Q & A: Marc Weinstein of Amoeba Music
Amoeba Music, an indie record store chain in sunny California, is enjoying great success and phenomenal sales despite the hardships that the music industry is facing. Arguably the largest and most prosperous indie record business, Amoeba began in Berkeley in 1990 and expanded to two more stores in Hollywood and San Francisco. The laid-back atmosphere and the live in-store shows reflect the company’s dedication to music and to the customer’s record-shopping experience. Also virtually savvy, Amoeba shows support for both local and mainstream artists in features highlighted on the website, amoeba.com. In this week’s interview, co-founder Marc Weinstein talks business with American Songwriter – successes and passions, as well as plans for the future.
Were there certain characteristics of various record stores that influenced your decision to open an indie record shop?
I’d say it is the people and the music that have always differentiated indie stores from corporate chain stores. Those are the defining characteristics – the people, the passion for music that was exhibited, the music being played and the actual records on display. A lot of times the bigger chain stores feel like they are trying to oversell something, rather than share an experience.
Do you believe that you’ve found a way around the hard times that the music industry is facing? How do these issues affect you on a daily basis?
As always, we have been able to change with the times and cater to the specific markets and interest groups as they ebb and flow. Actually, caring a lot about the music and the artists has always taken us where we want to go, as opposed to the corporate model that was focused on the “bottom line” for the last twenty-five years. The quarterly profit motive effectively killed the “industry” as we knew it.
For indie record shops, your stores are HUGE. How have you kept the small-town, personal record store feeling without turning it into a corporate atmosphere?
The store was designed from day one to feel like an independent store (without corporate advertising and promotion), and focusing on the more independent and eclectic artists. Like all indie stores, we are actually anxious to share our knowledge with our customers and see to it they leave the store inspired and excited about what’s in their bag.
You support local bands and artists in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Hollywood through your Home Grown program. How does this process work? How successful have you been with introducing the public to new artists in this way?
As an indie shop that cares about our respective local communities, we have been especially proud of this program. Amoeba staff nominates local artists for this program. We choose nominees based on numerous criteria and if we feel we can help an artist effectively, we offer them various promotional opportunities in the store and on our site.
Occasionally, we do live shows to correspond with the promotion. Some of the artists we have featured include: Warpaint, Binges, AM, Healamonster & Trasier, Jill Tracy, Rupa & The April Fishes, Spindrift, Mickey Avalon, Helen Stellar
Part of your revenue also comes in from your very own record label. How may artists have you signed through Amoeba Records? How much of your revenue is generated through the record label?
The record label is a small, but significant part of our business—aimed at familiarizing us with all the issues artists and labels have in these times as we prepare to launch our own digital store later this year. We hope to have more “label-like” relationships with artists in the future by offering them a whole new way of merchandising their music and their audience.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge over the next five to ten years? Do you anticipate a loss in interest in your stores as online repertoires of music become more popular? How do you plan to approach the problems you foresee?
We feel there will be a strong market for “hard copies” for some time to come. Buying an actual “print” of work by an artist you love is such a superior experience in every way, to clicking your mouse on a little picture of a “virtual” item. Additionally, we offer such a fabulous experience—an idealistic world where everybody in the room really cares about music and see it as a way to move humanity forward.
Our biggest challenge is to bring a similar experience to our online venue—and we have some great people working on that right now.