Eschewing MP3s for a Modern Music Bazaar

With its iconic clubs and secluded party venues, Sunset Boulevard has long provided a backdrop for the colorful history of rock 'n' roll.

Today, it tells a new story of the music business.

On Sunset in West Hollywood, the iconic Tower Records building has been boarded up and abandoned since the company went into bankruptcy in August. Meanwhile, to the east, past the exclusive bars and clubs, the line for Amoeba Records' parking lot stretches around the block.

As a professional touring DJ, I am always looking for new places to find music. At age 9, I purchased my first tape -- New Order's "Substance" -- from Walton Records, in my hometown of Birmingham, Mich.

Twenty years later, living in California and performing music to audiences all over the world, I found myself swimming in a river of digital music and only occasionally visiting the drought-stricken record stores where I met so many friends, band mates, and fellow music geeks.

Most of us have become accustomed to clicking our way through reviews and digital previews rather than browsing aisles for our music. If the Amoeba phenomenon is any clue, the total shift away from brick-and-mortar music might not happen as fast as we thought.

Enter Amoeba

From the crowds that pack the aisles of Amoeba's Hollywood location, you'd never know that, industrywide, album sales are down 5 percent from last year, or that sales of digital singles are up 65 percent and that 10 percent of all music is sold in digital format, according to The Associated Press.

Despite this clear trend away from the traditional commercial model, other figures indicate that digital music sales will never fully kill the CD as a format. Amoeba's success may suggest a reason why.

The three-store chain, which started in the Bay Area of Northern California, has established a modern music bazaar that serves as a destination unto itself rather than a casual stopping point in some suburban mall.

At the Los Angeles outlet, which has concrete floors and Costco-high ceilings, fellow DJs and music lovers tear through the used CDs like vultures and argue over what Led Zeppelin record is the best. In fact, Amoeba's inventory is so huge that it has to rotate its stock to make sure every disc sees the light of day.

As owner Marc Weinstein explains, Amoeba's collection is so broad that just about anyone can go there to sell CDs, which drives its reputation as the central music trading post in Los Angeles.

Many of us also go there in search of something new. The store even maintains several unprofitable departments -- like posters and seven-inch records -- simply because no one else does.

ABC News contributor Michael Smith is an internationally recognized DJ and has a music-services business. He works with a variety of national brands www.smitheventmusic.com or info@smitheventmusic.com.

Because the music is housed under one very high roof, Amoeba acts like a magnet for die-hard music fans or even casual listeners who want some exposure to coolness.

"There's a huge social event built in. It's the distillation of all the music-loving people around town all in one place shopping for music," Weinstein said. "What person from L.A. wouldn't be proud to look out and see all the way-into-music wackos out on the floor of that store?"

"It's like you're in New York," he said.

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