A Dialogue About Organizing Music in a Record Store:

K: That's weird. Why are the Bee Gees in the Funk section?

R: Well, Disco is derived from Funk. Where else are they going to put it?

K: I don't know. The disco section?

R: That's a dangerous game, man. You can't split too many hairs in a little record store. If you want everything to have its own place, you might have to help the owner take out an unfathomable loan to rent out this entire block.

K: Whatever. I just hate to see the Bee Gees in the same row as Herbie Hancock. I mean, Thrust is dimensions beyond Spirits Have Flown.

R: I agree, but an opinion's just an opinion. To organize a place like this, you need to turn yourself off. You don't want to unintentionally impose a sort of personal, skewed organizational hierarchy on your patrons. That's a fantastic way to go out of business. Like, if you owned this place, would you have a section called "Bee Gees and all the other Disco bullshit no one wants to buy"?

K: Give me some credit, man. I just hate the Bee Gees. I don't even like Saturday Night Fever. And what do you mean by "skewed organizational hierarchy"?

R: Like I just said: a hypothetical section called "Bee Gees and all the other Disco bullshit no one wants to buy". It's a group of terms chosen by the organizer to act as chief tiers under which all items in need of organization will reside under. Your hypothetical section would be one of seven or eight others. What would some of your others be? "Cool 'Canterbury Scene' stuff that only I like" or "Kieth Moon is good and all, but what about Charles Hayward?"

K: You know me so well.

R: In this record store (and in a majority of others this size), there are the usual 'genre' tags: Rock, Jazz, Classical, Hip-Hop/Rap, Country, World, R 'n' B/Funk, etc. By and large, these labels are insanely vague. However, what choice does the guy who owns this record store have? He's only got so much space. He has to have faith that his patrons will 1.) understand that Rock and Metal have to be shelved together (even though their similarities are scant when you really think about it) and 2.) use the skills they learned in the library of their elementary school to sift through the dirt and find the gold.

K: So you're saying that sub-genres only exist in the music-lover's head?

R: It kind of goes with any method of organization. Hierarchies, like the typical genre tags in this record store, are meant to act as clear, indisputable (except for smartasses like you) guidelines for the masses. They presume that any regular Joe who comes in here looking for a King Crimson record is going to look for it in the Rock/Metal section--even though it should really be in a neo-classical/avant-garde/progressive-rock section. In an ideal world where the average record store is the size of the main Amazon warehouse.

K: You know, I feel like this sort of thing has really helped bastardize certain terms. Like, some of these terms have completely lost their original meanings--only to be replaced by totally superficial ones. Take the term "indie" for example. Nine out of ten college kids will say that they are into "indie-rock". They associate the term with those slime-filled, sell-out abominations Mumford and Sons or Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes--who show up on almost any Pandora station or actual radio station dedicated to 'listener-friendly' music. The term used to apply any band/artist who was signed to an independent record label (meaning, not Universal or Island or Virgin or whatever)--and also implied that they would spend their own hard-earned money touring in a half-broken-down Volkswagen bus, playing to thirty or forty people a night in bars and taverns that smell more like piss than alcohol. Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying that Mumford and Songs or Edward Sharpe weren't ever on indie labels--which I'm sure they were to begin with. They might still be now. But that's not the point. The point is: the term 'indie' is used to describe the sound/aesthetic of the music these days instead of the circumstances in which the music is made and performed. It's a perfect example of an unintentional casualty of hierarchal organization. A term that used to describe bands I love now describes bands that I loathe.

R: Exactly. Vagueness (born of a lack of space--in this context) paves the way for the wrongful reimagining of sub-terms. The same thing has happened to Folk and Country. Folk to most people means a sensitive guy with an acoustic guitar, and Country means cars, horses, and whiskey. And what about World music? Think about that term for a second. All it really means is: music from where white people don't live. Mulatu Astatke is a prime example. He's an Ethiopian composer who birthed a moody, pulsing lovechild of funk and jazz. His stuff fits in nicely with any of his American contemporaries. However, you'll most likely find his albums in the World section. Vague hierarchies cause things like this to happen all the time.

K: What can you do?

R: Nothing really. Not in a store this size. There is a silver lining to all of this though.

K: What?

R: Even though tons of sub-genres (post-punk, art-rock, third stream classical, stoner metal, breakbeat, jungle, to name a few) are for the most part deemed unnecessary or too complicated or not applicable in settings such as this, there is nonetheless an organizational method that almost ALWAYS lies beneath the hierarchal stuff we've been talking about.

K: Which is?

R: The alphabet.

K: Oh. Of course.

R: It's secondary, yes. Records are organized this way AFTER they are split into one of the seven or eight hierarchal genres. However, it's more fair than anything else. And, not even the biggest know-it-all vinyl-junkie dickhead like yourself can dispute that.

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