Music, Movies, TV – An Insider’s Perspective

Tag: Record Stores

In June we celebrate Black Music Month

On June 7, 1979 President Jimmy Carter decreed June to be an annual month-long celebration of Black Music in America. In 2009, President Barack Obama changed the name to African American Music Appreciation Month…By popular demand President Biden has reinstated the celebration and observance to its original name of  “Black Music Month”

Blacks in America have created or inspired many genres and sub-genres of music. Since 1979, we have celebrated all these genres in the month of June. Although there are talented black artists in ALL genres of music, in June we celebrate R&B (rhythm and blues/soul music), Gospel, Jazz, Blues, Funk, Rap and Hip-Hop.

You may have read about my long history in the music industry. I made it clear where I found the best times and the joy of my life. My biggest thrill and most memorable time in music was working in one of America’s most distinguished, important and beloved stores. This store (Big Ben’s and later Wherehouse Music) served the most diverse black community in Los Angeles. Although the store was part of a huge chain we served our neighborhood and community as if we were a stand-alone specialty store. Everyone within the community relied on our store to bring them EVERYTHING that was “Black Music”. Due to the popularity of our store,

it was not long until busses began to show up with tourists.

They wanted to get the music they could not find in most stores. They knew that a trip to our store could mean finding a hot new artist or a hard-to-find piece of music that they just, had to have.

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Welcome to my BLOG

You probably dropped by to hear something about. MUSIC, MOVIES or TV from an Industry Insider. So let me tell you a little about how I became an insider. Since you are just getting to know me, I will give you some background on me. I have had a lengthy career in music and entertainment so for this first entry, it will be a little lengthy. The positions I have held over the years have given me a lot of EPIC and sometimes hilarious stories. Friends that experienced or have heard the funny, heart-warming or sometimes unbelievable stories during my career often ask “when are you writing your book”. That may happen someday but until then I will share many of my personal & true stories here, on my blog. In case you are wondering where the name of my blog came from, it is a little nod to a skit that appeared on Eminem’s most celebrated album, “The Marshal Mathers LP”. You can hear my name mentioned on track 6 (titled, Steve Berman).

Although I am an industry insider, I am also a lifelong fan with a passion for MUSIC, MOVIES & TV….so here goes and I hope you visit often!

As every BLOG, VLOG, and PODCAST strives to make them your only source for Entertainment news, breaking stories, gossip, tips on what to TRY, BUY or COLLECT and what to LOVE, LIKE, DISLIKE, and add to “YOUR STORY”, I will strive to give you personal, interesting and sometimes hilarious stories about my long career in the entertainment industry. And it will include a whole lot of stuff I have SEEN, HEARD, LOVED, LIKED and COLLECTED over the years.  You may hear about something new or even old that you now can’t live without. I will always provide information on where you can get the things I talk about. I will even drop discount information on you so you can own these things for less! Perhaps you will find something here in the same way I used to find new music and movies in RECORD STORES.

Since I have mentioned RECORD STORES, let me share a little bit about how “record stores” have taken me to where I am today. These stores provided the inspiration and motivation to create and sustain a successful career in the music and entertainment industry.

My obsession began with collecting music at age 5. I lived down the street from the “GREATEST PLACE on EARTH”, MY LOCAL RECORD STORE. As a kid I dreamed of someday being able to work in a record store, where I could make a lot of money and then give it back to the record store for MORE RECORDS.

Well, my dream began super early because at the age of 12, I started working at a local swap meet. We sold 4 & 8 track tapes (an ancient format that preceded the also ancient cassette tape). From listening to, and collecting so much music, I knew all of the popular songs. I gave suggestions to our customers on music they might like. They seemed to like my suggestions because they kept coming back every weekend to speak to “that kid, that knows a lot about music”. My boss noticed how many people came to see me and how many tapes I was selling for him. Eventually, he too started listening to “the kid” and he took my suggested songs and put them on tapes they called compilations. These were compilations that had 20 songs that were the hits of that time period.

I had no idea that these people made our tapes in a large home, filled with nothing but recording equipment, stacked from the floor to the ceiling. After finally seeing their home (the factory), they assured me that everything they were doing was “PERFECTLY LEGAL”. I just went with their story because they were adults and I was just a kid trying to get money to feed my obsession of owning EVERY piece of music in the world.

The compilations became a HIT and a HUGE source of revenue for the business. I was just happy to see my suggestions selling and to get my “WEAK-LY” pay for it. Oh, I don’t think I mentioned that these people paid me $20.00 per weekend to arrive at 5 a.m. and work hard all Saturday and Sunday until 5 p.m. I was just 12 but the term, “child laborer” did not enter my vocabulary for several years. Making that $20 for working 2 days, selling music was my favorite thing to do. Honestly, I probably would have paid them to be there every weekend. I actually thought I was rich since the going rate for a 12-year-old to baby sit was usually a hamburger & fries or 50 cents an hour.

