What do you want to become?
RECORD STORE CLERK
Alternate Career Titles:
Music Store Cashier, Sales Person
Career Overview: Sells records, CDs, and merchandise, assists customers in finding music.
Career Salary Range: $17,000 to $25,000+
Become a Record Store Clerk
“As a Record Store Clerk, the scope of your job depends on the size of the store where you work,” says longtime record store employee Alison Stolpa. “Generally speaking, at a big store, your job duties are more specialized, whereas at a smaller store you might be wearing more hats. Things you’re likely to do on the job include helping customers find music, selling concert tickets to local venues, offering recommendations, cashiering, putting out product, answering the phone, buying used product for the store to resell that customers bring in to sell you, and helping out when artists do in-store performances. You’ll mainly be working with other Record Store Clerks, Record Store Managers, and other people who work at the store in the marketing, wholesale and online departments. Occasionally you’ll work a bit with Campus Representatives, Field Merchandisers, or a ticketing person from a venue that sells tickets via your store.”
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“At a record store, the hierarchy is Record Store Clerk to Assistant Manager to Store Manager,” Alison says, “You could also get hired for another position at the store; there’s a lot going on behind the scenes at most stores, especially if they have a website attached to the store or are a one-stop location, which means they provide product for other smaller shops in the area.”
Education & Training
“You really only have to hold a high school diploma to work at a record store,” Alison says, “but lots of people working there have at least some level of college. People who work at record stores are curious about music and about the world, so they’ll usually be self-educated on various genres of music and know a certain amount of musical history. For many people, this is a first job in the music industry, so you can expect to find a lot of younger Record Store Clerks—which probably explains why so many are in college or have recently graduated.”
Experience & Skills
“Most stores want you to have some retail experience, and if you come from another music industry field or have experience working in other record stores, you’ll have a leg up on the competition,” Alison says. “You have to understand how to deal with all kinds of people — from aunts buying music from emo bands they’ve never heard of because it was on a kid’s Christmas list to collectors who expect you to answer (or at least find out) if the Beatles LP for sale is a certain pressing, and so on. Most people who work at record stores are very good at internet research.”
“You have to be curious and you have to be patient,” says Alison. “People will ask you about super obscure stuff that you’ll have to spend time digging for. Other times people will ask you for things you’d never be able to figure out, like ‘It was on around 8 pm last night on the jazz station.’ You ask them, ‘OK, which station’ and they’re like, ‘Hmm, I don’t know.’ Yet they’ll expect you to know, or to be able to find out. You’ve got to be willing to ask questions to dig deeper and try to help them find what they want. You also have to be a people person who enjoys interacting with all kinds of people. It’s good to be the type of person who wants to keep learning about music, whether it’s the latest release or reissue in your favorite genre, or if it’s breaking away from the usual kinds of music you listen to in order to educate yourself about say, bluegrass.”
“Generally, working in a record store is pretty relaxed,” Alison says. “Customers are usually friendly and excited to be there. During the holiday season, big events like Record Store Day or Black Friday can be pretty taxing though. You’re standing on your feet and working as fast as you can.
The nice thing about working at a record store is you usually have a pretty set schedule. You don’t really have to stay late like you would in an office job if you’re still finishing something. However, sometimes there are vacation blackout dates at record stores, like around the December holidays. It can be hard to explain to your family that you work in retail and since Christmas Eve is one of your biggest nights at work, you won’t be able to make their get-together.”
“The best way to get hired at a record store is to already have some form of retail experience. I started working in a Barnes and Noble music department for a year or so before finally getting hired at the cool indie record store in town,” Alison says. “It also helped that I had other music stuff such as college radio and DJing on my resume. It’s a good thing, too, if you already know some people on staff who can vouch for you.”
“Record Store Clerks are paid hourly,” Alison says. “You won’t be making tons and tons of money, but you’ll probably get a sweet discount.”
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
“Record Store Clerks don’t belong to unions or professional associations, but the store they work for might,” Alison says. “For example, many stores are members of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS).”
- “Get retail experience. If a record store doesn’t think you have enough experience yet, apply for jobs at a store that sells music, even if it’s not a specialty for them.
- Listen to and read about as much music as possible. You need to have a huge amount of knowledge to be taken seriously as a job candidate.
- Get to know the people working at your local store. Record Store Managers are more likely to check out your resume if people on staff can say they see you in there every week and that you seem like a solid individual.”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Know your stuff. Don’t assume just anyone can work at a record store. You have to know more about music than the average person on the street.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Thinking you’ll just be sitting around listening to music all day and not really doing anything else. The stereotype of snotty, bored Record Store Clerks hasn’t, in my experience, been true. You’ve got to like people and want to help them. If a store wants to succeed, they’ve got to have good customer service.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“That’s a hard one. I think a lot of people outside of the record store community don’t really get why you’d want to work retail, which can mean working on holidays and doing a lot of physical work without taking home massive paychecks. My answer to that is the people. The people you work with are usually super awesome, kind, creative and entertaining. And it can be awesome to connect with customers over music you’re both passionate about.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Extra Credit: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?
“I’m thankful for the Beatles’ influence on the development of popular music, but I’d way rather listen to the Stones. Their early stuff is pretty much the epitome of rock ’n’ roll.
Alison Stolpa has worked in record stores for over a decade, starting off at Electric Fetus Records in Minneapolis and continuing on at the world’s largest independent record store, Amoeba.