Art of the Music Business

Brick and Mortar Music Community (the future of music stores?)

"Record Store Day @ Rough Trade East" by Tom McShane via HIKKERS
"Record Store Day @ Rough Trade East" by Tom McShane via HIKKERS (c) 2009 Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

It may sound strange in this age of digital music downloads, but I was extremely excited to get my new CD on the shelves at a couple of local Twin Cities music stores recently. Not because I’m going to make money or get much exposure from the half dozen or so copies that I dropped off at the Electric Fetus (a Minneapolis record store founded in 1968 that was voted one of the best in America) and the Homestead Pickin’ Parlor (a folk music hub in the Twin Cities since the 1970s), but because these are two of my all-time favorite places on earth and I’m grateful to be a small part of them!

Fetus Logo Although I love browsing racks of vinyl at the Fetus and playing vintage banjos at the Homestead, don’t get me wrong, this is not about nostalgia for some by-gone era when these types of brick and mortar stores were the only way to access such merchandise.Homestead Logo This is about the fact that when I walked into the Fetus to drop off my record, I ran into one of my band mates from the High 48s, who just happened to be there doing some shopping. This is about the employee there who I knew only through Facebook, but finally got to meet in-person and who made a point to personally make sure my record was processed and on the shelf quickly. This is about walking into the Homestead Pickin’ Parlor and being greeted by the owners and the staff by name and looking around to see local bands (and friends) CDs displayed prominently around the store.

This is about community

This is about an experience

"Record Store Day" by Tom McShane via HIKKERS
"Record Store Day" by Tom McShane via HIKKERS (c) 2009 Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

I know these are uncertain times for retail stores like these, but the social need they fill will not be going away anytime soon. Even if music goes completely digital and there is no more physical media to sell, I am confident that there will still be places where people gather to geek out over a shared love of listening to, playing, discovering and studying music. The question is, what will these places be like? What is the future of music stores? I decided to ask the internet what it thought about this and found a couple interesting takes on it, both of which touch upon the role music stores play in fostering community and an  experience:

Rough Trade and the future of the record store (Wired UK)

In an iTunes age, do we need the record store? (Salon)

Personally, I hope I am still patronizing the Fetus and the Homestead in 20 years. I doubt I would be buying music, but perhaps enjoying a pint at a listening party, jamming with friends before music trivia night, or trying out the latest Nechville Banjotron 3000 before a screening of the 30th Anniversary Edition of Oh Brother Where Art Thou… now that is a future I can imagine.

Art of the Music Business Missing Ghosts

Album Art Still Matters

The art of album art (and photography) - the Dirt Band's Circle AlbumI’ll admit that I’m a bit nostalgic for the physical experience of buying new music. I miss ripping the shrink wrap off of a vinyl record, the smell of the paper insert of a store-bought cassette tape when first unfolded, and flipping through the thick glossy booklet that (barely) fit under the little plastic tabs on the inside of a CD jewel case. Although these experiences are mostly in the past, the album artwork, the visual window into the music “inside” still lives on, in fact, I think it is more important than ever.

Tim Lee's Vintage Gintage
Tim Lee’s Vintage Gintage

This is why I was so excited a few months back when I received a new Twitter follower by the name of Tim Lee, a North Carolina-based artist who specializes in “Surreal Americana.” I was intrigued! When I went to Tim’s website and discovered the mandolin playing character in Vintage Gintage, I knew I had found the artist for my first solo project, Missing Ghosts, which is a mixture of folk, bluegrass and Americana music.

Working with Tim was a real pleasure and a relatively quick and straight forward process. After an initial email exchange, I sent him lyrics and a rough mix of the title track of the album and he went right to work. I did my best not to micromanage the art direction, in order to let the professional artist do what he does best- be creative. I’m very glad I did. Check out the photo gallery below for a little glimpse of his process:


I now feel like the album art is part is part of the music itself and am amazed at how it affects even my own perception of the music’s mood, sonic quality etc..  I’m very happy that the tradition of album art lives on in the digital era, as I believe it really enriches the overall experience of listening to music. Now here’s hoping that digital liner notes catch on…

Find out more about Tim Lee and his artwork at and