909 News

Into the Grooves: A (Not So) Brief History of KC Record Stores

Above image: photo: Emily Woodring, Kansas City PBS

Records already rebounded from a near-death experience, but can they survive a pandemic?

The assignment came in January. Conceived as a Kansas City-centric primer for Record Store Day, it was pitched as little more than a declarative statement: “Vinyl is the only medium for sound that has declined and then rebounded in popularity.” Go.

Within days I found myself inside Vinyl Renaissance, an oasis in old Overland Park that can transport a middle-aged man to his youth. It’s a record store from the recesses of memory, where artists perform in-store in the afternoon before playing onstage at night. It seems small until you turn a corner and find a shotgun layout chock-a-block with bins of used albums — a cratedigger’s paradise where collectors can excavate out-of-print treasures. But, personally, I gravitate toward new pressings, and the beauty of a place like this is you never know what you’ll find. It’s a bit like jazz. Start with an idea, but be prepared to improvise.

My idea revolved around Sly and the Family Stone, but when I found nothing where “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” should have been, I turned and saw the elegant 50th anniversary edition of The Band’s second album. And then, just five feet away, a reissue of “Saxophone Colossus,” the 1956 masterpiece by Sonny Rollins. On blue vinyl. These were beautiful, tangible manifestations of music that has echoed in my mind for decades. Within a couple of hours, they had both been on my turntable.

They were still taking turns there eight days later when officials confirmed the first case of COVID-19 on American soil.

But before we grapple with our precarious future, let’s consider the pertinent past.

record cover photos courtesy of Chris Lester | Flatland

* * *

The technology, like much of Europe, had been liberated from the Nazis in 1945. Jack Mullin, an officer in the Army Signal Corps, shipped two of the German devices home, did some reverse engineering, and helped the Ampex Corporation introduce the high-fidelity tape recorder to the world in April 1948. It commenced an age in which sounds were not just captured, but constructed. Soon, tape editing and multitrack recording would empower artists to create something better than live performance, and to do it with astonishing clarity. 

It was a spoil of war that would shape the world. And that shape would take the form of a flat black circle. 

Within a year, the circle would come in two sizes. 

In June 1948, Columbia Records introduced a 12-inch disc that spun at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute and contained up to 22 minutes of music per side, far more than the previous five-minute maximum. Made from polyvinyl chloride – or, simply, vinyl – it was lighter and more durable than the shellac-based 78 RPM platters that had been standard for decades. RCA Victor followed in March 1949 with a seven-inch record that rotated at 45 RPM. Though it held less music than Columbia’s long-player, this cheaper format proved perfect for delivering a single hit song. 

Listeners began to buy multi-speed record players soon thereafter, and many had them by 1953. Good thing, too, because Frank Sinatra had just signed with Capitol Records and Elvis Presley was about to make his first visit to Sun Studios.

The Age of Vinyl had arrived.

For collectors in Kansas City, that meant frequent trips downtown. The Jenkins Music Company opened in 1878 and soon became one of America’s foremost purveyors of sheet music and musical instruments. In 1912, it built a majestic six-story building at 1217 Walnut St., and by the mid-1950s, maintained a thriving record department. One block over and one block up, Mr. Z’s Record Shop occupied prime space in the Shukert Building at 11th Street and Grand Boulevard. By the mid-1960s, Mr. Z’s stocked more than 12,000 45-RPM records and shipped orders to collectors around the country. A bit hipper than Jenkins Music, Mr. Z’s staff included a creature of this new age, the kind of super-knowledgeable, almost-famous character found in the best shops across the country. Mr. Z’s had a Record Store Guy.

His name was Ed Harvey. He came from Tulsa with an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and an utter disdain for music that failed to meet his standards. Kansas City had a few of these guys over the years – and in those days, they were almost always guys – including Harvey, Corky Carrell and Mike Webber. And at one time or another, many would wind up working for KC’s most notorious shop owner, Ben Asner.

Born in 1915, Asner had the sort of crusty charm possessed by Lou Grant, the character his kid brother Ed played on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the 1970s. That same decade, Asner’s shop Capers Corner, on Mission Road in Kansas City, Kansas, became more than a record store — it was a destination. For everything. You couldn’t go to your phone to buy music. You had to go to Capers. You couldn’t go online for tickets. You had to go to Capers. And you couldn’t go to Google to discover the best new bands. You had to go to Capers. 

