Frank Zappa: Man of the Year

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Most record executives attribute the demise of the record business to 1999, when digital maverick Shawn Fanning opened his peer-to-peer music site, Napster. From that moment on, the record labels thought they were at war with the consumer.

But musician Frank Zappa (may he rest in peace), would beg to differ. In a brilliant interview, now making the rounds on the Internet, Zappa outlined the real demise of the record business. According to him, some unusual and experimental music did get recorded and released in the 60's. He points out that record companies were not then run by hip young guys. Instead, they were run by cigar chomping old guys, who didn't have a clue what might work. They simply released the music and let fans decide. Suddenly, these old guys were selling millions of records.

The real decline came when these executives tried to repeat success. They hired young, hip guys to tell them what was good.

Zappa continues, "We were better off with those (old) guys...The young guys are more conservative and more dangerous to the art form than the old guys with cigars ever were."

Truer words cannot be spoken. Frank Zappa was always way ahead of his time, but this interview, recorded in the early 80's, was almost two decades before the digital revolution began. If you'd like to see the interview, just go to my On the Beat weblink at

And speaking of looking backwards, vinyl record sales have made a significant comeback in the last couple of years, primarily driven by a new generation collecting full-length albums and 45's.

Two weeks ago, a hundred or so independent record stores around the country banded together to create the second annual "Record Store Day." Record Store Day is really a marketing event at record stores for the casual buyer and hard-core collector alike. Exclusive releases, in-store performances and special pricing dominate in mom-and-pop retail on this day.

Silversun Pickups played Rasputins in Berkeley, Wendy & Lisa deejayed at the Amoeba store in Hollywood, Queensryche played Music Millenium in Portland, and Chris Cornell played Electric Fetus in Minneapolis.

The big winner of the day was vinyl records, who briskly sold to collectors and fans. Overall, vinyl sales have doubled in 2008, according to Soundscan. In fact, vinyl sales are going so well, that the New York Post just reported that Best Buy will be testing selling vinyl in 100 of their stores. If the experiment goes well, Best Buy plans to include vinyl sales in all of their 1000 + stores.

Great news for a flailing record business, and sad news for independent retail. Best Buy has always used music to sell refrigerators and computers. If indy retail and Best Buy get into bidding wars over the price of vinyl, the independent stores will surely lose.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the for KCRW.