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A business and life story of the «eLPee» music store owner Ivars Ivanovskis

Aleksandra Line

It cannot get any worse, so it can only get better: a one–man Latvian music business

Evilena Protektore

One of just a few music record stores in Riga is hidden somewhere on Ģertrūdes street. The store exists for many years, although these years weren’t spent trying to get more clients, because the store is just a one person business. One January night, right after the store closed, I met its owner Ivars Ivanovskis to talk about the stores musical collection, its clients, tendencies and his disability to imagine himself outside this life story.

Does your interest in music come from childhood?

Both yes and no — my mother was singing at a women’s choir at a culture house, and I have never studied music at all and had no specific interest in it until I turned 14. I’ve been listening to the things everyone was listening to. Then I started discovering a very wide world of music. I discovered that the music exists also in the radio charts, there’s a whole world out there I never knew of.

How did this interest bring you to the wish to open a record store?

I began working only in the middle of my twenties, until then I was just a student with a non–materialistic bohemic views and couldn’t imagine I’d be connected to any kind of business. I was a bit scared of financial things. Started earning money and feeling how it comes, and some people come borrowing money from me, people who earned more — that was weird. I also have to mention the fact that I’ve always loved the statistics — I have it in my genes. When there was no internet, you had to write everything down on the paper sheets and arrange everything — that was a very important quality, otherwise nothing would be possible. Then at some point I thought that was really the only job I was capable of doing — then I started working at one store as a salesman.

Five year have passed while working at different music record stores — then «Upe» was founded, I’ve spent a couple of years there, in between I established my own company, and an idea of my own record store came to mind. I was in fact ready for it, when they told me that the store is about to close. I’ve already been searching for some premises for my own store, I had some money and a friend ready to invest, so we just came to that place where the store has been before. We’ve bought those stands that have already been there and began from scratch. We had money for 2000 CDs, and at the end of the year I already had 10000 CDs. In 2000 people were able to purchase way more, and it was way easier to work — then next year something happened, the financial crisis that is. Then we had to start surviving, and since then it’s been going a bit up and a bit down during all those years.

Haven’t you regretted it ever since?

No. I regret only the fact that development went down a bit, because I had an idea of opening one more store and becoming a bit more free — at least one or two more workers, and I could start a music publishing company. If not launching new records, at least re–releasing something popular. Unfortunately this dream didn’t come true.

A great idea! And what’s your motivation to keep on doing what you do, in this existing situation?

To be honest, I haven’t done anything else in life. I’ve just been lazy, then for most of the time I had been working alone, for many years without any vacations or weekends. Then the amount of work started to get down a little bit, I started having some spare time and started traveling. To Italy, for example, which, according to my intuition turned out to be quite close to me, I like its cuisine, I like a Mediterranean climate, I feel great in it.

I can only absolutely join in on that one! But how hard is it to keep on doing a music business alone?

The store is a great part of my life. That’s natural. A bonus is the fact that I don’t have to worry about what the other employee is thinking. I don’t feel any pressure from aside, I don’t have any employers as well. I just hope for my good health, try not ruining it, so that comes natural.

Do you also work with the stores social networks, webpage, advertising yourself?

That’s not in my stars, I’m not feeling it. Yes to the quality, no to the popularity. I have never been popular, I never had many friends. You have to spend many years to gather at least a couple of those. And then I lose another client, because he goes somewhere else in search of the CD he wants that he can’t find at my place and I feel some competition. If in the beginning I invested a lot of money into advertisements, banners, then in the end of the first decade of 2000–ies I stopped doing it and didn’t see any point in that. This isn’t me. It isn’t my cup of tea, I don’t feel good doing it.

And how do you attract new customers, or keep the old ones?

They just somehow find me themselves. That’s mystical, I cannot explain how that’s happening, don’t exactly know myself. I just have something to offer, one of the largest offers in the Baltics. That’s regarding CDs, not so many vinyls, but the ones I have are qualitative as well. Regarding the movies — I have quite a lot of the world cinema classics, I have some 2000 DVDs of the world classics. For those who understands English. This was my hobby as well, you cannot earn money with it.

Does someone still buy DVDs?

Just as everything else. In 2008 people already started coming and asking me if anyone buys those DVDs at all. 11 years have passed since then. I still get asked the same questions and I try to avoid answering.

Evilena Protektore

Who is your client?

Most probably a fan of some performer. Many of them are collectors, it’s historically been so in the previous decades — a large segment of people are collectors. They don’t feel that mp3 or streaming is the same as collecting. They need to touch it. That’s one of the biggest segments — they don’t just buy, they also order CDs and vinyls. There are also people who buy music as a present — they have no idea how to give it in the other way then in a compact disc or a plate. And some special needs as well — someone needs background music in their offices, easy jazz, chillout, the things that people listen to without actually listening. The others have some specific salons, the doctors have cabinets, and the music that sounds there should be licensed, paying the author rights protection agencies.

