For Rocksteady Records owner Pat Monaghan, his business is a labour of love. Born of a lifelong passion for local music, he gets to spend every day doing what he loves. But he couldn't do it alone.
Around him exists a tight-knit community of small business owners, and local creatives who encourage and support one another.
We learn why passion and community go hand in hand when it comes to operating a niche business in a busy, competitive, and digital age.
How did you get into music retail? What continues to inspire your interest after three decades in the business?
From the age of 16 or so, I would haunt virtually all of the independent record stores in Perth, visiting most of them on a weekly basis. Through university, I found myself becoming more and more involved with local independent music scene.
From that early stage, it moved beyond an interest to become a passion. I'm driven to discover new music and share it on an almost daily basis. Particularly local music: that passion has never waned.
In 1985, the owner of Dada Records offered me a job, and I have been behind a counter ever since.
How has digitisation and the exponential growth of online streaming affected your business?
I believe it has resulted in a greater curiosity and desire for a wider variety of music and to be more aware of what is available. Anything that stimulates an interest in or a reaction to art and entertainment has to be a good thing.
The last few years has seen a huge growth in the market for analogue music. Who is the vinyl buyer? How do they from any other kind of music consumer?
In my experience, the vinyl buyer really doesn't conform to any singular definition.
If I had to, I'd suggest that they are people who take significant time to listen to music and who relish that experience. Equally importantly, they like to share that experience. They appreciate every element: visual, aural, and in a tactile sense. It’s worth noting that many people comment on how good a new LP smells.
What advice would you give to a business person who's passionate about vinyl and wants to make a living selling records?
Some of the things that I consider important are an awareness that you, as a small business, are part of a community. This includes other record stores, radio stations, music venues, artists, blogs, publications, art galleries, studios, labels, booking agents, managers, other small businesses, and, vitally, local and international artists. We can rely on and complement each other to help expand our audiences.
It also helps greatly if you love what you do, are happy to share that love and knowledge, and are also willing to learn from every other music lover you encounter on a daily basis.
How do small and micro-retailers in inner Melbourne support each other? Are there regular events where retailers can network and help promote each other's businesses?
Rocksteady Records is part of a small business community of stylists, designers, graphic artists, camera houses, hair and makeup stylists, jewellers, architects and more. We all refer customers to each other.
Beyond that, in regards to record stores, there is the Diggin' Melbourne map and app that all Melbourne record stores make available to customers to spread the joy of vinyl shopping.
Another is taking active part in Record Store Day, an annual event worldwide every April.
The Melbourne City Precinct is tremendously useful in encouraging supportive relationships to foster in the community of the Melbourne CBD. Their social events are increasingly cool and engaging.
Of course, word of mouth and directing customers to other stores and businesses continues to be incredibly effective.
You get to live and work doing something that you love, building a business out of a lifestyle interest. What benefits are there for you outside of the financial? What is the thing that keeps you working in this environment?
There is a satisfaction in knowing that you are giving back to a creative community that has brought you pleasure and inspiration for most of your life. You can frequently see an artist or a movement grow in terms of talent, impact, influence and popularity. That's a great thing to witness.
I keep working in this environment because it really is inspiring, and I learn something new about music almost every day. Talking with customers, artists, DJs, label owners and record companies is frequently entertaining and educational. Reading and hearing about new artists and releases means that my curiosity is always piqued. There is always something new to enthuse about.
How do you contribute to Melbourne’s creative community, and what would you like to do in future?
I make an effort to search out some things that are not going to be stocked in chain stores.
Rocksteady chooses to highlight and encourage the work of Australian artists. That can take the form of selling local independent releases and highlighting local works. The shop is decorated with the artwork of a local artist Tracy Ellerton, and photographs of legendary Australian photographer Bleddyn Butcher. We put local books and fanzines in high profile counter space.
I don't really see Rocksteady Records as being traditionally creative, but more as an encouraging force or support act!
Instore gigs, DJ events, and sponsoring community radio programmes and independent publications are all part of encouraging Melbourne's creative community.
In five years, ideally, we will be firmly established and growing as a significant contributing member of this community, with a similarly thriving online presence.
Visit the Rocksteady Records website