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On the Record

Record stores remain relevant and successful through a variety of creative efforts.

OKC’s Guestroom Records offers a variety of listening events and deals to entice new customers. Photo courtesy Guestroom Records.

The world of music is dynamic. And although streaming apps like Spotify and Apple Music dominate the market, the physical side is still alive and well through a multitude of record stores. Once thought to be a dying breed, the record industry is booming –much more than you’d expect. 

 “They kind of did die, but are definitely back in a big way,” says John Gabriel, store manager at Josey Records in Tulsa. “It’s something physical they can hold in their hands, but also, music on vinyl is going to sound much better than on a streaming service, and I think people are realizing that.” 

The actual sound of a record is a big selling point, but there are plenty of other reasons people want to buy physical copies. 

“Many love the thrill of the hunt, digging through dust bins in record stores and antique stores,” says Justin Sowers, owner of Guestroom Records in Oklahoma City. “Many enjoy the ritual of picking out a record, playing it and getting up and flipping it. They see the record as a sign of fandom.” 

But just because records are gaining in popularity again doesn’t mean shops can sit idle waiting for customers to come. Community events, enticing discounts and an entertaining online presence are just a few of the ways these entities bring in the buyers. 

“We try to stay active on social media, keeping people up to date on new releases,” says Gabriel. “We have listening events for new releases before they are available, even on streaming platforms.” 

Sowers curates a welcoming atmosphere at his shop, he says.

“Our record store tries to create a community space, where occasional in-store performances, listening parties and giveaways happen,” he says. 

Owning vinyl also comes with some benefits you won’t get with streaming. 

“Records do not go bad. Artists cannot decide to remove their music from your record collection. If you have that record, it’s yours,” says Sowers. 

In fact, many streaming platforms have lost rights to certain artists or had them remove their music for a variety of reasons just recently. But with a physical ownership, much like films and television, it’s yours forever. 

“And if you do get tired of something, you can bring it back in for trade or credit for something else,” says Gabriel. 

Having a rare record come through the shop is always a fun and exhilarating part of the job. 

“When dealing and buying from the public, literally anything could walk through the door on any given day, that’s the thrill,” says Sowers. Both stores will do their best to give as fair of a deal as possible on a trade of sale. 

“Even with modern records, there are so many color variants and such, we’re often surprised how rare something is once we look it up,” says Gabriel. 

Vinyl ownership and the importance of physical media haven’t been this prevalent in decades. 

“I think that’s a big part of our current success,” says Gabriel. “People want to have more of a physical connection to the music.”

Sowers understands this, too. 

“Vinyl culture is primarily about the music, of course, but the hunt for the object itself is part of the allure.”