In 1974, Asner’s store grossed $500,000, the equivalent of $2.6 million today. By then, the shop’s inventory included 20,000 vinyl LPs, plus a few thousand eight-track tapes and cassettes, but no 45-RPM singles. It wasn’t a place for a kid who had a dollar to spend on her favorite song. Instead, it was a hub for a burgeoning young adult culture, where serious fans could buy records, blank tapes and concert tickets. In the days before automated ticket services, the chance to snag seats to see a favorite band drove fans into Capers, and Capers responded by stocking extra records by artists whose tickets were on sale. Asner and his employees rewarded loyalty, reserving the best seats for regular customers. Membership in the community had its privileges.

Capers wasn’t alone. Those years stood as a golden age for record stores in and around Kansas City. In addition to Penny Lane, birthplace of the alternative weekly paper — The Pitch — the region boasted an array of shops, each with an evocative name and a dedicated clientele: Love Records, Recycled Sounds, Music Exchange, Streetside, Kief’s, and Banana Finch, to name but a few. The most notorious – and not in a good way – may have been Tiger’s Records on Independence Avenue, owned by local mob figure Anthony “Tiger” Cardarella, who was found murdered in the trunk of a car in 1984.

As the ‘70s gave way to the ‘80s, though, the curtain came down on the era — imperceptibly at first, and then with a final, emphatic thud — courtesy of cassettes, chain stores and, fatally, compact discs. 

Records had gravity. They tied you to a place. Cassettes cut the cord and granted freedom in the form of car stereos and boomboxes, allowing listeners to cruise the streets and strut the sidewalks with their own personal soundtracks. Then in the early 1980s came the Sony Walkman, a portable player with headphones, which let you listen while doing anything, from mowing the lawn to browsing the library.

By 1984, cassettes were outselling vinyl LPs, and the gap widened through the remainder of a decade defined in no small part by the rise of the shopping mall. The new mecca of consumerism doubled as the social hub for millions of teens — where kids bought clothes, saw movies, and purchased music from retail chains like Sam Goody, Musicland and Camelot Records. Children by the millions descended on these stores, buying a little vinyl and a lot of cassettes. They also were growing fond of a new format that would effectively eradicate vinyl LPs: the compact disc. 

Introduced in 1983, it promised many things and delivered on most. CDs were more durable than vinyl, and the playback was almost always true, devoid of the skips and pops present on all but the most well-cared-for LPs. The sound was also clean, clear and bright on any sound system, regardless of price. And, like cassettes, CDs could be played in cars, boomboxes and the Walkman, but with higher quality and better functionality, including the ability to skip or repeat any track with just a touch. They required less shelf space than LPs and ignited the most profitable era in the history of the music business as consumers built new libraries, often buying the same albums that they had already purchased on vinyl. 

By 1993, the vinyl LP appeared to have perished, and slowly, record stores followed. A handful of shops persisted for as long as they could. One such spot in Kansas City was Recycled Sounds, where owners Anne Winter and Kurt von Schlemmer stood as a bulwark for the local scene, rigorously supporting independent artists and upholding a tradition of record store culture until succumbing to economic reality in the first decade of the new century (Winter’s untimely death in 2009 still resonates in KC’s tight-knit music community). 

But as the old shops vanished, something surprising happened. After more than a decade in hibernation, the old format exhibited a faint pulse in 2006, and that heartbeat has steadily strengthened with each passing year. While vinyl was sleeping, the CD’s dominance was challenged and then defeated by digital downloads, which, in turn, have been dwarfed by streaming. Streaming services now own 80% of the music market, and there’s no reason to believe that they will be threatened by physical formats anytime soon. But new vinyl – which possessed a 0.1% market share in 2005 – has posted increases for 15 straight years, and in 2019 accounted for 4.5% of recording business revenues. That might not seem like much until you consider that it represents $500 million dollars. In addition, the number of used records purchased annually, though somewhat difficult to trace, is believed to exceed the number of new LPs sold.

So, what’s going on?

On some level, it’s about sound. Opinions vary on whether vinyl sounds better, but it certainly sounds different. To my ear, the effect is richer and more dynamic, especially kind to bass and drums. A good rhythm section can make the needle seem to bounce in the groove. A consensus among vinyl lovers is that it sounds “warmer” than other formats, a description that will do when other words fail. So, yes, it sounds good.