I continued to work for them until I was fifteen, and rather than giving raises in pay they would give me things they thought I would like. They started putting my name on the compilations along with a number…Violet #1, Violet #2 started to appear on the tapes. I now thought I was famous…(a Swap Meet Star)…Most importantly those tapes bearing my name made the kids at my school also think I was famous. My friends and classmates started asking me to bring my records to parties and school dances.

At age fifteen I became really “big-time” because the “child laborers” asked me to take over their one and only retail store.

They said “this is now YOUR store, just pay us at the end of the week for what you sell”. They loaded me up with the “perfectly legal” tapes and at the end of each week, I loaded them up with lots of CASH that mostly came from my friends and school mates. I knew my store would be popular. I promoted the store with flyers at school. I would open the store after school with hordes of kids cramming in to get their music. MY STORE WAS A HIT!

Then came the day a man wearing a suit wandered into the store. He told me that my “PERFECTLY LEGAL” tapes were “ABSOLUTELY ILLEGAL”. So being a young entrepreneur (a KID), this guy let me move the illegal music out of my store without any trouble.

I then started buying legal recordings and I invested in the other hot products of that time. I changed the name of my store to “Mrs. Naturals Nickle Bag” and proceeded to make even more money. But I was always envious of a HUGE record store that was nearby. Big celebrities signed autographs there and this store seemed to have EVERYTHING. In my little shop I could not afford to have everything, nor did I have the space.

This BIG and magical place, Wallach’s Music City had it all. They were the biggest chain of their time. Soon I went to work there and left my mom to manage our small store. I went to my happy-place, the “BIG” record store. I rose through the ranks of this chain and became the “singles expert” as in, 7 inch, 45 rpm, vinyl records (not a Match.com guru). I knew singles, I knew hit songs, and I knew the name of every song that customers would badly sing to me. And, not once did I encounter any singing customer that could be a contender on our current shows of “Idol” or “The Voice”.

It was not long until I met a guy from Wallach’s music distributor that told me, I should be working for his company. His company supplied music to just about every store across the country. I eventually joined his company (Nehi Record Distributor) and became their “singles buyer”. In this job, I had to know ALL the HIT SINGLES from ALL genres that were busting out of every city and state in the country. I needed this knowledge to effectively sell the music that was “happening” in all these places.

While working as the buyer I got a taste of what it was like to be a DJ. I was asked to bring the new promo records I received as a buyer to a local dance club for the DJ to use on a busy Saturday night. I brought music that was brand new and often not yet available to purchase in stores. His club now had the HOTTEST music long before other clubs.

Being in the DJ booth, watching him rule and move the crowd was intoxicating to me. His music choices could change the whole atmosphere of the club. He was in total control of that dancefloor. He gave our party-people, the time of their life for 5 hours every night. I asked him to teach me how to use the equipment. Soon he asked me to take control of the turn tables.

I stepped up to the front of the DJ booth and put on my first record.

Several people looked up at me with a shocked look on their face. I was not exactly sure why until I noticed that they were all black (this is long before the term African American). I was the only white face in the club and now I am on the wheels of steel…(NO please, not the turn tables). I am sure they thought I would not know their music but little did they know, that is the music I LOVE. When they figured out, I knew my stuff and could also wear them out on the dancefloor, I was asked to come back every weekend. Actually, I think they wanted my records more than they wanted me.

Both the club and my day job were far from my home. Driving became an issue since I was on the road after 2 a.m. and then back to my “real job” by 8 a.m. A friend told me about a chain of record stores with headquarters near my home. I went in without an appointment and asked to speak to someone in Personnel. They allowed me to go into a lady’s office where she smoked many cigarettes while telling me how I could start in their warehouse picking and boxing the product (the music) that would go to their stores.

Well after she allowed me to tell her a little bit about myself and what I was currently doing, she asked me if I would like to be a store manager. I said yes, and was shocked when she asked if I could I start, NOW! I was slightly confused because I was not working there yet, but oddly I felt like I just received a promotion from packing boxes to being a store manager.

I left her office and drove to my first store, which was “The Wherehouse” in Long Beach, CA. After one day of being back in this store with customers, I quit my job at the distributor. I was back in my element, where I could see the smile on the customers face when I told them about new music or played it in the store. Making customers happy by turning them on to new music and artists has always been my passion.

After a few years of being a Store Manager, I was promoted to a District Manager. That position took me away from customers and put me in an office. I hated it, so I asked to go back to a store. The store I wanted was in an area that had never had a Caucasian or a female manager. I waited until the Manager position opened in that store, then I begged the owner of our company to take a chance on me, and to give me the Manager position. I had a good track record of increasing sales in the stores I had worked in. This included the #1 store in our chain.

