The Unwritten History of Sound Exchange

"Our Story So far."

ACK in the day (1977), Houston was a sleepy cow-town, known mostly for petroleum related businesses, serial killers with "Wayne" in their name and the Astrodome. Rattle snake round-ups were considered soirees and "Daisy Dukes" were haute couture. In short, this place was pretty much the polack joke of the southwest.

These were heady times for the music industry. A concert by Mahogany Rush or Ted Nugent could fill a sports stadium yet still, somehow, seem to smack of rebellion. The flower-children-turned-real-estate-agents had given up on the idea that good vibes and liquid sunshine were going to save the world and decided that,hey, capitalism isn't all that bad after all,man. Rock music and the once revolutionary culture it spawned heaved it's last breath. It's now hollow carcass was plastered with Peter Max designs and reanimated to hawk everything from VW's to Shake-A-Puddin'©. Smiley face coated head shop slash record stores full of black-light Led Zeppelin posters and mushroom shaped candles began popping up in every mall. Their feathered and layered proprietors seemed to us to be the caretakers of our rock army underground, a secret organisation with it's own language and code of conduct. God, it was all so stupid, but our generational imperative implored us to"Keep On Truckin'", and truck we did.

Clearly the times were ripe for something new to come along. Something that didn't require the Rolling Stones Mobile Unit. Something that didn't want critical acclaim. Something that could not give a rodent's hindquarters about 116 track studios. Just something.

At this point punk rock was considered an ill conceived joke in the states, and saying that you even kinda sorta liked it meant your life was in danger around here. We won't even begin to detail what happened next. The invasion of punk and the DIY movement are well chronicled and there is little enlightenment that we can add. Suffice to say the atmosphere it fostered allowed an upstart one man music retail operation to flourish.

Sound Exchange began inauspiciously in a dingy strip center in the Rice Village on Greenbriar, flanked by a convenience store on it's left and a liquor store on it's right. You now know it as Alter Alley on Greenbriar. The place was so small that even today it is a source of chuckles among the old guard. If three people were in there at once, it was like a game of musical chairs to look at everything. That location was quickly outgrown as it became apparent that Houston was starved for a music store which could supply the stuff that Hastings-in-the-mall hadn't even heard of.

The store's next move was to it's first Westheimer location. The city considered lower Westheimer little more than an embarrasment at that time. It was a haven for drug selling, using, and prostitution in a hair-raising array of flavors. So of course rent was cheap, and we felt right at home. For several years people would literally drive in from the 'burbs and tie up the street all night, driving up and down to look at the wierdos. As time wore on, Westheimer stopped being a place to cruise, and began to look, well, respectable.

Rent started going up and we left location number two. We were still on Westheimer of course. Our new address at 1718 was just two blocks away, we just found more reasonable accomodations. You know, someplace where the roof wasn't caving in. Whew! So much stuff went on there. That neighborhood was still pretty hairy, so between our customers and the street people, there was never a dull moment. This location saw us through our most expansive period. Few other people were selling "alternative rock" at that point, and when c.d.'s hit the market, we sold them faster than we could get our hands on them. After a while Houston became nationally known as one of the best places to open a music store. So, everybody did.
All at once.
Within the space of a year the intrusion of monolithic discount chains reduced our slice of the Houston music pie to a sliver. The territory we once called our own, indie rock, was quickly being bought up and signed to major labels faster than you can say "Beck". There was a time we would have sold 50 copies of a new release by No-FX on the day it was released. Now we sell maybe 2. Why? Could it have something to do with that full page co-op ad Fat WreckChords took out with Blockbuster?

It was pathetic to watch fledgling record labels we had supported for so many years suddenly align themselves with the enemy.Worse still to have to put up with their salesmen calling us up to ask why we stopped carrying their stuff. The Butthole Surfers and Beastie boys were so eager to jump on the cash cow of chain retail, they unflinchingly allowed their cover art and lyrics to be "edited" for mass consumption. These were dark days for us,as well as our sister store in Austin, and mom-n-pops everywhere. It was only through the loyalty of our long time customers that we got through that at all. Many others were not as fortunate, so R.I.P. to Don's Records, Roys House Of Memories, Sound Plus, Infinite Records and I'm sure many others we were not familiar with.

We are not exactly moved to tears by the passing of Musicland, Media Play and Planet Music. Nor are we losing sleep over Blockbuster's closing 80 locations nationwide around this time. Two years after they opened their doors, they realized Houston wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Predictably, they scampered away with their tails between their legs.

After a few years of wondering what to do next we finally hit upon the perfect solution. In an age gone mad with greed for corporate sponsorship ("The Pennzoil-Bank One Art Car Parade"?!?!?!) we decide to take a giant step backwards. Instead of wondering how we can reclaim our marketshare in the retail foray, we decided to get back to basics, selling good music in a comfortable atmosphere. Many of us had visited record stores in other cities, and always found the most attractive of them in old houses. "That's what we want,..", we thought, "...a nice little old house." We ultimately left 1718 Westheimer after spending oh,we can't remember,maybe 14 or 15 years there.

In October of '98 we sign papers to rent a beautiful brick two story at 1846 Richmond, a stone's throw from our Westheimer store. Still in the Montrose, but far enough from the now-too-trendy Westheimer to feel a bit more relaxed.

Shortly after settling in, our boss and fearless leader ,Mark Alman, aproached Kurt and Kevin with a proposition. Since his two businesses in Austin take up all his time, he is now prepared to sell the Houston Store at a price which anyone would consider fair. We accept, and as of January 1st 1999, Kurt and Kevin take the helm of the good ship Sound Exchange.

Flash forward 4 1/2 years. Kurt and Kevin have struggled and saved to finally pay off the store. Four years of payments that, at times, meant we were not geting paid. Those first 2 years were a beeyotch! If you have ever opened a small business from scratch, you know what I mean!
BUT - all is well even though the music industry itself is in a state of complete disarray. Since we do not, and never have sold major label releases we seem for now immune to the imminent collapse. Major labels theorize that they will be offering music as a download only format within five years. This is fine if you are a middle to upper middle class computer owning white male, but the rest of us are f*&ked. What can you expect from big business? Built small to stay small, that's our motto.
warmest regards,
Sound Exchange

We have been doing business in the Houston downtown area for, we think, 26 years, though not even the silver-backs of the tribe are really quite sure. Anyway, a hell of a long time. Time enough to have garnered a reputation for having one of the best new and used selections around.
In our time here we have weathered the ups and downs of Houston and the music industry in general.We have hosted in store performances by such bands as the Renderers, Barbara Manning, Eugene Chadbourne, Man Or Astroman?, the Grifters, Three Day Stubble, Poison 13, Junior Varsity, Silver Scooter, The Peechees, The Mighty Moguls, Thee Jewws, HISD and many other luminous points of the indy-rock and noise firmament. We don't just love good music and fun, we live it, baby. We are the store other music store employees shop at. HA, beat that, Tower®!

Sound Exchange is located at

1846 Richmond, Houston, Texas, 77098

Our phone number is (713) 666-5555.

We are located on the north side of Richmond, at Hazard St. , east of Shepherd, in the Montrose.
Parking is available in front of the store, as well as in back.

We are open from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. seven days a week.