But it goes beyond sound. Vinyl implicates other senses as well, including the sense of self. 

As someone who started buying records again in 2012, I have my own thoughts about why that is, but I wanted to hear from others. So I talked to the owners or managers of three local record stores, plus an 18-year-old college student who has been collecting since she was 12. When it comes to the causes of the vinyl renaissance, motivations vary from buyer to buyer, but themes emerge.

* * *

Marion Merritt’s place fuses experience and imagination with a touch of nostalgia. As a kid in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Merritt frequented small corner record shops, like the one where she bought her first album, Carole King’s “Tapestry.” As an adult in Kansas City, she spent nearly two decades working in the music department of the massive Barnes & Noble store on the Country Club Plaza, where she learned the business, including the mechanics of distribution. Then, in 2013, when she considered opening a shop of her own, she researched stores from around the world to find small touches that would help perfect her idea. 

“I spent a lot of time planning it,” she says. “I got the idea for the bins on wheels from a store in London.”

The result is Records With Merritt, a modern manifestation of the vintage corner shop. Just east of the state line on Westport Road, the modest facade belies the store’s carefully considered interior. Bins on both sides of the narrow shop are organized by genre, and within those sections, the records are roughly alphabetical, meaning that if you’re looking for an album by the Clientele (it’s there, I saw it), it will be in the C section, but it might not be between the Clash and Coldplay. Instead it might be cozied up next to The Cars or The Cure. Though the motivation is to create a casual vibe that runs counter to the every-hair-in-its-place perfectionism of Merritt’s experience at Barnes & Noble, the effect is to encourage flipping through records, often resulting in discovery. If you have to put a little extra effort into searching for something specific, you might also find something surprising. I spot Ella Fitzgerald’s face at the front of a bin in the jazz F section, and within two flips I’m holding her recording of classics from the Rodgers and Hart songbook. From there, it’s a short reach to the H section, where a pristine copy of Herbie Hancock’s “Headhunters” awaits a good home. And just above, on a wall covered with new releases, is the latest from the James Hunter Six. All three will be leaving with me.

Like all of the records in the shop, these are new pressings. From the moment she opened, Merritt has stocked only new vinyl. “Everybody told us ‘you’re going to need to have a used bin,’” she says, “but it’s never affected the way we’ve done our business model. It also helps us with other stores because Chris LeBeau [at Josey Records] or somebody from Mills [Record Company] or Brothers [Music] will call us up for a new title, and we send people to them for their used titles.” Contrary to the cutthroat image of much of late-stage capitalism, these competitors collaborate.

Like Merritt, Judy Mills intended to stock only new vinyl when she opened her shop in 2013. She was motivated by her own interests as a consumer. A retail veteran who had managed a local Restoration Hardware store, Mills bought records as a kid at the K-Mart in her hometown of Osage City, Kansas, before settling in KC as an adult. She began to buy vinyl again about 10 years ago, especially when visiting other cities. In 2011, she entered a local shop and asked for the new Bon Iver album. “They kind of scoffed at me,” she says, “like ‘why would we have that?’ and I realized that you couldn’t buy new releases on vinyl anywhere in town. I felt like there had to be people who would be interested in that.”

Though vinyl had already seen an uptick in sales by 2013, it had yet to experience a true resurgence. Still, Mills saw the signs. “Other cities had it,” she says. “Urban Outfitters started having it.” But one peculiar observation assured her that the time was right to open a store — “I started seeing [record cabinets] being sold in Crate and Barrel.” 

When Mills Record Company opened in a small space in Westport, modest expectations were upended immediately by a robust stream of customers that compelled the fledgling entrepreneur to hire help. Though she began with a vision, Mills was willing to improvise, and she allowed her new clientele to guide the store’s evolution. “The community wanted used records in here,” she says. “They kept bringing us records — great records. I’m like, ‘how can I turn these down?’”

Within a couple of years, she had knocked down a wall and expanded, and a couple of years after that, Mills Record Company grew again, moving around the corner into a handsome space with a mammoth inventory. The ratio is now about 40% new records to 60% used.

