While streaming music has become the norm, music fans in Singapore who prefer the warmth and tactile feel of physical formats have never had it so good.
The number of record stores in Singapore specialising in vinyl, for example, has increased from less than 10 to more than 30 in the last six years, say industry insiders.
The rise has led to stores that do more than just sell records, CDs and cassettes. They are often one-stop shops where you can catch live performances, have coffee made by a barista or order a drink from the bar.
Despite its growing popularity, collecting vinyl is still a niche hobby, which is why music store owners are getting creative with the way they operate their businesses.
Kurt Loy, 38, one of the founders of newly opened record store/bar/cafe White Label Records in Ann Siang Road, says: “The Singapore problem is that rental is expensive so I can’t just open a record store.”
Having live performances give music lovers another reason to go down to a physical store instead of just shopping online, says Sharon Seet, 37, owner of The Analog Vault.
The record store located in the Esplanade organises monthly shows featuring homegrown acts such as electronic duo .gif and singer-songwriter Hanging Up The Moon.
“The gigs have definitely helped bring in new customers. We’ve had a lot of people who come here to see a band and it’s their first time in the store.”
Some music stores are even producing their own content.
Mosta Records LP is not just a music store, but also a record label, releasing music by homegrown artists such as retro-rockers The Pinholes and producing videos.
Azri Ali, 46, one of Mosta’s founders, says: “Music has a way of bringing people together. By building up Mosta as a record store, a live venue and a record label, I hope to create a community of music lovers.
“I want this to be a place where anyone can feel welcome, where they are free to just browse through the records or just to chat with me and other music fans.”
The combination of coffee, craft beer and records often leads to long chats among music fans at Choice Cuts Goods + Coffee, a cafe-music store in Katong.
Co-founder Tirso Garcia, 43, says: “When there’s a conversation about music going on, people start weighing in. They connect through the music.”
For avid vinyl collector Alan Teo, 43, who has patronised White Label and Mosta, being able to catch a gig or order drinks enhances the experience of thumbing through the racks.
He says: “I think it’s definitely wonderful that these stores are trying to do a bit more than the usual. It’s always nice to attend in-store social gatherings, music events and the like.”
Located in the Ann Siang area, a place bustling with stylish bars, restaurants and cafes, it seems only natural that a music store there, White Label Records, would also serve drinks and have regular parties.
Half of the store displays vinyls from cutting-edge electronic music acts such as electro-folk artist Martin Baltser, while the other half is a bar that serves all manner of drinks.
Since it opened in late September, the shop has hosted plenty of live events, from an album launch party by rapper and singer MAS1A to music fair Binyl to deejay sets from the likes of Jazzy Sport, a music collective from Japan, as well as homegrown deejays Rah and Bongomann.
Despite being only a few months old, the store has already attracted the attention of music pundits from around the world.
In November, British deejay, radio veteran and record label owner Gilles Peterson visited the store a day after playing at The Warehouse Hotel and did an impromptu deejay set.
On the surface, Mosta Records LP looks like any other record store, with stacks of vinyl on the shelves and posters adorning the walls.
But the store in Peninsula Shopping Centre is also a live gig venue, a music studio and a record label-cum-artist management company for home-grown indie artists.
The shop, which opened in late 2016, expanded its space earlier this year and converted the adjoining unit into a music space.
United States-based Malaysian singer Yuna used it as a rehearsal space before her headlining set at Singaporean music festival Neon Lights in November.
The store also organises themed days. In March, it held a Jack White Day to celebrate the launch of Boarding House Reach, the latest album by the acclaimed American musician.
It was White’s multi-concept music company, Third Man Records, that inspired former field recording specialist Azri to start Mosta with his wife, Afidah Abdul Manaf. A friend of the couple is also an investor.
Azri says: “My vision is for it to be something along the lines of Third Man Records’ location in Nashville, which is a record store, a live venue and a headquarters for the music label.”
Another thing that separates Mosta from other local record stores is that it is the authorised dealer for international labels such as Third Man Records, Fat Possum Records and Waxwork Records, which means it sometimes stocks rare items, like specially coloured vinyl records, not available elsewhere.
Azri says Mosta has plans to expand its operations regionally and is in talks with potential partners in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Its roster of artists already includes a Malaysian band, indie rockers Toko Kilat.
Azri adds: “That’s my dream, to make Mosta a name that is known not just in Singapore, but also around the region.”
At The Analog Vault, Seet is an ardent supporter of local independent music talent. For her, it is not enough to just stock records from Singaporean acts such as jazz pianist and organist Chok Kerong and experimental rock band The Observatory – it is important to give them a space in the store to perform too.
She says: “I’ve always wanted this space to be interactive so that customers will always be around music, whether it is through the records or local artists doing a live showcase of their works.”
The Analog Vault has also hosted artists who perform at the Esplanade. In May, German neo-classical composer and musician Nils Frahm stopped by the store after his show at the Esplanade Concert Hall to check out music by Singapore artists.
At cafe-music shop Choice Cuts Goods + Coffee, the barista is often also a deejay-turntablist who can play a seamless set on the two-turntable set-up in the store and have a conversation about the albums sold.
With its focus on old-school hip hop and soul, the store in Katong attracts plenty of customers who are deejays themselves.
The store is the brainchild of two long-time deejays in the Singaporean nightlife scene – Tirso Garcia, also known as JNR, and Andre Reyes, also known as Drem. They are part of Matteblacc, a deejay collective that produces events and are brand and music consultants.
Garcia says: “We have record collectors who come in, see the turntables and ask us, ‘Do you mind if we have a jam?’ We say yes because we want people to come and share their music collections.”
Besides the cafe and records, Choice Cuts Goods + Coffee also stocks books and merchandise like T-shirts.
“The idea was always to have a mishmash of retail, a record shop, a cafe and a HQ for our event business,” says Garcia.
The founders run it like a “mom-and-pop” business with a “do-it-yourself” ethos. The furniture, for example, was made by Reyes. Many music lovers end up having a coffee or craft beer and long conversations with other record collectors as well as the owners and staff.
Garcia says: “We learn a lot from our customers, a lot of them are well-informed when it comes to music and we take notes from them.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network