Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Keep on Turning

By Kyle Jarvis, The Keene Sentinel, N.H.

Aug. 28--In the midst of the digital music revolution, one local record shop remains a stalwart in Keene.

Over the years, Keene has seen its share of music stores. From Strawberry's to Coconuts to fye; it seems every major music chain has given it a go here at one time or another.

But one store continues to buck the trend.

Turn It Up opened its first store in Northhampton, Mass., in 1995, and followed with a store in Keene just a year and a half later.

Owner Patrick Pezzati soon discovered he'd tapped into a demand not yet met in the city at that time.

"We found that Keene has a lot of local musicians and people who aren't only interested in the top 40," he said. "You can go to a lot of towns comparable in size and not find the music scene Keene has, despite there not being a lot of venues."

The impact on the community hasn't gone unnoticed.

"Having an entity like Turn It Up is very important in the development of a vibrant local music scene," said Aaron Wiederspahn, co-founder and executive director of The Starving Artist on West Street. "Stores like that are all about the artist and the music. We love them, it's great having them around."

As a sponsor of the 10th annual Keene Music Festival next month, Turn It Up will be on location, selling albums by the concert's performers.

"We don't make anything off of what we sell at the festival," Pezzati said.

In day-to-day operations, however, the store has modeled itself as an alternative to the industry standard.

"We don't want to sell anything at full price," said Pezzati. "We try to cap out at $10 (for a single CD)."

That gives Turn It Up an advantage in the market.

"That's one of the main reasons people turned to downloading," Pezzati said. "They got tired of paying $18 to $20 for a CD. Why pay that much when you can buy recordable CDs for much cheaper? When the consumer feels overcharged, eventually they stop buying."

Despite a lagging economy, Pezzati said his store can actually benefit from difficult times.

"When people are struggling they look to save money, but they always want to be entertained," he said. "So instead of going and buying a $50 video game, they come here and buy a $5 CD or DVD."

Tougher economic times also means more people coming into the store to sell their CDs and DVDs, which results in a larger and higher quality selection, which brings in a continuous stream of customers who know they're getting the best bang for their buck.

"The price is probably the biggest factor," said customer Jim D. Trippodi, 37, of Keene. "Used albums are a lot cheaper than new ones, and they've got a lot of different stuff here."

And even though the Keene store took a hit when Pezzati opened a third store in Brattleboro seven years ago, he wouldn't trade his Keene location for anything.

"It's probably my favorite store of the three," he said. "It's a beautiful town. It's got one of the most beautiful downtowns in all of New England."

The 700-square-foot store in the basement next to the Colonial Theater typically maintains about six employees; two full-time and four part-time, Pezzati said.

"We've had great managers and great staff," said Pezzati. "I leave most of the decisions and details to them, and for the most part they've done a great job. I've had four managers in 13 years, and I've had some come back to work part-time."

Pezzati said he aims to hire staff who are knowledgeable about music.

"We're all very interested in music and the culture of music," said Chuck T. Vecchione, an assistant manager at Turn It Up. "I think that's really important for a music store in any area."

Vecchione believes there still are plenty of fans who prefer their music "in a solid, tangible format. "You're very connected to an actual record (as opposed to a digital download)," he said.

Pezzati agrees.

"You can't really collect MP3s," he said.

There's no question record sales have dropped sharply in recent years.

In a Billboard article this month, Keith Caulfield reported overall album sales for the week ending Aug. 15, totaled 4.95 million, "marking the lowest weekly sales figure since Nielsen Soundscan began tracking sales in 1991."

It was only the second time weekly album sales came in at under 5 million, the first time being the final week of May of this year, Caulfield said.

We haven't reached the point where we should write the industry's obituary, but there's been a clear shift in how and where the highest quality material is made, Vecchione said.

"I don't think music's dead quite yet," he said. "But the evolution of pop music being about instant financial gain, rather than developing someone into an artist, has hurt the industry.

"The dynamic has switched from major labels putting out great albums to independent labels and individuals putting out great albums," said Vecchione.

Unsettling sales statistics aside, Turn It Up maintains a stable corner of the market.

"We probably sell about 1,000 units a week," said Pezzati, who wasn't sure how much the store nets annually. "That's been pretty steady right along."

One way Turn It Up is able to accommodate serious music collectors is through its impressive vinyl collection.

"CDs used to be about 95 percent of all our sales," Pezzati said. "But now, vinyl accounts for 10 to 15 percent. I'd say our vinyl sales have tripled in the last four to five years.

"We get a lot of deejays in here looking for vinyl," he said. "Some deejays use an IPOD and a laptop and they're fine with that. But others want to be able to manipulate their medium."

For Keene native and deejay/producer Shalem Bencivenga, better known in the world of independent hip hop as DJ Shalem B, having a store like Turn It Up is invaluable.

"It's really been crucial to my career," said Bencivenga, 34. "I can't tell you how many hours I've spent in Turn It Up listening to records."

In addition to being a successful solo artist, Bencivenga has worked with some of the more notable names in "underground" hip hop, including rapper Sage Francis of Providence, R.I., and fellow Keene native and rapper Adeem (pronounced A-D-M), who, along with rapper Adverse, form the trio The Dorian Three.

"Vinyl is obviously important to me personally," he said. "I've bought hundreds of records there, and a lot of it ended up in my material."

The support he's received as an artist has been just as significant as the availability of quality vinyl, Bencivenga said.

"They've really supported everything I've ever done," he said. "I've sold hundreds of albums there over the years. It's kind of a no-brainer that whenever I have a new project that I'll be selling it there."

And although he, like so many artists, has noticed a drop in sales, Bencivenga plans to maintain the relationship.

"They buy my material on consignment and the artist gets the bulk of the money," he said. "It kind of becomes a storefront for the artist, which is great because I wouldn't have that exposure otherwise."

Copyright (c) 2010, The Keene Sentinel, N.H.  

Reprinted By Permission

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