What do you want to become?
RECORD STORE MANAGER
Alternate Career Titles:
Store Manager, Music Department Manager
Career Overview: Manages day-to-day operations, supervises workers, and opens and closes the store.
Career Salary Range: $24,000 to $48,000+
Become a Record Store Manager
Emile Milgrim is the Managing Partner/Record Buyer at Sweat Records in Miami. What does her work involve as a Record Store Manager? “It depends on the day,” she says. “My hours are the typical 9-5 ‘business hours’ so I can work with distributors and vendors who are operational during the same timeframe. On a given day I might have to place a bunch of orders, enter and receive inventory for those orders, make the store schedule, run payroll, handle supply and bank errands and clean the store. (Everyone who works there has to do this). Since I’m the primary music buyer for the store, I might also field walk-in used record buys or appointments to appraise and buy bigger collections, either on-site or off. There are also quarterly responsibilities like reconciling consignment accounts. (Many record stores work on a consignment basis with local artists and labels). Oh, and emails — lots of emails, always.”
Record Store Managers spend most of their time working with the public and with their fellow Record Store Clerks. They may sometimes work with record label employees such as Salespeople or Marketing Coordinators to get records in stock or to coordinate in-store performances or promotions.
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Most Record Store Managers begin their careers as Record Store Clerks, gaining customer service and retail experience, as well as a knowledge of the business and essential artists and albums along the way. The hierarchy is different at every store. Some stores are run by one Manager, whereas medium-sized stores may have a couple of Assistant Managers on staff, and large stores may have Managers dedicated to different genres or areas of the store. Advancement would mean finding a job at a more famous store with a higher salary, or even buying the store and becoming a Record Store Owner.
Education & Training
While Record Store Managers are not required to have a college degree, the skills learned in school can help. Milgrim elaborates, “I don’t think there’s a way to train the ‘music nerd’ aspect of the job, but having knowledge of basic business functions is necessary. It’s important to understand how bookkeeping, banking, and taxes work, as well as general business/employee management, inventory and customer service: basically, many things you’d learn in an undergrad Business program.
It’s also helpful to get real-life experience in a customer service-driven retail or food service environment because no matter how independent or ‘corporate’ a place is you’ll deal with difficult people who will test your patience. As a Manager or someone in a lead role, it’s part of your job to be able to facilitate the best service and also help your coworkers do so. This is an important part of maintaining a good reputation for the business, which is especially necessary now that almost everyone is ready to write a bad Yelp review at the drop of a hat…or needle. Zing!”
Experience & Skills
“Aside from the education and work experience [I] mentioned, managing a record store requires a depth of music and pop-culture knowledge that borders on obsessive,” Milgrim says. “This means knowing about and being able to stock, discuss and sell things you don’t even like music-wise. For example, if someone walks into the shop and says, ‘I want to start getting into jazz. Can you recommend me some albums to start with?’ you have to be able to make suggestions without consulting the internet or asking someone else. This is a pretty basic example, but it conveys the general idea. Many stores have ‘specialists’ in certain genres/styles or even have Buyers for specifics, but as a Manager, you have to know it all to at least an intermediate extent.”
In regards to what type of person would make a great Record Store Manager, Milgrim tells us, “Since our shop is independent, there’s not a corporate manual to follow. Despite assumptions, albums aren’t drop-shipped to us ready to go, priced out of the box. Every single piece on the floor — and there are thousands — is hand-selected, priced and received. This takes a lot of patience and time-management skills, especially when dealing with release dates and expectations of customers for you to have things they want in stock on time. To handle this with zero guidance or instructions, you have to be confident in working independently and doing what needs to be done, even if it means staying late, coming in early or setting up more efficient systems to work with. Patience is also of the essence, as with any retail job or job where you work with the public.”
The work lifestyle of every Record Store Manager differs, but generally speaking, they are the staff member who must be on hand to open the store, close the store, supervise during the holiday sale season, and cover any employee absences. (The intensity of this schedule is the reason why many stores have multiple Managers or Assistant Managers.) Milgrim explains, “My role is probably a little more complicated than a typical Manager since I’m Managing Partner and also the principal Music Buyer. I have a set schedule, but I can’t remember the last time I adhered to it. If something goes awry at the shop or if someone gets sick I’m usually the first person who has to take care of it.
Sometimes we do in-store events or external events and I typically work those in some capacity as well. Aside from the four days a year we’re closed (and unless I’m somewhere I don’t have internet or phone access), I try to remain accessible, just in case. It’s a little neurotic, admittedly, but since I care about our shop and have a stake in it, it’s par for the course.”
“Record store jobs, in general, are pretty hard to land since most people don’t quit unless they’re moving or entering a full-time school program,” Milgrim warns. “And although any record store position is technically trainable, it takes a certain amount of real-world music and industry knowledge to work in the environment and provide the best service to customers while also helping the store grow.
A lot of shops allow people to volunteer their time in various ways. That’s probably the best way to get in. Stores are more likely to hire from within a pool of volunteers or even hire a very knowledgeable regular customer than some random person who’s never been in the shop before and just drops off a resume.”
Record Store Managers receive a regular salary for their work. Depending on the size of the store, they may also receive benefits like health insurance and paid time off. Milgrim says in her case, “My specific role is salaried, but I also do a few other side gigs to earn extra income. I play in bands (that sometimes actually get paid), help run the Miami Girls Rock Camp, make sound/visual art, write about music, and also run sound for small local events.”
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
There are no specific professional associations for Record Store Managers, although many record stores are members of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS). As for online resources, Milgrim suggests, “Record Store Day is actually a great resource for things going on in stores. They send out year-round info and promotions related to only independent shops and of course are responsible for RSD and RSD Black Friday. I also like reading any articles and emails from Discogs. Overall, it’s really up to the person to subscribe to all the music/industry-related magazines, blogs, podcasts, mailing lists, playlists, etc. that they think might be of value to them personally/professionally.”
- “Listen to ALL THE MUSIC.
- Read about ALL THE MUSIC.
- Go to local and non-local shows/parties (responsibly).
- Hang out at your local record store and get to know the staff. (We’re actually really nice).”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Learn about all the music ever, new and old. Don’t be rude or judge others who don’t know it as much as you — after all, it’s not their job. Expand this knowledge and share it, always.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“I don’t think it’s specific to this career field but the biggest mistake people can make is not fully listening to others. This can mean your business partner, employees, customers, friends/family. The people around us are our best sources of feedback and ideas so it’s important to listen to what they have to say. We might not always agree but oftentimes their thoughts and suggestions can be invaluable.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“I think that overall, people make assumptions and don’t ask questions about what I do at work. I really wish they would ask! We have a running joke that the perception is that we just sit around listening to Wu-Tang all day long and the store runs itself. As you can see from the answers to the preceding questions, that’s hardly the case.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“Seems like a cop-out answer but I think your questions were very thorough. I suppose it’s not exactly relevant to the structure and function of the job, but many people have asked about well-known musicians coming into the shop. It happens once in a while, and it’s cool to be able to say I’ve sold records to people like Iggy Pop, Fred Schneider, Chris Brokaw, and Jello Biafra. I’m still waiting for the day Kate Bush wanders in but I won’t hold my breath.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Extra Credit: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?