'You just have to accept it and find your own niche'

Published 23/01/2013 | 13:58

Brian Lee of Lee Records in Tralee, one of the last remaining record shops in Kerry.
Brian Lee of Lee Records in Tralee, one of the last remaining record shops in Kerry.

THE news that former high street giant HMV has crumbled under the intense combined pressure of internet downloads and the recession has once again brought the state of the music industry and the public's music buying habits back to the forefront of national debate.

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We all know that when it comes to music, and increasingly movies and TV, the internet is now the destination of choice for most consumers. Sadly the days of vinyl and CDs seem numbered.

One man who knows more than most about the troubles facing the music industry and the local record shop is Brian Lee who has run that well-known institution Lee Records in Tralee for almost 16 years.

Brian, whose store is now one of the only record shops in the entire county, got into the business in the 1980's when he began running the record and music section at the rear of the old Kiely's electricla store in The Mall.

He ran that shop for over a decade before eventually moving and opening up to his own shop on Tralee's Castle Street in 1997.

Generations of Kerry music fans have been served by Brian whose store continues to defy the odds and fight on despite intense pressure from the internet and the recession.

A lifelong lover of music, Brian Lee says change has been coming for a long time but its effects have been felt more keenly in recent years as internet use increases while the recession simultaneously empties wallets.

"The internet is out there we accept it. There's a generation that have grown up without wanting the physical CD. Music is fine and there is great stuff out there, it's just that they're accessing it in their own ways and they don't necessarily need the surrounds of the record shop now," said Brian.

"It's sad when you think of HMV closing. I used to go to London regularly and the first place I'd head for would have been the Virgin store or HMV on Oxford Street. The fact that they're gone all of a sudden is awful. Is it the final nail in the coffin? I think it could be."

"I had four staff but now I've just myself and a part timer and the volume of sales isn't there. There's more music than ever before but people just don't need to come into the record shop. You can fight against it but, you know, it is an uphill battle. It is tough and Christmas was tough. Trading wasn't great, even HMV said that. They thought Christmas would get them through the next quarter but we've all seen what happened."

As well affecting how people buy music - and by extension the shops that sell it - Brian also feels that the Internet has changed how people listen to music, though not necessarily for the better.

"The best way to listen to an album is to sit down and be relaxed and take it all in. I find it difficult to listen to albums now because I find they're just collections of tracks, there's no link and they've been taken over by producers," he said.

"Before a person might come to you looking for an album now they just want to buy the track. I'm saying the track is on such and such an album. They're saying I only want the track and I'm saying, reluctantly, that you can go to iTunes but if you buy that album you might find that there's five or six other great tracks around it."

Times are tough for the music industry and small record shops are feeling the pinch more than most.

While Brian doesn't know exactly what will happen his store, he remains philosophical and determined to continue in the business he loves as long as he possibly can.

"I stand back and look at what's happened and I say yeah it's sad but it's changing times. Will it make me, and shops like mine, redundant? In time yes," Brian said.

"What can you do? You just have to get on with things, accept these changes and move with them. Do you're own thing and try to find your niche."

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