huge music fan and collector, dating back to being in middle school in the late 70’s, lord I’m old. I managed a small chain of cd stores in Columbus Ohio in the late 80’s, and while the pay sucked, it was the best job I’d ever had. What more could you ask for than to work around music all day, talk about it with others, and get paid, even if it wasn’t much?

I got married and life kind of changed, I took progressively better jobs in ‘corporate’ retail, which paid great, but were just not rewarding. I finally reached a point in 2000 where I realized I had the financial ability to give owning my own business a shot, and felt that if I didn’t do it then I likely never would, so I pulled the trigger.

They say to do something for a living you’d do for free, and this is it for me. I was fortunate to some extent to live in a medium sized city that didn’t offer anything like this, so we were able to be viable immediately.
3. How can indy music stores stay in business in today’s hyper-competitive market?

Indie shops are thriving by doing a lot of things the big shops won’t. We’re a community center, we have a big comfy couch right up front where people can come in and just hang out and talk and listen to music. We carry vinyl records, something you just won’t see at the big chain stores. While we certainly aren’t big enough to compete always on price with a company that wants to offer cds at below wholesale, we do offer a much deeper selection, and carry types of music that a Best Buy or Wal Mart just won’t touch. You won’t find Behemoth or Cannibal Corpse over there for example.
4. Why should someone shop your store instead of the local Best Buy or Virgin Superstore?

Because we’re cooler than they are! I have customers all the time that say to me “I’d rather pay a dollar more here and give it to you, then add another dollar to a company like Wal Mart.”

Because, as mentioned above, we’ll offer things they won’t have. We have people in the store that actually know what the hell they’re talking about, and will help you find what your looking for. I have people call me on their cell phones from their cars to listen to a song playing on the radio they want but can’t identify, people that come in and sing to us, or people that know 1 line from a song they heard 10 years ago they want to find. We’ll do it for them, figure out what they want, and get it for them Try pulling something like that at Best Buy. They’ll look at you like you’ve got 3 heads.
5.How important are local bands/musicians to your store?

Not as important as we’d like frankly. We have probably 600 local band cds on hand accumulated over the 7 odd years we’ve been doing this, but probably don’t sell more than a handful a month. I could probably count on my two hands the number of local bands that have sold more than a dozen cds via our store.

It’s a great thing to offer, but the reality is most people coming in have no idea who or what these cds are. Most local artists sell the majority of their cds at their shows. It’s great for them to be able to say “hey, if you’d rather buy an extra beer tonight you can get our new cd at Galaxy CDS” but unfortunately it just doesn’t translate into significant sales.
6. What are the 5 greatest changes (good or bad) that you have seen since starting up?

1 and 2: I-Tunes and the I-Pod are clearly the biggest thing to hit the music business, probably since the cd. It’s changing fundamentally how people listen to and buy music. There’s always going to be a place I think for someone that wants to purchase a physical good, hell we sell a lot of vinyl which is about as retro as you can get, but there’s a segment of the population that will never again buy a cd.

3. The internet in general, which as I mentioned has had both positive and negative impacts on the music industry.

4. The consolodation of the major labels. I believe this has been a disaster for the industry, it’s severely limited the number of artists that can get signed and offered to the public in a broad way. They have become increasingly reliant on the megahit, while simultaneously failing to develop anyone who can deliver that kind of sales any longer.

5. The dominance of Clear Channel and Ticketmaster. Playlists are smaller, tighter, and more boring than ever before. Fewer artists are being offered to people via conventional media than ever. Ticketmaster and the ridiculous fees they charge have further limited people’s access to seeing live shows.

Most of that is negative I realize, but those are the things that are the root causes, to me, of the current state of the industry. They’ve made it so hard for people who’s primary exposure to music is the mass media to find new artists, that people aren’t buying music. They don’t know what to buy. Hardcore music fans are finding it themselves on the internet, and shopping at stores like ours, but the big boxes music sales and the major labels sales are clearly suffering for it.
7. Will the internet kill the music business?

Certainly not. It may kill off the major label business model, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, but music is too important to too many people’s lives to disappear. We’ve certainly seen where a phenomenon like I-Tunes has cut into the sales of major artists cds, as people just download the song they want rather than buy the cd.

But the flipside is that the internet has made it so much easier for people who want to find new music to identify bands they like. A lot of those folks come to us to get those cds. It’s a rare day when I don’t hear someone ask for a band they heard on MySpace or somewhere else online.
8. How has MySpace helped or hindered your business?

Lol, maybe I should have read ahead…I think MySpace has been a huge boon to our business. It gives me a place to communicate with our customers. It, as I said, exposes people to artists they might not have otherwise ever heard of. It gives us another avenue to be a part of the music community, and to participate with our customers.

9. What would you say if someone offered to buy Galaxy CDs from you today?

How much you got? Lol, honestly, my shop is probably too small to attract enough cash for me to retire in my 40’s, so I’d thank them for their interest, then pass. I’ve already had a ‘real’ job, I don’t have any desire to go back to one if I can avoid it.
10. What do you look for in hiring a employee to work for you?

Someone I’ve seen in my shop on a regular basis. I get people all the time that come in and ask for a job that I’ve never seen set foot in my store. Why would I hire that person when I’ve got another kid that’s been coming in here 3 times a week for years?

I look for someone that I’ve never heard say something like “rap sucks” or “metal sucks” or whatever. You may not like all types of music, but if you want to work in a record store you have to at least appreciate it and understand it. You can’t make me money running all my hip hop fans or whoever out the door by telling them what they like sucks.

Lastly I look for someone that seems trustworthy. I’m basically handing that person my future, giving them my wallet and keys and saying “here ya go man, don’t screw me”.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find people that meet all those criteria, I hope they never graduate from college.

11. What 3 artists have completely blown you away since opening your store?

I’ll put a plug in for Equal Vision Records here, they’re a small label that has yet to put out a cd I didn’t just love. They have never disappointed me with a release. That said, here’s 3 bands I’ve been diggin:

Stateless A newer band from England, kind of a mix of Coldplay and Portishead. Terrific stuff.

Isis Terrific slightly sludgy metal outfit, just love these guys.

Dear and the Headlights Killer indie pop band.
12. Why is your town cool?

Because my store is in it! Actually, it’s cool because it’s supported us over the years, and as one of the kids who comes in all the time always tells me, “I’m just here to help you live the dream man.” That they’ve done, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

To add Ryan as a friend or support a cool indie music store,go here:
www.myspace.com/galaxycds

By Michael Sullivan