By Jeanette Ordas
I had to quit my job. I hated every single working minute of it: the boredom, the emptiness, the inescapability. Was it a work farm where I toiled away my very soul? Perhaps not, but I can imagine the feelings are similar. I worked in record store hell.
It’s been almost two months now and the scars are still visible on my face. “Surely you jest,” I am told, “Everyone wants to work in a record store.” Exactly. The fact is, everyone from pimply-faced high school students to holders of multiple degrees apply. Competitiveness for that crappy job is tremendously high and the employers know it. They know that dozens of kids will scramble for a chance at a ‘cool’ job in a record store. We are probably the most expendable employees out there and are penalized a decent living wage because the Management knows every un(der)employed sap wants our job.
Sure there are perks to working at a record store. Free tickets to shows, good discounts, free promo CDS and t-shirts are great…when it’s actually something you want, or more often than not, something you can resell. But most of the stuff you get is crap and simply exists try and help you forget the fact that you work at minimum wage with no chance of ever getting a raise. I’m sure there are record stores out there that pay a decent wage, appreciate their employees and provide safe working conditions, but in my four years of record store hell, I haven’t seen them.
My first record store job was at a small Ontario chain called Sunrise Records. I had just graduated from University and my BA in film wasn’t going to get me anything more promising. I loved music and I secretly thought working at a record store would put some chic to my geek. And in the beginning it was quite promising. I met some great people, my cd collection had blossomed, and cute strangers began recognizing me as the spunky Sunrise cashier when I went to clubs. Ha! This was the life…or so I thought. I didn’t mind so much the crappy dance mixes that we were forced to play on Saturdays, the twelve hour shifts with no overtime, or even the fact that it paid only minimum wage (hey, it was only temporary, I’d find a real job soon!).
But to quote the Smiths, “that joke wasn’t funny anymore”. Weeks turned to months and then to a year and then some. Agghh, I was trapped! I could no longer be nice to customers who bought Mariah Carey, I felt no sympathy to the dolts who looked under ‘Z’ for Led Zepplin, and I couldn’t take the fact that everyone got their musical tastes from watching music videos. I quit my job with the notion that I would never see the back room of a record store again and moved across the country to Vancouver. A new life at last…
Faced with a new city and a dwindling money supply, I did what every insecure chump would do — went back to familiar territory. This time it was a national chain called Sam The Record Man (Scam’s to those in the know). For the first few months it was pretty good. Lots of interesting people, better music played in-store and, again, a decent discount. But the longer I worked, the more apparent things became.
Our expendability factor was very high and our wages were ridiculously low. Management reduced store hours due to the company’s ‘decline in profits’ and cut back our full time hours to what could only be considered part time. With Vancouver’s high cost of living and no pay raise in sight, the morale and paychecks declined to new lows.
Countless vermin, asbestos in the walls, and constant flooding were the tangible track marks at Scam’s, but the decay went much deeper. Everyone was, or at least seemed, a lot older and I began to notice the signs of resignation in the faces around me. Sure it was the music that got them there in the first place, but it was the defeat that made them stay. And babycakes, this girl wasn’t going to take it anymore! I got out with most of my sanity intact and my cavities filled (thanks to their dental plan). This is one chick who got out of record store hell and came out kickin’! Beat it, baby!