You’ve started quite a sensitive topic on background music and easy jazz on the background. What, in your opinion, is easy jazz? What exactly do people buy when they want it?

Anything that doesn’t need too much attention. Not only in jazz, in the other genres as well, there’s a music that’s light, makes you relax. Sometimes this music is also of a high quality, but it doesn’t stimulate actual listening and savouring. I think that also the qualitative music that has sounded for quite a time until you hear it now, became too well–known, got mainstream, at one point becomes background music as well.

Who is this jazz listener then?

Once one of my clients was a great admirer of jazz — avant garde and free jazz. We had good communication, were talking about that all the time, the person was a great fan and was talking about that all the time — both historically, how the things happened, and about something I didn’t know at all. Maybe I was encouraged by him to investigate what it was. I’ve been searching for some roots of all this — I like the statistics, I have a wish to know the brightest examples of every genre to be ready to offer that to my clients.

Do you notice an interest in Latvian jazz recordings?

Lately — connected to «Jersika Records» plates. One of the latest plates was more popular, another was less — «Amorālā Psihoze» was selling good and «KlusiKlusi» — not really. Maybe this isn’t really jazz, just people connected to it.

How strongly do the tendencies in the Latvian or foreign musical market influence the clients?

The concerts happening in Latvia do influence. The interest arises. This year, of course, «Queen» sales rose greatly. But all in all in a qualitative modern pop music and rock they influence less. I won’t say my store is following the tendencies — it depicts the past and the values. New CDs that are just released are rarely ordered for the second time — there’s too many of those. I try to stick to the quality.

Have there been any funny situations with the clients during all these years?

I won’t tell you the name of this person but he’s a quite well–known Latvian poet now, who kept coming to me as a client, little boy, not much different from the others. He was wearing a Michael Jackson’s glove all the time — you can imagine how it looked like! A little boy with a skateboard and this glove. Then the little boy grew up and became a poet.

Evilena Protektore

Aren’t you afraid of competitors yourself? There are other stores selling physical records.

But such have been existing before me, as well. A second hand record store on Brīvības street isn’t a competitor that much because I mostly sell new recordings, excluding Latvian music which I buy from one smart guy who deals with purchasing vinyls, cleaning them, putting into a nice packaging and offering not only to me, but also many other stores. So this store of second hand plates is my colleague. One of the ex–music stores is now a souvenir shop, and the other one that’s in the Riga old town isn’t a competitor — they have an online catalogue and, as far as I understand, our offer differs a lot. If anyone searches for something specific, he has a choice in Latvia — there’s something special in every place. It’s better to get pop music in some stores, classics in the others.

Why does a Latvian jazz musician have to release his record physically, come to you and bring it to you to sell it?

I’m not the one who needs it that much. The musician does. Right now it’s not such a prestigious thing then it once was, especially in jazz. An album is a concept. If a musician feels that he doesn’t need it, then he doesn’t. And if he does, the compact disc is a thing that sells easier than the other formats. I guess, there is quite a lot of good jazz stores in Europe that can offer something. During the concert tours only the biggest names can earn, they also gather those stadiums. Young musicians who don’t earn with concerts won’t earn anything at all with the CDs — that’s just the attribute. People listen live and it’s enough.

And the most painful thing at the time when everyone streams and downloads — why does anyone need to come to your store and buy the physical thing?

Right now you really can listen to anything for free. But you can buy a present. A fan can come and buys something. A musician can create a circle of fans…

Do you listen to something in your spare time?

I don’t listen to anything. I’m not able to listen to anything. I’m listening to music for 10 hours per day at my workplace. I often begin my day with something that wakes me up a bit — it most probably won’t be a melancholic music. I’m not one of the people who sleeps well, so I need something like that. I often listen to trigger something in my memory — I definitely don’t listen to anything I was listening in the 90s when it was very difficult to find good music. Everything was the same, something you could afford to buy. For me, there’s classical music of some sorts, hard rock, blues–rock, psychedelic, folk–rock, singer–songwriter genre, a song as a message. The artists who were stars in their time. I listen only to the music that’s been released physically. I’m not attending live concerts that often, I get to know new music the way I did when I was a kid — from the albums.

Do you sometimes get to compare the music, attending live shows?

For the fresh ones — yes. I still attend some concerts from time to time — if that’s a fresh album or a presentation. If I weren’t at the presentation, maybe I’ll come to the concert. Speaking of foreign musicians, I’ve heard only some of the legends — Nick Cave, Iggy Pop, those guys. Sometimes I’m there just to show my respect, even if the music isn’t that close to me.

What future do you see for the thing you’re doing?

It always seems to me that it can’t get any worse. So it can only get better. Now is the lowest point of all, it can only get better in the future. I somehow don’t believe it that absolutely nobody would buy the music, I have to close the business and state bankruptcy. I will somehow survive.