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Local record shops will need to up their game to weather the substanceless future of music

Photo: Photos by Adam Villela Coronado, License: N/A

Photos by Adam Villela Coronado

Last of the independents — Imagine Books’ Don Hurd is San Antonio’s latest stand for vinyl.

Photo: , License: N/A

Javier Gutiérrez, part owner of Del Bravo Record Shop on Old Highway 90.

When local vinyl enthusiast Gene Hopstetter plays me Frank Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!, he pulls three pressings from his collection of roughly 700 albums, indicating the differences in each. The changing packaging and track listings chronicle the start of Sinatra’s 1950s disenfranchisement from Capitol Records. He places the needle as if preparing holy communion; “You Make Me Feel So Young” pours from his ’77 Klipsch Cornwalls.

Hopstetter complains the later edition sounds like it’s coming from inside an aquarium. He swaps in the first pressing and the oft-celebrated “warmth” of vinyl rears itself. Sinatra feels so incredibly near.

We soak it up.

Hopstetter respects digital audio, but won’t listen to MP3’s or other common formats. He exclusively uses lossless audio (FLAC) fed through a digital output — no headphone/audio out jacks. While he also likes Pandora and cloud services, he’s committed to vinyl. The problem is, “San Antonio is really not a good city for buying vinyl,” he says, adding that local stores can be counted on for having around 100 copies of Barbara Streisand’s People on inventory, however.

Everything he buys comes from Austin or is purchased online.

It’s no mystery the music industry is hanging record stores over a fire. Piracy remains difficult to track. Cloud services and online vendors indulge customers with speed and low cost. While there is a resurgent interest in vinyl, Side-Line Magazine recently reported that major labels will nearly abandon the CD in 2012, pressing only special editions. We are living through the end of the physical music era. And reports from the home front depress.

“We’re fueled by pride,” says Javier Gutiérrez, part owner of Del Bravo Record Shop on Old Highway 90. “We haven’t been profitable in four or five years.”

Gutiérrez’s father Salomé opened Del Bravo, specializing in Latin music, in 1966. They’ve battled format changes, economic turmoil, and big box providers, with good customer service and fair prices for a mostly new inventory. Salomé also recorded musicians on his own DLB Records out of his house from the early 1960s to 2000. Strangely, the day I speak with Gutiérrez is one where he has just had a difficult breakfast with his parents.

“They’re like, ‘Javier, we’ve weathered storms before,’” he says. “‘But this storm is different. There’s no other media coming.’”

In early October, I interviewed Hogwild Records owner Dave Risher about the state of his shop. Hogwild (on Main near San Antonio College) is the closest thing to an indie shop in town, carrying a variety of new releases on CD, DVD, and vinyl, plus merch and used discs and records. Its reputation is iconic, especially to local musicians who peddle their work there. The shop turns 30 this year.

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