Music can be seen and heard all around us. From the rhythmic tapping of a person’s foot, to the beat of our own heart. From the blaring of a car speaker, to the melodious voice of a musician bellowing through a microphone. Technological advances have even allowed us to put on our headphones and take those sounds with us wherever we go. Whether it be an iPod, a laptop, or maybe even a Walkman technology has brought music to a completely portable level. But what happens when those same technological advances cause us to forget the true roots of music? What happens when we forget the value of a real vinyl record? What happens when we cheat ourselves in knowing what real music sounds like? Well, those roots of real music can be found within the walls of one of East Lansing’s only authentic vinyl record stores. It is the store that Sports Illustrated called one of the top music stores in the nation. That home of music’s classic roots can be found on Grand River Avenue at Flat, Black and Circular.
[recordswall]Flat, Black and Circular (FBC) was founded in 1977 by current owners Dave Bernath and Dick Rosemont, who after realizing they had a shared love for music and records, decided to rent a space on the upper level of Grand River’s Campus Town Mall. A friend of theirs suggested they name the space Flat, Black and Circular Recycled Sound. With no time to think of other names and a phone ready to be installed, the duo decided to keep the name. “We wanted a name that would stand out,” Bernath said. The store’s name is not a reflection of what our generation is used to purchasing when it comes to music, but the authentic and classic feel of the store holds significance to customers and music listeners both on and off campus, and the name only adds to the atmosphere. [Colmanero2]
FBC is one of the only remaining classic record stores in East Lansing. Years ago, there were close to seven record stores along with FBC, but eventually most went out of business. Today FBC houses classic vinyl records, current albums, used DVD’s, magazines and authentic music equipment. Customers can purchase nearly every genre of music and entertainment that they desire at fairly low prices. However, with today’s mega music stores such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart, and the popularity of downloading music online, how can classic record stores such as FBC continue to be in business? Bernath said it is because the staff at FBC is dedicated to really knowing music. “No one at those mega music stores are experts of music. No one knows music like we do. The mega music stores of today simply know how to sell TV’s and other big appliances. We just know more than the bigger stores,” Bernath said.
One of FBC’s most distinguishing characteristics is its personal touch: all of the vinyl records, CD’s and DVD’s are sorted by hand and the receipts are hand written. FBC has its own system of organization tailored to its classic music. Along the walls, there are used records from all different eras. Cartons that are full of various artists from Al Green to N.E.R.D line the aisles. Vinyl records from all genres and decades are stacked in boxes that line the windows, walls, and a box of free vinyl LP’s are lined outside of the store’s entrance. Bernath said that though it is a tedious job to hand sort the store’s CD’s and records, they have the process down to a science that involves few to no mistakes.
[owners]Although FBC may find itself competing with the constantly evolving technology of mega music stores, current supporters of authentic record stores will argue that stores like FBC hold a significance that the music stores of today’s digital era will never be able to imitate.
Communications sophomore Carmen Colmanero shares that same enthusiasm and support for record stores. “Classic record stores like FBC present an old school nostalgia,” Colmanero said. “Mega music stores are more interested in meeting a quota rather than actually selling a record.”
Along with customers looking for that old school feel, classic DJ’s and music producers find that record stores meet their needs because they assisting them display their talent on the turntables. University of Michigan graduate Donovan Bembery is a current DJ and producer in the Detroit area and holds an undeniable love for classic record stores of today. He describes the record store as “the DJ’s playground.” Bembery said that record stores like FBC recapture an art that was lost years ago. “Vinyl records use to have several versions of a single song on them,” he explained. “There was the clean version, the un-cut version, the instrumental, and then the acappella version.”
[lights]Bembery said that technological advances of today have put limits on the creative options of today’s DJ’s. He said that at one point record labels would give free vinyl samples to listeners in exchange for a written review of the single. However, it has become very expensive for record labels to continue such for an favor such as a written review. “It costs companies a lot more money now to make vinyl records,” Bernath said. “Vinyl records require more material obviously because they are larger and also you have to factor in the materials such as the cardboard for the vinyl record case, and not many companies are pressing vinyl anymore.” Bernath also noted that the vinyl records that FBC sells are considered records “from the vault” which makes them seem more hip and cool.
As a result of the increase in the price of vinyl records, it is typical for only pure DJ’s and producers to purchase vinyl records. In fact, most DJ’s that can be heard in clubs today are known as digital DJ’s. This branch of DJ’s download various playlists and songs from internet programs and house them on their laptops, allowing them to play what is commonly heard on the radio playlists in the clubs. Songs not on the DJ’s laptop can be downloaded easily and as needed.[Wilde]
With such a common trend in digital entertainment in practice, where does this leave classic DJ’s such as Bembery? And where does this leave vinyl record stores such as FBC? “The only thing that we as DJ’s can do is to keep these types of record stores open by continuing in our craft of music production,” Bembery said. DJ’s and music producers like Bembery cherish record stores like FBC because they can continue to preserve the classic values of music by purchasing vinyl records. “Things on vinyl just sound better. Digital music is more compressed and not as full as the sounds of vinyl records,” Bembery said.
FBC employee Josh Wilde, 24, adds that he has a great level of respect for the pure DJ’s that still use vinyl records. “Those types of DJ’s can portray a marriage of the past and the present when they use vinyl records,” Wilde said.
Though FBC has remained strong over the years the trend of classic record stores disappearing is still on the rise. For classic music lovers, stores like FBC have become necessary to not only supply music to its customers, but to also provide a sense of simplicity and the essence of what pure music really is. With technological advancements in music and sound quality, it has become necessary for record stores like FBC to supply its customers with a reminder that music’s roots began with the simple beat of a drum and the simple strum of a guitar string. FBC is more than just a classic record store with an even more classic name. It is a home for pure music that leaves a legacy in the hearts of the music lovers of yesterday, today and the ones of tomorrow.

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