In an era dominated by digital downloads and music streaming services, the local record shop has gone the way of 8-tracks, flip phones and Atari game systems. But one local entrepreneur is bucking the industry trends by bringing a new record store to Austin.
Story and photos by Bryan Rolli
Dan Rudmann opened Studium in November with the help of several other local businesses that operate out of the store’s East Fifth Street location. The shop primarily carries music released by Punctum Records, its counterpart label that Rudmann founded, but it also stocks select works from national artists that match its eclectic vibe. By showcasing local talent and fostering all types of creativity through concerts, readings and other events, Rudmann hopes for Studium to become a significant community presence.
Andrew Stevens, who buys all the records for Studium, says he tries to strike a balance between style and profitability. “It’s not a grab bag,” he says. “It is picked out by me and bought by me for retail.”
Since Studium is a relatively small store that appeals to a niche audience, Stevens tries to buy records that will make it stick out from the myriad of other shops in Austin. “I try to avoid stuff that other people have,” he says. “Because I don’t have room to copy Waterloo or End of an Ear.”
Rudmann says the emphasis on curating a cohesive record collection will also help customers and casual visitors connect with Studium more. “It’s supposed to tell a story,” he says of the shop’s inventory. “You have all of these objects organized in a way that there’s narrative between them, and that’s kind of our goal.”
Establishing a distinct identity is crucial for a record store like Studium – as well as a local label like Punctum – in a time where music is so readily available through other mediums, Rudmann says. “You can go on something like Spotify, and you can download the entire history of recorded music,” he says. “What a label can do – and I think why people get excited about something like K Records [another Austin record label] or us – is that we’ve helped identify things that match an aesthetic that we’re trying to build.”
Studium invites customers to leisurely browse through its carefully picked selection of records, one of which the staff will often play throughout the store. If the weather is nice, they can mingle outside and enjoy a cold beer or hot cup of coffee from the neighboring Wright Bros. Brew & Brew as well. “It’s like a clubhouse,” Stevens says of the atmosphere at Studium. “This place is turning into a cool hang spot.”
Although it’s too early to determine their biggest source of income, Rudmann says the store already sells a decent amount of vinyl. “People are buying records, and that’s very encouraging for somebody who runs a record label,” he says. “There’s always talk about that, you know, waxing and waning, but right now, people are psyched on it.”
Rudmann’s observations reflect a national trend. Newsweek reported in November that in the first half of 2014, vinyl record sales in the United States totaled 4 million compared to the 2.9 million sold in the same period last year, and a 400 percent increase from the 900,000 moved in 2006. Newsweek also reported that the best-selling vinyl albums of 2014 so far are Jack White’s “Lazaretto” and the Arctic Monkeys’ “AM.” Both were released this year, demonstrating an increased demand for new records by a younger audience.
While 4 million albums might seem like an impressive figure, it’s a far cry from the 500 million vinyl albums and singles sold in 1978, as music magazine Spin reported in May. It also pales in comparison to the 70 billion songs streamed in the first half of 2014, according to Newsweek. Still, although vinyl’s glory days may be long gone, its recent sales hike suggests there is room is today’s musical climate for a niche store like Studium.
Rudmann said he first started thinking about Studium after bringing several local bands to New York City for a series of shows in the spring. “It became more apparent, having these Austin bands in this context of New York and seeing it all together, that we have something very unique and special here in Austin,” he says. “And to have a more permanent base for that in Austin became a priority.”
Besides serving as a home base for Punctum Records, Studium also works with several other local businesses, including Attendance Records, a non-profit, student-run record label. Jenna Carrens, executive director of Attendance, says its goal is to “bring creativity back into the classroom” through a program called Schoolyard Birds, where a music therapist works with students ages 6 to 10 to help them write a song, which they perform onstage at Studium.
Rudmann and Carrens first worked together during South by Southwest 2014 to create a two-day artist showcase. She said they both envisioned Studium as a community presence that supports all types of art. “We’ll do readings, we’ll do music shows, we hope to do film stuff,” she says. “We want it to be a collaborative space for all of Austin’s creative minds.”
Studium may have a firm grasp on its aesthetic, but the key to financial success is still elusive. As record buyer, Stevens says it will be a while before he figures out what works best for the shop financially, whereas more established stores like Waterloo Records can predict consumer habits more accurately. “They can look at the linear curve of everything,” he says. “They’ve done it for so long that they have their own business concept, and since we’re only six weeks old, that’s new for us. I probably won’t get a good beat on what the customer is really wanting in a more generalized sense till next year sometime. Bigger means better profits, but I’d rather be sitting at the computer eight hours a week doing orders because we’re running out of stuff than knowing that I bought enough to get us through.”
For Rudmann, Studium is just as much a collaborative space for Austin artists as it is a budding business. “I think the big thing is fostering a community,” he says. “We all want the same things for each other, and we know that if one of the bands in Austin has a light shine on it, it helps everybody here.”