Selection, listening stations set An Die Musik apart from other record stores Ellicott City store opened Saturday HOWARD COUNTY BUSINESS


If it's not the 24-karat gold limited edition CD of Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run" or a complete cassette collection of the Jack Flanders audio drama series, maybe it's a sampler of Tibetan ritual music.

And if that's not enough to entice high-income buyers to the new An Die Musik store in Ellicott City, the chance to pull on a set of headphones and listen to any of these collections of distinctive music before buying could do the trick.

The 11,000-square-foot store, the company's second in the music-hungry Baltimore-Washington area, opened Saturday at the corner of Centennial Lane and U.S. 40.

"You can buy Michael Bolton anywhere. The thing that's going to distinguish us is a very wide range of music and customer service," says Stephen Bowen, one of eight partners who founded the business five years ago with a store in Towson.

"We've got to carry Michael Bolton, but we've also got to carry some pretty hard-to-find stuff, too. Some of the music in our international and folk collections you'd be hard pressed to find in almost any other music store."

A focus of An Die Musik (the name comes from a Franz Schubert piece) is "the classics," says Mr. Bowen, in all of the major musical styles, particularly rock, pop, jazz, blues and country.

The store will also carry a deep selection of classical music, since that genre accounts for about 30 percent of sales volume.

Aside from the depth of the store's catalog of music -- which will number about 25,000 titles -- key elements are An Die Musik's "listening stations" and its emphasis on music knowledge over smooth sales prowess in its floor sales staff.

"We won't hire anyone on our sales staff unless they've got some significant knowledge or experience with music," says Mr. Bowen.

Sales staff members are given a field of music to focus on so they can answer customer inquiries with accuracy and assist with selecting which music to carry.

For example, Chris Palestrant, the manager of the classical music section in the Ellicott City store, has a master's degree in music composition.

Aside from his depth of knowledge about classical music, Mr. Palestrant has become An Die Musik's resident expert on books on tape and what is called audio drama, such as the Jack Flanders radio dramas. The character, an Indiana Jones-like hero of the American-produced adventure series, travels the globe.

But the listening stations appear to have the most noticeable effect on sales and customer satisfaction.

"The unique thing they have going is the music stations," says David Robinson, sales promotions director for Positive Music, an Ellicott City-based music label specializing in contemporary jazz. "They are good for the customer and the artist."

At the stations customers can don a pair of headphones plugged into a CD player and sample selected music releases from the five artists grouped at each station.

The new store also has several listening stations that will be grouped by music styles or themes, such as children's music.

Customers also can take virtually any piece of music they are considering buying to the sales counter and ask to listen to it.

"The listening stations are critical to what we are trying to do with our customer service," says Mr. Bowen.

Most of the listening stations consist of areas where new music releases are grouped together by record distributor, rather than style of music. The record distributor pays An Die Musik an annual fee to rent the station.

The artist selection in each station is changed periodically.

"The idea behind these stations is to exploit the emerging artist and expose the customer to music they might not ordinarily ever come across," says Mr. Bowen. "It gives the distributors a chance to push their new or unknown artists."

For example, at a listening station rented at the Ellicott City store by record distributor CEMA, the newest release by radiohead, an emerging British pop-grunge band, was grouped with pop music superstar Janet Jackson's newest release.

The theory behind the listening stations is that most customers stopping at a particular station will be interested in listening to the well-known artists in the group. But curiosity likely will prod them to listen in on other artists' selections in the group -- accomplished simply by pressing a button on the CD player at the station.

Mr. Bowen says the effect the stations can have was recently highlighted when a new CD release by Lauren Christy, a British pop soloist, rocketed to the top of the store's in-house sales chart.

"I get exposed to a lot of music and had never heard of her before, and no one I knew had even ever heard any of her work played on any radio stations," recalls Mr. Bowen. "We put her in one of the listening stations, and before we knew it we couldn't keep the CD in the store."

An Die Musik issues its own Top 20 chart based on store sales each week, and the list often includes titles and artists never seen on Billboard's Top 20, he says.

Mr. Bowen expects the diversity of the Top 20 list to broaden with the opening of the Ellicott City store because of the area's preponderance of wealthy and educated residents. An Die Musik expects area customers to have sophisticated music tastes and a willingness to be exposed to and purchase music they may not have sampled in the past.

Mr. Bowen and his partners had in mind adding stores when they launched the Towson store in 1988. The partners decided to locate a second An Die Musik store in Howard County when they noticed that between 15 and 20 percent of its preferred listener club members, who get discounts on purchases, hailed from the county.

While the loss of those customers from the Towson store will crimp sales there, Mr. Bowen and his partners expect the Howard base of customers to increase the frequency of their visits due to the convenience of the new store. Overall, the company hopes to double its sales.

An Die Musik, which hired 12 new employees, expects the Ellicott City location to have better sales volume because it has 135 parking spaces, compared to 16 at the Towson store.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad