We here at Tone Deaf love nothing more than reporting on everything that is music, however sometimes there might be a little bit too much focus on just the artists, and the myriad of work that goes on behind closed doors is forgotten. Remember record stores? For many (including us) record stores have always been a place of education, worship, and community – so to celebrate these great spaces each fortnight we’re reaching out to shine a much deserved spotlight some of our favourite indie record stores.
We caught up with Chris Pepperell the founder, owner and operator of Sydney institution and Australian musical landmark Red Eye Records. Opening 34 years ago (in 1981) Red Eye has been the home away from home for many musicians, music collectors and culture fans for as long as most can remember.
Over the years the York street store has become not only the largest indie store in the country about also the recipient of two ARIA Awards for ‘Best Independent Physical Retailer In Australia. Beyond that, the store’s ‘mail order’ business has grown rapidly over the last ten years helping customers from all over the world find rare, out of print and unique Australian items.
Chris gave us some insight into what it’s like running the largest indie music store in Australia. If you’d like to pop by the shop, its located at 143 York St, Sydney. For more info on Red Eye visit www.redeye.com.au.
The Birth Of Red Eye
“I opened the store in 1981! It was a time when independent releases were all happening, and there were maybe around eight other indie retailers in the Sydney CBD, all doing ok.”
“I started selling records at school in the late ‘60s, to get money to buy records! In the early ‘70s I dropped out of Uni to get a job in Sydney’s first “Import Store” Anthem Records, and was in heaven there until 1980 when it was bought by the club act the Four Kinsmen, we were from different universes, so I exited to start Red Eye Records in 1981.
Even though competition was strong we managed to create a solid little business mixing Aussie indies, imports, second hand and collectables. Slowly but surely we grew to being the largest indie music store in Sydney, and now Australia.”
What Has Kept Red Eye Alive
“We love music, and records and CDs, and we love to help collectors like ourselves get what they want and need. To do that properly over the years we’ve vastly extended our sources of supply worldwide, and streamlined the best customer order service in the business, both over the counter and via our website www.redeye.com.au
It makes sense to listen to what your customers want, rather than you telling them what they need and how they’ll have to buy it.”
A Day In The Life Of Red Eye
“Lots of ordering, lots of boxes arriving, unpacking, processing, calling up customers when their orders arrive, answering hundreds of phone enquiries, lots of counter serving… all good, and all fun!”
Most Memorable Items That Have Come Through The Store
“Apart from our usual service of sourcing rare, original and out of print vinyl and CDs for customers some memorable/strange items we ordered in have been: An Eddie Munster life-size doll, Tour buttons/posters to cancelled tours eg. Rolling Stones Hanging Rock gig, Instructional belly dancing videos, Make-up, an Alien Abduction lamp, Discontinued computer games for ’90s consoles, an actual Jive Bunny doll, every format (CD, LP, Cassette) and pressing of a certain album (the example I can think of Counting Crows August and Everything After (over 40 different versions) for one customer and a Ouija board.”
“We’ve always had good relationships with many of our comrades in the other indie shops. Early days in Sydney with Waterfront, The Record Plant, Timewarp, Unsound etc, and currently with Utopia, Egg Records, Mojo, The Record Store.
Interstate we have great dealings with Vicious Sloth and Collectors Corner in Melbourne, Rocking Horse and Egg (Brisbane) in Queensland and many more. And on the supplier side we’ve never had better relationships with the major suppliers than we do now, and the vast indie supply chain worldwide is ever expanding, and a joy to deal with.”
“My (now) business partner Adam celebrating 30 years with Red Eye, having started here doing school work experience, aged 15. My (now) shop manager Matt celebrating 20 years with Red Eye, having also started here doing school work experience, aged 15. About the same time, winning our first (of two) ARIA Awards for best independent physical retailer in Australia.”
Biggest Lessons Learnt
“Listen to your customers. Work hard. Embrace change and innovation.”
The Future Of Independent Music Retailers
“We’re in a little golden period for well run record shops, driven by the increase in vinyl sales, and the return of a younger demographic clientele of about 15 to 25 that were missing for about a ten year stretch. The immediate and medium term future is good, as long as people still appreciate good music, high quality vinyl issues, premium CD packages and box sets, and good, helpful and friendly service.