One feature of the space is the “staff picks” bin, where employees stock their own personal favorites, complete with commentary on why you should love them, too. There I spot the 180-gram reissue of Everything But The Girl’s album “Walking Wounded.” An attached note says, “Were you alive in 1996? Then you might have missed this excellent downtempo-pop-electronic-ish LP. Ben Watt & Tracey Thorn are a perfect team. If you’re a fan of well-constructed songs, nice beats, perfect lyrics, you’ll like this record – Judy.”

I was alive in 1996. I did not miss this LP. I bought it on CD the week it came out, and now I’m buying it again on vinyl, along with the Drive-By Truckers album that beckons from a shelf of new releases. When a kid visits a candy store, he’s bound to leave with some sweets.

While Mills Record Company and Records With Merritt project a vintage vibe, 7th Heaven – in business since the mid-1970s – is vintage to its core, from the space it occupies to the stock it sells.

But for a display touting the new Tame Impala album, you might believe that you’ve slipped through a portal to 1976, minus the cigarette smoke. For other types of smoke, there’s a room dedicated to accoutrements for lighting the way to an elevated state, while another area features implements designed to enhance the pleasures of physical intimacy.

But in the space called the Vinyl Underground, there’s nothing but records and accessories for playing them. Sherman Breneman, the manager, has been selling music since the late 1980s. He notes that the shop stocks about 1,200 pieces of new vinyl, but probably 10,000 used records. “We sell 10 times more used than we do new,” he says. Most used record buyers are looking to build libraries on the cheap, but some are collectors prospecting for treasured vintage pressings. “There’s literally people who come in on their lunch break every single day and go through our new arrivals.”

He mentions the customer who visits weekly to search for rarities to add to his collection of more than 1,000 Elvis Presley LPs. Breneman shakes his head, as if that’s an intensity of dedication that he can’t quite fathom. But then he lets slip that he once owned 125 copies of “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” his favorite album. In his mind this makes perfect sense because of the many permutations of that release. “I wanted all eight different variations of the cover,” Breneman says. He also wanted them all in both mono and stereo, and with each of the three back covers that were produced. Then there are East Coast pressings, West Coast pressings and promo pressings — all with the iconic banana on the cover. He realizes what this must sound like to a man who has made do with a single copy of the album (on compact disc, no less), purchased 30 years ago. “Maybe I do have a little of the disease,” he says.

Whether it’s a disease or merely a passion, Breneman, Mills and Merritt share a deep affection for music on vinyl and some common insights into reasons for its resurgence. One involves the very act of playing a record. 

We treat things we value with respect. We prepare the table for dinner parties. We write notes of sympathy and congratulation. We methodically craft cocktails, from the dash of bitters to the twist of orange. 

Streaming is casual. Records demand ceremony.

Breneman calls it The Ritual.

Pull the sleeve from the cover. Pull the record from the sleeve. Put the record on the turntable. Clean the surface. Drop the needle. Play the music. Devote 20 minutes. Flip the record. Do it again.

In an age in which everything is available all the time, and often with a mere voice command, we can pinball from song to song without digesting what we hear. Vinyl “makes us slow down and listen,” Merritt says. “We listen to side one, track one to the end. We flip it over and listen to side two. We might not like side two. But we’ve given it a chance.” 

Mills agrees, and goes further, explaining that each individual copy of a record can give a different and meaningful experience. Listening to vinyl “forces you to be in the moment,” she says. “You pick it out, you put it on. Your record skips on a certain song, so that has a certain meaning to you. That artifact affects how you hear and experience that music.”

That experience, all three say, has been enhanced by new technology. Before streaming and file sharing, you had to own physical media to enjoy music. And, because you couldn’t sample a song on the internet, you might buy it just to try it, meaning that many libraries are littered with albums that lost their appeal after just a few spins. Now, streaming works hand-in-hand with record-buying, and the result is carefully crafted collections.

For record buyers, streaming is about discovery. Vinyl is about commitment.

“A lot of our customers are saying ‘I want to listen to this fully before I commit $29 to it,’” Merritt reports. That commitment gets to the heart of vinyl’s resurgence. “If you love it,” Mills says simply, “you buy it on vinyl.”

And that’s because owning records is, in part at least, an expression of identity. “Just like books that you care about,” Breneman says, “that you’ve bought and you keep.”

To be surrounded by records is to tell a story about one’s self. When an acquaintance or prospective mate browses a collection, they glean something about the owner’s personality. The complete catalog of Megadeth means one thing. A cache of Mendelssohn means another. A mixture of both means some perplexing third thing. No matter the titles of the individual records, when added together, they say something about the collector’s identity.

