The opening of the Sonos store in New York City's iconic shopping and tourist destination SOHO has been a trending topic for the past week. The American audio company is famous for its high fidelity audio systems that bring streaming, radio and your music library into one wireless listening experience, and the manifestation of their company's mission is amplified exponentially in their first brick and mortar store that opens today. The store's decor is beautiful, modern, acoustically sound from a balance of every surface in the space, and deeply tied to the music industry and more specifically, the New York City music scene throughout history. It features a curated collection of NYC music fanzines (pre-internet music blogs), and illustrations from iconic Village Voice cartoonist Mark Stamaty. The list of innovations in this retail space goes on – impressive for a brand that sells less than ten products total – but that is not its greatest message. It reminds us that music is created to be listened to in a personal experiential way, it's meant to surround us.
Sure, Sonos is an amazing system – I have a Play 1 and am completely obsessed with the way it changed my life. But the importance of Sonos to the music industry lies in its store, where at the its preview last week, I had a moment of clarity.
The realization took place in the store's basement: a midcentury modern setup with a shag rug and a wall full of a collection rare noise rock cassette tapes curated by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, an audio setup, and an Eames chair. The importance of that chair in the room only becomes important when one does what one is meant to do in the Sonos store: turn on some music. In this room specifically, we were able to toggle between digital audio and that from a record player. Turning up the sound a bit, it all comes back: the setup is meant to mimic that of the iconic Maxell commercial from 1983, an ad that has become engrained in experiential music history.
We live in the age of streaming, where music ownership is at an all-time low. While we might not realize it, if we "bookmark" or "add to playlist" on a streaming service, we still do not actually own that piece of music. With rumors of the shutting down of the iTunes store altogether, many people's opportunity to own their music at all could disappear in a moment. While vinyl sales are rising each year but the rest of music sales plummet, at the same time, the seesaw has live music event sales and popularity soaring almost to saturation. While we might be experiencing music to the fullest in its live form and surrounded by friends, there's still a piece missing. While those of us in urban areas might be listening to earbuds or headphones, and to our car's sound systems, there's still a piece missing.
Rakim enjoying music in the Sonos Living Room.
At the store opening today, I walked by two women totally losing their shit in one of the listening rooms. I couldn't tell that they were blasting Chance The Rapper until they opened the door and invited another customer into the room with them, but I could tell the feelings they were experiencing. Remember growing up, throwing on your favorite artist and dancing to it with your friends? Or being totally blown away by the power of a piece, visualized in the way Maxell advertised it? In blogging we often listen to music in the context of hearing it live or listening to it in headphones. But what about blasting it on your boombox? In your home? The opening of the Sonos store today is a reminder of the true way to really immerse in music, and it's not through listening to something on your laptop speakers or your iPhone. It's a reminder to turn off the TV, press play, and put down your phone. Surround yourself in music the way it was meant to be listened to. Whether high fidelity or not, listening to music on good speakers is something we may have forgotten about. Now we remember to keep it playing.