HMV's Marina Square outlet closure - could it return as a speciality store?

SINGAPORE - Music store HMV, once Singapore's largest music retail chain, will shutter its last remaining store at Marina Square today (Sept 30).

While the store's general manager has said that it will be back and open a new store here in the future, I can't help but feel a tinge of sadness.

As someone who belongs to the generation of music fans who grew up with brick-and-mortar music stores and who found much joy in discovering new artists, songs and genres through physical music formats such as cassettes and CDs, the opening of HMV's first store here at at The Heeren back in 1997 was like a godsend to me. It wasn't the first to introduce the concept of the music megastore in Singapore - Tower Record's flagship store at Pacific Plaza had already been in operation since 1993.

 

But at 25,000 sq ft over three floors, HMV's size was more than double that of Tower Records' initial 11,000 sq ft. Having a second giant music store that stocked a plethora of acts and genres, many obscure and decidedly non-mainstream, was mind-blowing to me and my fellow nerdy music fans. Previously, we had to scour many small, mom-and-pop music stores around the island to look for the cassettes or CDs that we wanted, or make special orders through music shops such as Roxy Records.

Sure, you could find music on the Internet back then, but the limited bandwidth and mobility made it a novelty. The way to discover new music for me at that time was to read about it in magazines, books or newspapers, then make the trip down to HMV or Tower, and look for the CD. And when you find it, you bring it over to any of the music listening stations to have a preview before you decide to buy it.

Along with Tower Records, HMV back then was also keen to support the local music scene. They held a series of gigs to mark the opening and over the years went on to stage shows within the store or on a stage outside its entrance. I enjoyed performing there with my band Force Vomit several times and, like many other home-grown groups, we were stoked to have our CDs stocked there, alongside our idols including Nirvana or The Pixies.

In 2000, HMV expanded its presence here and opened a second, smaller store at CityLink .

In a reflection of declining music sales worldwide, HMV, like Tower Records, started downsizing both its flagship Hereen store and its CityLink outlet. Tower Records closed its last outlet here for good in 2006, and HMV started stocking more DVDs and video games, as well as further reducing its floor space at The Heeren.

In 2009, it eventually moved the flagship store to a smaller space at 313@Somerset. Two years later, it closed down the CityLink outlet but opened the Marina Square store, which became its sole outlet after the 313@Somerset store closed in 2013.

The ubiquity of music online, especially through streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer which offer free and legal music, has seen the demand for physical formats like CDs end up in a freefall.

Yes, listening to music on vinyl and, to a lesser extent, cassettes are back in fashion but this is still a niche market among mostly music purists and is unlikely to catch on as the main format for the masses.

HMV has not revealed the location or size of its future outlet here, although a spokesman has confirmed that the brand is set to open a new "concept lifestyle store" later this year in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. You can bet that the future HMV will not be as large as its Heeren heyday. It would be too hard for a physical music megastore with extensive back catalogue of music to compete with what is easily available online.

For hardcore music fans who still cherish physical music formats, there are plenty of boutique and indie music stores here, including Curated Records in Tiong Bahru, Vinylicious Records in Parklane Shopping Mall and Straits Records at Bali Lane staffed by knowledgable music pundits who are more than happy to give personalised recommendations or have music discussions.

If HMV were to go down this route, they would need to offer services and a selection of music different enough from these indie stores, or even from CD-Rama and That CD Shop, for it to survive the retail scene.