That sense of identity is reinforced by vinyl’s broad sensory appeal. In addition to rich sound, records provide a tactile, visual and even olfactory experience. A whiff of a new piece of vinyl, fresh from the sleeve, can itself transport you to a certain headspace. No one ever smelled their Spotify account.

The same is true of an album’s cover, Mills says. “It’s an art piece in and of itself.”

Merritt agrees. “People are starting to enjoy the artwork again.” She also notes that records, like children, create attachment because they require care. “People want something tangible,” she says. “You’ll find people who have had albums since 1963 that look just like [new] because they take care of them.” 

The commitment to caring for items infused with personal identity speaks to a need that has proven elusive in a world of increasingly ephemeral experiences: the desire for permanence. 

It’s this desire, all three assure me, that explains a peculiar fact about modern vinyl sales: The most popular records tend to be old. Of the 10 best-selling vinyl LPs in 2019, only Billie Eilish’s “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” was new. The Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” first released a half-century ago, topped a list dominated by the likes of Pink Floyd, Queen, Michael Jackson and Fleetwood Mac. When I hypothesize that the vinyl resurgence is being fueled by guys like me who are snagging lifelong favorites, all three push back.

Breneman says that most of the customers buying those albums “are not guys like us.” Rather, he observes, they’re young people collecting music that they’ve known their whole lives. For her part, Mills says that she sees lots of young people who have gotten their first turntable and are starting from scratch. “They’re just building a collection,” she says. “It’s stuff they listen to and love.” Merritt agrees: “Young kids will always buy Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and Hendrix.”

Still skeptical, I turn to an actual young person for confirmation. Annie Buckles is an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Kansas, where she studies graphic design. She received a suitcase-style turntable for her 12th birthday, and has been amassing records ever since. Though she possesses plenty of LPs indicative of her age – Tyler the Creator, Brockhampton, Lana Del Rey – Annie’s affinities run randomly through the past five decades. Perhaps her generation’s preeminent fan of the Thompson Twins, she is now several years into what she calls her “new wave phase.” But one of her deepest interests goes even further back in time. She and her friends have a healthy appetite for classic rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s, including The Doors and Grateful Dead, not to mention the band still topping charts today. “Everyone likes The Beatles,” she says.

* * *

Just as the experience of listening to vinyl is different than streaming, so is the experience of acquiring the music. Finding music on your phone is immeasurably easier than shopping at a local store. So is the two-click purchasing experience with The Major Internet Retailer that ships records straight to your door. So why would anyone want to schlep out to a record store?

The answer, in part, is community. After the hard swing toward the convenience of streaming, some listeners are feeling the gentle pull toward a welcoming space, full of people with common interests. It involves “setting a mood,” Mills says. “If you create a great atmosphere, and if you can give great service, and give people a reason to get out of their house, drive, find a parking space — all when it’s a lot easier to stay at home — they’ll come out.”

Merritt agrees, and when I visit her early on a Sunday afternoon, there remains a bit of evidence from when she set out some libations and invited customers to hang out on a friendly Friday night. “We’ve got different people having different conversations,” she says. “Some of it is about music, a little is about politics. Then we all get together and talk about something else. I learn so much from my customers.”

The customers, in turn, learn from the people at the shops. There’s a scene in “High Fidelity” in which John Cusack’s character Rob Gordon, a record store owner, whispers to an employee, “I will now sell five copies of ‘The Three E.P.s’ by The Beta Band.” He puts on the album. Heads begin to bob. A customer asks, “Who is that?” Rob replies: “The Beta Band.” The man says “It’s good,” to which Rob, self-satisfied, responds, “I know.” 

It could have been a documentary. “We sell records off the turntable all day long,” Breneman says. “If I see a customer walk in, and I know he likes jazz, and I know there’s a new jazz release that’s awesome, I’m gonna put that on immediately.”

“Being able to talk to people and make suggestions is super important,” Mills says. “Putting records in people’s hands and saying, ‘I think you’ll like this record and here’s why.’” 

Merritt says that the converse is also true: customers help her decide what to stock. “Three to four hundred vinyl titles come out a week,” she says. “My customers help me pare it down. I say to myself that [a specific customer] is going to want this, so I order it.”

