Communication breakdown

There are certain questions I dread as a record store clerk. A surprisingly common one is, “I need that electric slide song for my ten-year-old”s birthday party … can you help me find it?” Christ. You would think this song would be easy to find, right? Wrong. I’ve spent hours looking through children and party compilations for desperate parents. Luckily a veteran co-worker, Rosemary, informed me last week that “Electric Boogie” appears on Marcia Griffiths’ Carousel album. God bless you, Rosemary. No longer will the kids have to go without their “Electric Boogie.”

Then there are the really specific questions – the requests that are so obscure I wonder about the customer”s sanity. Like the other week when a woman asked me for our “dog section.” Turns out she wanted “Happy Birthday” barked by dogs. I would have laughed but I knew she was totally serious. She had a little dog under each arm. Or the man running music errands for his boss who needed something that “starts really slow but builds to a huge finale.” That sounds easy enough, except he wanted it to have a “new age-ish, Enya type vibe” with the vocals by a “black gospel choir,” preferably released within the last year. What do I look like, a WFMU DJ?

I guess those are better than the vague questions. It’s almost an every day occurrence someone asks, “You know that new male singer with a song on the radio?” They’re shocked when I tell them I need more information. “But he’s allll over the radio!” Nine times out of ten they”re looking for James Blunt. Even better are the “vague band questions,” such as: “There’s a new band, four white guys, and it sounds like a combination of dark eighties goth and new wave.” I’m serious, these are real questions, and any experienced record store clerk can verify it. I guess I could look at the bright side and be thankful they didn’t ask, “What do you know about klezmer?”

A day full of questions like these can be tough. New York has its fair share of crazies and it can sometime seem like they’ve all found their way to Union Square. After three years of this harsh environment, I’ve discovered certain (legal) online casino things that help me get through my day. Here are my top 5 antidotes for the frazzled record store clerk:

  1. Instead of organizing the Frank Zappa albums by title, try grouping them by color. Then, put them in sequence of a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
  2. Make a sheet of “Clean Version” stickers and place them on unlikely titles like Hilary Duff’s Metamorphosis, or Ryan Cabrera’s Take It All Away. If it’s been an especially rough day, you better go with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Live in Jerusalem.
  3. Take a deep breath and walk to the international section. Don’t worry; nobody shops back there. In the unlikely event someone does ask you a question, kindly point them to Daddy Yankee’s Barrio Fino (recommend Reggaeton Ninos, Vol. 1 for the kids) or Matisyahu’s Live At Stubbs (They’ll probably ask for “that Hasidic reggae guy”).
  4. Have fun with sale stickers. If properly placed, a round sale sticker over Mariah Carey’s #1s can make her look like she doesn’t have any clothes on. It’s just as entertaining to spy on people peeling off the sticker to see if she really is naked.
  5. Finally, my personal favorite is browsing the Imports. Remember, you have access to really great music that nobody will know about until a year later like Half Cousin, Grand National, and Art Brut. This is an essential step for all you budding elitist record snobs.

So the next time you go to a record store, remember to be specific, but not too specific. A friendly, real conversation is always appreciated. Record store clerks are people too. Oh, and never ever ask, “What would my twelve-year-old daughter like?” You might cause serious damage that only a few hours playing with the shrink wrap machine could cure.

UPDATE: Check out this really funny video about a day in the life of Other Music employees.

12 responses to “Communication breakdown”

  1. Stephanie Smith-Waterman says:

    hey, you’re a record store clerk? cool–maybe you can help me…remember that one girl, she sings that song, the one that has sort of an upbeat chorus but is really slow in the beginning? it starts out uh-huh, uh-huh… she was big, like, two years ago, and she’s kinda cute? i heard she put out a new cd and i can’t find it

  2. Bryan Waterman says:

    Actually, think of all the 12-year-old girls whose lives you could be shaping. What would they like? Start them off with Blondie and the Go-Gos, then work them into Siouxsie and the Banshees …

    Your nearly 12-year-old neice requested Feist on her iPod shuffle … kid has good taste.

  3. Nathan says:

    yeah, but when the 12-year-old daughter is into 50 cent or marilyn manson, those recomendations don’t go over so well. i’ve actually had angry parents return to the store and tell me their child hated the cd i recommended.

  4. […] Nathan writes about being a record store clerk. […]

  5. Bryan Waterman says:

    i checked WFMU’s “on the download”: no dogs barking “happy birthday,” but you can get Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday Mr. President,” and you can get the Beatle Barkers barking out a whole host of Beatles tunes.

  6. Madeline says:

    yea nate, man the store would be so much better without customers…….serisously
    except maybe the occasional cool music conversationalist like u mentioned

  7. angela says:

    I would add more to the having fun with sales stickers portion. I mean how many people can say they’ve made two wallets and a decorative item with $10 stickers…

    oh and never mention ian curtis’ suicide and the subsequent formation of new order to someone who will answer you with, “I’m christian. I don’t like none of that evilness in my life…”

  8. Nathan W. says:

    it’s the Cha Cha Slide and you can find it on any album or single by Mr. C the Slide Man. and you call yourself a record store clerk.

  9. Nathan Waterman says:

    actually the cha cha slide is just an updated version of the electric boogie! how dare you doubt rosemary.

  10. george says:

    I’m most annoyed by the “I have a question for you but I still know everything” customers that cut you off before you can even finish. The other day I described a band to a customer and it went something like this:

    Me: They kinda sound like The Kills.
    Guy: The Kills?
    Me: (just to make sure he wasn’t hearing me wrong) Yeah, the Kills, not the Killers.
    Guy: (all bent out of shape) I KNOW who The Killers are!
    Me: I just wanted to make sure-
    Guy: The Kills are much harder than these guys.

    Well than pal, if you know what they sound like why the hell are you asking me? Please go away now.

  11. Renee says:

    I hate those customers who look at me and think I don’t know anything about music pre-1990. Yeah, I LOOK about 17 or 18 but I know my shit!

  12. […] Scott Godfrey, “The church of manlove” Nathan Waterman, “Communication breakdown” Jeremy Zitter, “Dealing with divorce: a child’s guide” […]