Throw Shady Dog a bone

By Matt Donato
March 15, 2007

Meghan Hurley

The crackling of the needle on the record is the first thing that Dave Castleman hears when he starts his day. Before he even begins with the day’s paper work, Dave picks out which album he wants to start with. It is always a difficult choice considering his selection, which contains but is not limited to: classical, jazz, folk, country, blues, rock & roll, R&B, opera and reggae. He takes his time with this decision; after all, the paper work can wait.

“I usually put on classical or a jazz piece to get the day started. I don’t usually start rockin’ till around noon time,” Castleman said.

After the music is blaring he gets to work.

Fifty-five year old Castleman works at Shady Dog Records in Berwyn, Pa. where he is co-owner with partner Mike Notaro. They started the business more than a decade ago, and they have always been the little fish in a big pond.

Shady Dog specializes in rare vinyls that they sell on site in Berwyn, and also throughout the world with the help from websites like Amazon and eBay.

They receive the bulk of their collection from collectors, the average Joe who doesn’t want to just throw out his obsolete collection and even the diminishing number of artists who choose to put their music out on vinyl.

“There are bands that are still doing the vinyl thing such as Modest Mouse, The Roots and Wilco. Vinyl is hip right now,” he said.

Over the past few years, Shady Dog and record stores across the country have taken some blows to their midsection. In a study done by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, digital music sales doubled in 2006 to approximately $2 billion, which accounts for 10 percent of all music sales.

One of the biggest distributors in the music industry, Tower Records, crumbled last year. With a bid of $134.3 million, Great American Group’s purchased the chain and put about 3,000 employees on the unemployment line. Tower’s founder Russ Solomon, never thought that the internet would put him out of business, but the fat lady has sung for his company, as he put it in an email to employees last year.

Even though they are taking some hits in revenue, Shady Dog has perfected their blocking technique. With the help of the technological music revolution Shady Dog sells more vinyl.

“As far as computers are concerned, they hurt us with CD sales, but they help us sell rare vinyl all over the world. It’s a real double-edged sword for us. You just can’t stop technology,” Castleman said.

As is the case with most music connoisseurs, Castleman’s feelings on today’s music are never stable.

He said, “Up until about two or three years ago, I was really concerned with the direction that music was heading. I thought the music was really pretty terrible. In the past two or three years I am encouraged because I think the music, pop-rock/alternative music, is better than it had been in 10 or 12 years. It’s reflected by the state of our society right now. When things are turbulent the art tends to get better.”

He made it clear that he and his partner were more than capable of following other career paths, but why? They both found a job that they love, and isn’t that really the American dream making money while doing what you love? Tony Montana had to kill people, these guys sell vinyl.

They spend their days changing the world one maladjusted teenie bopping kid at a time. After all in 2006, according to Nielsen Soundscan, the soundtrack to “High School Musical” finished at the top of the charts. The only other soundtracks to accomplish that feat were “The Bodyguard” and “Titanic.”

“Any younger person that comes in the store I try to get them into something that’s a little more challenging right away to open up a new world for them as opposed to what their being presented,” Castleman said.

As long as good music is still being made the future is going to stay bright for the guy’s behind Shady Dog and their customers.

Just like a good fighter rolls with the punches, Shady Dog Records is bobbing and weaving and still landing some jabs early in the 14 round.

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Matt Donato

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