While at 7th Heaven, I browse the bins and grab a copy of “Indestructible,” the 1965 hard bop masterpiece by Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. Breneman sees this and points to a recent release by the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio. I don’t know them, I confess. “The guitarist is one of the most amazing I’ve seen,” he says. “No pedals. Just plugs into the amp and plays.” The sticker describes the music as “funky organ soul jazz,” and compares the group to Booker T. & the M.G.’s. I say that I dig Booker T. and also the great jazz organist Jimmy Smith, who cut a series of classic sides for Blue Note decades ago.

“Oh,” Breneman says, “you’ll love this.”

Sold.

* * *

These interviews occur over two weeks in late February and early March. During that span, there emerges a foreboding sense that something is about to happen — and then it does. In the third week of March, every day – every hour – brings a change in daily life. Schools close. Businesses shut down. Governments ban groups of more than 10 from congregating. People scramble to adapt. Mills Record Company closes its doors but takes orders by phone and shuttles records to customers who pull up to the curb. Buying records becomes an act of civic engagement, an effort to preserve treasured institutions. Determined to do my part, on Saturday, March 21, I call and order three albums. Two aren’t in stock, but after an email to the distributor, all three should be available for pickup on Wednesday.

An hour later comes an order that effectively shuts Kansas City down for 30 days.

The shop sends my records by mail. One is by African music legends Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela. It is called “Rejoice.” The title transcends irony. It feels more like a taunt. Masekela died before the album was completed, and Allen followed on April 30, succumbing to an aortic aneurysm. In this catastrophic spring, even things that spark joy carry ominous weight. 

That includes the timing of Record Store Day, a happening held annually since 2008. I have long heard that the event is like Black Friday to independent shops, the day that makes their year. Mills confirms as much. “I wouldn’t be this size without it,” she says. 

To no one’s surprise, it’s announced that Record Store Day will be delayed from April 18 to June 20. It’s later announced that the date will be pushed further and broken into three smaller events on Aug. 29, Sept. 26 and Oct. 24. In the past, a shop owner might say that she can’t wait for Record Store Day. This year, she might mean it literally.

What began as a story about resurgence has turned into a question of survival. Vinyl will remain, for sure, as long as internet retailers can ship it from warehouses to your door. But what of our small communal spaces, the shops where people of shared sonic values find the records they didn’t know they needed?

It turns out that community itself may be the thing that saves them. Even during the uncertain days of March and April, customers rally around the shops, ordering records for delivery by mail. And when physical spaces open back up in May, customers return, though it’s not in the same numbers as before at all the shops. Still, combined with curbside pickups and mail orders, it’s enough to sustain them for now. “The community is definitely trying to shop local,” Mills says.

Things are different, of course. Because community is at the heart of these places, care is taken to protect employees and customers, and is even rigidly enforced against the occasional contrarian who refuses to follow common sense rules. There are masks, gloves, hand sanitizer.

For some, there is even more abundant caution. Ann Stewart, Marion Merritt’s life and business partner, is the face of Records With Merritt for the moment. Merritt falls within some higher-risk categories, and there’s no point in taking chances. Ann, who assures that Merritt is “doing great,” exudes gratitude for the community of customers who flocked to the store when it reopened in May, and did so safely and responsibly. It “was like gangbusters,” she says.

Sherman Breneman says his customers possessed the same sort of pent-up energy. “People were champing at the bit to dig through records.”

Still, no one pretends that it’s the same as it was. Social distancing and masks make it harder to communicate with customers and provide the sort of service that is the hallmark of these shops. “We pride ourselves on helping people discover new music,” Judy Mills says, but when the store was closed, that became more difficult. So now they improvise, using the virtual world to augment the physical — through video messages and social media posts that highlight new releases. “We try to make our Instagram informative,” she says, “because we still want to help people connect with new music, especially at a time when they really need it.”

So I open the app and see that there’s a new album by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, the terrific Australian band whose previous release was my favorite of 2018. Not only is it in stock, but there’s a special edition that includes a collectible poster. It’s an awfully pretty package.

How can I resist?

Michael Atchison is the host of Revival, on Sundays at 10 a.m. He is the author of three books, including the novel Mellow Submarine, which Publishers Weekly calls “a fast-paced delight.” He's on Twitter at @MichaelAtchison.

Related article

Funding Drive Banner