Exchanging Words with Into the Music

Nicholas Friesen Blog

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Exchanging Words is an ongoing series of conversations with the people behind the places in the Exchange District. If you would like to be featured, please email nicholas@exchangedistrict.org with “Exchanging Words” in the subject line.

Whether you keep your records in a milk crate or handmade shelving unit, you’ve likely got a bit of Into the Music in your home and on your record player. For 30 years, owner Greg Tonn has brought vintage records, CDs, and more to Winnipeg collectors – first on Corydon Avenue for three years, then in Osborne Village for 13 years, eventually finding a permanent home at 245 McDermot Avenue in the Exchange District in 2003.

“We have a perfect landlord, the parking’s better, the space is better – just an incredible opportunity, and I’ve never looked back,” Tonn says with a laugh from behind the counter. During a stint working another gig in the Silpit Building (across the street from the shop’s current location), he fell in love with the idea of relocating to the Exchange. “I realized there were more people on the streets than I’d originally thought, a lot more businesses. The people that were our customers were here already. Plus, the Exchange has great architecture,  arts organizations, and loads of restaurants and street parking.

“I’m gonna retire here, man. I’m never moving this thing again.”

This “thing” is a store that includes a massive used vinyl section consisting of rock, jazz, blues, and more. You’ll also find new release vinyl, CDs, music DVDs and VHS, listening stations, and a cassette section which occasionally doubles as a stage for in-store performances. These are things you won’t find in the few remaining chain stores.

“Operating as an independent, we see our role very differently, and we provide a different service,” Tonn says. “Over the years has come a great knowledge of what our customers want and what they don’t want. You curate the store, it sort of evolves, and we see what flies out the door. The customer shows you what the price should be.”

He also notes that it isn’t just a niche place to find obscure Frank Zappa or Elevator records, as the Into the Music staff is well aware that many people are starting collections from scratch and require the mainstream classics.

“If you’re building a collection, all the basic, relatively easy to find stuff pours in here all the time,” he says. “Then there’s the cream of the crop, the collector market, stuff that is $25 a piece.”

IMG_7397Over 30 years, he’s seen plenty of kids and kiddos start out with a few Beatles and Kraftwerk records before becoming full-blown collectors.

“When they’re young they’re curious and experimental, and when they’re older they start latching on to a band or a scene or a genre,” Tonn explains. “Once they get into the genre, then that interest goes much deeper, and they become an expert in what they’re collecting. It’s the difference between a generalist and an expert, and quite frankly I defer to the experts. Al (Conroy) who works here is a master of electronic music – he’ll know the chronology, the pressings, he’s a great resource. Jay (Van Deventer) who works here is a real expert on the new wave heavy metal genre. We bring a certain passion and knowledge to what we do, we’re collector geeks. As I like to say to my wife, ‘These are my people’.

“We’ve been successful partly because we’ve been able to meet their needs and build great relationships. Even though it’s a buy/sell/trade environment, it’s not an adversarial one.”

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According to a recent article in Forbes Magazine, vinyl sales are projected to sell 40 million units in 2017 after a 53% spike in sales from 2015, so it’s safe to say the vinyl resurgence of the last decade isn’t just a fad. When people are buying physical music, they’re doing so on vinyl. Tonn notes that he sold records throughout the ‘90s (when CDs were king) and that there will always be an audience for them, regardless of industry trends and digital formats.

“It’s understanding who our customers are,” he says. “People who download? Not my customer. I don’t worry about ‘em. You try and run your business efficiently in the marketplace, but things happen you have no control of. There’s always been records pressed and a market for it, it’s just that the market had condensed and shrank. The lie to the original concept of CDs was that the sound was perfect. I remember the word ‘perfect’ very distinctly being used, because there’s no such thing as perfect. It wasn’t about sound quality, it was about convenience. We’re seeing the same thing happen to CDs today that happened to vinyl in 1990. All the mainstream stuff became hard to sell, but it’s the fringe stuff where we’ve done very well.”

Speaking of convenience, many people are more inclined to listen to music on their phones or computers, without the experience or ritual of putting on a record. Certain people still believe in that ritual, and these are Greg Tonn’s people.

“You have to sit down and absorb (a record) in 20-25 minute chunks, as opposed to endlessly if you’re listening to digital,” he says. “The little bit of extra effort you put into it provides a greater reward, a more meaningful reward. It comes back to the idea of what’s meaningful to the individual. People are looking for something with a little more meaning in their life, and your record collection up on the wall has more meaning than a file on a computer.

“My interests are funk, garage, jazz, but I’m always discovering things I’ve never heard of. I still haven’t lost that joy for discovering new things, and that’s partly what makes my job such a great job.”

Visit 245 McDermot Avenue or intothemusic.ca to help celebrate Into the Music’s 30th anniversary on July 17, 2017.

Bonus Video: In honour of the 30th anniversary of Into the Music, we spoke with long time customer Dean Jonasson about why this Exchange District record store means so much to him.