Amoeba Records launches downloadable music store for digitized rarities

Amoeba Records -- the amazing California music superstore -- has relaunched, with a huge selection of downloadable music rarities, digitized from old vinyl. In some cases, the store has tracked down rightsholders for these out-of-print rarities, and cleared the music for sale for the first time; in others, it's escrowing the sales funds for payment to rightsholders when and if they present themselves.

"We've been digitizing a lot," says Jim Henderson, who owns Amoeba along with partners Marc Weinstein, Karen Pearson and Dave Prinz. "What you see now is the lost-between-the-cracks, underappreciated, undervalued (music) from dead labels, (obscure) artists, stuff that we really stand behind. It's mostly in the rock genre, with a lot of jazz, a lot of blues, some country, some spoken word. There are some oddities for sure."

Many of the LPs have been getting remastering upgrades from the original vinyl and shellac sources. Currently, there are only about 1,000 titles for sale, but Amoeba is adding 10 or 15 more every day.

Some Vinyl Vaults artists are readily familiar, and in some cases Amoeba's source material emanates from its owners' own collections. Some of Prinz's rare Louis Armstrong 78s were digitized and are being sold as downloads, while Weinstein's prized collection of 144 Sun Ra albums has also been ripped.

Some Vinyl Vaults artists have proven so elusive that even diligent detective work could not track them down. Henderson points to an unknown '70s country artist known only as C.J., whose album "My Lady's Eyes" is for sale on the site.

"We couldn't find C.J.; we couldn't find a label that put the record out," Henderson says. "But it's a compelling piece, (so) we said, 'This should be up.' "

Weinstein adds that if a sale is made, the money goes into an escrow account. "If (someone says), 'That's mine,' well, OK, we can either take it down or we'll sell it, and you've got this nice (digital) master. We'll sell it, we'll promote it; let's sign a contract."

Music retail giant puts tunes online [Variety/Christopher Morris]

(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)


  1. That’s a great idea. I think the key to the indie record store survival is innovation such as this as well as continuing to serve the niche, boutique market that lives outside the periphery of Wal-Mart and iTunes.

    There’s a lot of great music that never even made it to CD let alone iTunes.

  2. It is a wonderful idea. I worry about the risk they are taking. Their escrow plan seems like a smart thing to do, which shows their honesty, but lawyers for the prosecution rarely care about such things.

    1. Yeah, I hope that works out for them.

      (However, in the case of really old recordings, some could potentially be in the public domain.)

      I am a little afraid to go browse the catalog… ($$$)

      1. I’m not afraid – I don’t have any money, so I can browse to my heart’s content, knowing that I won’t spend anything.

    2.  Nice thing is, Amoeba is one of the big boys in music retail, and is incredibly well connected. If a label goes after them, they can just make some phone calls and have the legal problems dealt with at a much, much higher level than some enterprising young lawyer.

      They’re not just some website.

      We’ve dealt with a few nastygrams from lawyers (we do music retail websites) and the owner of my company can do the same thing – call friends who know people to get the problem smoothed over.

      It’s actually the small labels that are the biggest problem – they have that ‘terrier vs. mastiff’ thing going on sometimes, and come in with high-flying legal threats with no warning…

  3. This sounds remarkably similar to what Google tried to do with orphaned books, but that was EEEEEVIL.  Not trying to stir the pot, but… can somebody enlighten me as to the moral difference here?

    (Just to be clear: I’m actually in favor of both – I think all of this stuff should be available to anybody who wants it, and that some mechanism should exist to recompense its creators. Just wondering whether there’s some major difference between the two that I’ve missed.)

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