For some people, their opinion on those who work in record stores might be informed by John Cusack’s caricature version of a record storeowner in the 2000 film High Fidelity. However, this uppity, uninterested, know it all character is usually pretty far from the truth. Matt Huddy owns Sydney’s Red Eye Records and has seen plenty of change in his time at the helm, from the days of the digital revolution right through to the current vinyl resurgence.
"When I started Red Eye, it was predominantly CDs,” says Huddy. “We did have a vinyl section that we never actually got rid of, but seeing the vinyl resurgence, which really started for us about 10 years ago, we had to add a second rack and then a third rack. Our last store was a two-story building, and we had to have vinyl racks going up the stairs because we had no more room for them. The change from going to having 200 LPs in the shop to what we have now – which is hundreds and hundreds – is great. I’m a massive vinyl fan. I love CDs too, [but] it’s good to see the bigger format, the beautiful artwork [on records].”
It appears he isn’t the only vinyl fan though, with the format’s newfound popularity resulting in a whole new group of customers for stores like Red Eye who have stuck around for the resurgence and even for new stores now opening up. With new pressing plants opening and record labels seeing the opportunity that vinyl provides, it looks like the format has a healthy future ahead. The vinyl clientele is often quite varied, but one thing brings them all together: a love of music. This shared love weaves a tight-knit, sometimes competitive, community, which Huddy sees the value of.
“Community is essential to independent record stores,” he explains. “We have regular customers who have been shopping with us for over thirty years, we have seen friendships forged in this very shop. Stores like Red Eye also offer a different experience for the community than your average chain store, we care about them and have the knowledge to cater to their needs.”
Huddy seems to pride himself on Red Eye’s commitment to the customer and fulfilling their requests. “We have customers that are after obscure, rare and long out of print titles [and] they usually come to us because other stores, most of the time, only focus on catalogue titles. We source things that go back to the 1950s and we deal with people across the planet. So we’ll go to Germany, Sweden, America, anywhere we can to find what the customer wants.” That’s a particularly important string to have in your bow as a record store owner, as vinyl collectors are the kind of people who thrive on the rare, the old and the hard to find.
Owning a record store comes with a lot of benefits and hosting in-store gigs and meeting the bands and artists who play definitely seems to be one of them, as Huddy attests to. “One of my favourite in-stores would have to be when Chris Knox [played], probably about 15 years ago now, only because he was just very casual,” Huddy admits. “Usually with in-stores, especially nowadays, the record company get involved and there’s a timesheet [with] when they arrive, when they leave and what they need on their rider. He rocked up in his thongs, with his guitar in one hand and his amp in the other. He just walked in, went and set up and started playing. He made up a couple of songs just based on our genre headers in the different sections of the shop. He was just such a sweet guy, I’ll never forget that in-store.”
As many younger people are getting into vinyl now, record stores are often stocking turntables as well to help them get on their way. Huddy has been selling and using Audio-Technica turntables since late 2012, and couldn’t be happier with them. “We’d been thinking of stocking a turntable for a while and fortuitously Wes rocked up one day with the offer,” he says. “I personally own a USB120, which I love. It’s sturdy, sounds great and reminds me of my turntable from the early 80’s, plus it looks a bit like the old Technics unit, but at a fraction of the price. I’ve used the convert to file [option] a little bit too, for rare old B-sides, which works really well and sounds pretty good.”