Our owner gave me a trial period to manage my “dream store”.

The store was HUGE and was known as one of the most influential stores for urban music. I quickly put together FREE events for the community that often included some of the biggest stars in urban music. I created and hosted an annual event (The Wherehouse Block Party), that happened every June for “Black Music Month”. It is now called “African American Music Appreciation Month”. I got the whole community involved, from local high school bands, to craft & food vendors. This was a neighborhood event that drew music fans from all over Los Angeles and beyond. Every year, NEW and SUPER STAR artists would perform FREE CONCERTS for the community. These artists signed autographs and took photos with fans following their performance. It was a who’s who of R&B, RAP, GOSPEL & JAZZ artists. Some artists were even “Super Stars”. Needless to say, the store was doing very well. I was SUPER happy, being around the music and the people I loved so much.

After a few years the Urban Music Buyer position opened in our Corporate office. It was a high-profile position since this buyer bought all the music that sat on the shelves of the biggest and most beloved Urban Music store in the country (according to media and the record labels). For me, my store was just serving the neighbors of my community but due to the attention from the media the store brought music fans from all over the state and the country. Our owner was pleased as I increased the revenue in this store. When the Urban Music Buyer position became available, he called on me to grow our urban business throughout the entire chain. Our company was growing. We were also acquiring and opening new stores across the country. With my previous national buying experience, at the distribution company I seemed to be a perfect fit for our own buying position.

I was honored to become our urban buyer. I now supplied ALL our stores with what they needed for their customers. After a while, I added my own marketing manager. She supported all of my crazy ideas and she also had a few of her own. The two of us managed our business as if the stores were are very own. We soon found MANY other amazing urban stores within our chain. When identified we managed their business like a separate little chain within our BIG chain.

The Wherehouse, made a name that was synonymous with “breaking” Urban artists.

I especially loved helping independent artists achieve their dreams of selling their music in a large national music chain. Independent artists called me directly and some would just show-up unannounced at my office (like I did when I first came to The Wherehouse). Every artist wanted to get their music on our shelves. Being in our stores could mean fame and fortune for an artist. I connected artists to distribution companies and some were given to major record labels. Many artists made a nice living off of selling their music through our stores. Selling music at Wherehouse stores often made other chains take notice, and they too would purchase the artist’s music. Some of the independent artists that we purchased and promoted “BLEW-UP” to become HUGE SUPER-STARS. Some sold millions of records, tapes, CD’s, and now digital music throughout the world. I moved from having a good reputation of picking hits and music for my stores, to picking artists for record labels that would “make the HITS” we sold in our stores. I got offers from music labels to work for them, but I LOVED my position where I could help many artists “get in, where they could fit in”. It was a joy to watch artists that I helped along the way, make their mark on the music industry.

While staying in my buying position I accepted the role of A&R consultant at a few record labels. The A&R person or consultant is the one that first finds the new artist and connects them to eventually sign a contract with a record label. I remained at The Wherehouse until the physical business started to change and decline due to digital and online sales. The Wherehouse, was eventually sold to Trans World Entertainment. They owned and operated the F.Y.E chain of stores. They bought several chains and stores as the business began to suffer due to the new environment of the music industry and entertainment industry.

Myself and a few others were chosen to stay on with the new owners. The Wherehouse stores were loaded with very talented people, so I am not sure what their criteria was for keeping employees. I felt the “Wherehouse” had the best team in the business. I enjoyed a few good years with Transworld. I was able inject my process of buying and promoting Urban music into their chain. My previous marketing person came along with me while I was there so I feel we made our mark and grew their urban business.

Although I have done many things throughout my years in the Entertainment business there was nothing quite as fulfilling as being face to face with customers. I was passionate about sharing what I knew about music and then seeing them walk to the cash register and leave the store with NEW (or even classic) music. Many customers would return and tell me how much they loved the music I suggested to them. That feeling is why I am here with you today, and why I am very EXCITED to speak to you, fans and customers through my BLOG, “VIOLET BROWN TOLD ME”.  

Now you know a lot about me and if you want to know more you can always ask me, use Google, or simply read my BLOG. Along with “suggesting” music, movies, TV shows and other interesting things, I also have decades of cool and captivating stories that I will be sharing with you. You will hear about NEW things, Old things, Classic Things and possibly the “NEXT BIG THING”. I am a FAN of MANY genres of music and films…I am a FAN, a COLLECTOR (some would say, hoarder) and I am an “OG Music & Entertainment Influencer”. I have spent a lifetime influencing those that love music, movies and TV. I enjoy droppin’ knowledge about random things you did not know about. I will tell you about things you did not know you “wanted” or even “needed” in your life, until……

VIOLET BROWN TOLD YOU!