Teenage Head Records is more than just a business! It’s a community for music fans and local artistsPublished on 6 September 2021
Independent music stores have been mushrooming across the country in the last few years. With the closure of chain stores like Rock Corner, music aficionados are actively shopping at these well-curated stores instead. While many independent stores can be found within the vicinity of shopping complexes, Teenage Head Records is tucked in the suburban neighbourhood of SS14, Subang Jaya.
This friendly neighbourhood music store is owned by a Singaporean couple, Mohd Radzi and his wife. Its bright yellow signboard definitely stands out among the various kopitiams and car wash outlets along the rows of shophouses. Teenage Head Records stems from the couple’s passion for music and their need for a change from their previous corporate lives.
Prior to their big move across the Causeway in 2014, the couple did extensive research on the record and music stores in Malaysia. Soon after, they proceeded to pay off their mortgage and settle their debts in Singapore to set up their new life in Malaysia. Radzi shares his story on how Teenage Head Records has been surviving the pandemic, why they chose Subang Jaya as the base of their operations and the importance of supporting the local music scene.
How has the store been doing since the pandemic started?
Surprisingly, not too bad. I think since many can’t travel for holidays, go out to cafés and are generally not allowed to go out to the movies or clubs, listening to music in general has become a hobby like playing online games. In fact, sales have been good during the pandemic. Now that we have a proper web store, people can go directly online to shop.
When did you set up the web store?
After the easing of the first Movement Control Order in April 2020, I had a discussion with my wife and staff about setting up the website. It has been on my mind for the past few years but I kept delaying it and then the pandemic began. When the first lockdown ended, we immediately hired a developer to proceed with the website. We managed to get it up and running in time before the subsequent lockdowns took place. The timing was perfect.
Why did you choose a suburban housing area in SS14, Subang Jaya to set up the shop?
Before we moved here, we asked a couple of our friends for recommended locations. We got suggestions for Bukit Bintang, Mont Kiara and Taman Tun Dr Ismail. Aidil from the band Couple suggested that we try out Subang Jaya. It’s kind of a hip area. At the time, there was Joe Flizzow’s Joe’s Barbershop, and Yuna also had a shop in SS15 just across the road from our store. We went around the area and stumbled upon this shop that was up for rent. We called the landlord and the rest is history.
What motivated you to open a physical music store?
The reason was that CDs, cassettes, and vinyl records are still in demand. The physical product won’t be obsolete because it’s something tangible. It still has an aesthetic value to it and is a good conversation opener. In the early noughties, many people were still buying CDs because they were available everywhere including in hypermarkets like Giant and Tesco.
But now we have come to a stage where people who buy CDs become more concentrated. CDs might not be garnering sales in the millions but more like tens of thousands purchased by music enthusiasts. As an independent music store, we know we wouldn’t be able to compete with bigger chain stores. I focus on what I am good at and the crowd that I cater to, and it’s been good so far.
Is the store’s homely interior inspired by the suburban neighbourhood location?
When you go to an indie record store, it has unique characteristics and warmth unlike the bigger stores back then. As a music enthusiast, you want to go where there is some sort of familiarity with the store. Where if you’re a regular customer, you will be recognised and remembered by the owner. I suppose that’s how the homely environment started. It just came naturally. There is no other way to go about it except being warm and welcoming.
You have a large collection of local independent artists featured in the store. What is the importance of being a strong supporter of the local music scene?
The thing about independent record stores is that you will not be a good one if you’re not part of the community. It’s as simple as that. It’s important for independent record stores to be part of a community because our competitors are the big music chain stores. They have products too so we have to give our clientele something extra. I travelled a lot to watch gigs in Kuala Lumpur while growing up in Singapore and noticed that the scene represents a community of music fans. You’ve got the bands and record stores that form this tight-knit community.
We produce vinyl records for bands like Couple, Lust, and Sweetass because I want to be part of this music community. You have to be part of the community to get more exposure out there. Basically, anyone can open a record store, even you. You can just buy a couple of records and open up a web store but then people won’t feel a connection or attachment to you because of the absence of familiarity. The bigger store only sells products and would never go to the extent of pressing vinyl for local bands.
Do you personally choose the artists to collaborate with?
When we press vinyl albums for these local bands, it is because we’ve heard the album, seen the bands perform live and we like their music. We release most of the stuff because we love them. Sometimes we do get bands coming to us and asking if we could do the same for them but we always end up declining their request politely because in most cases, we aren’t really fans of their music. I only press stuff that I get excited about and get to transfer that excitement to the fans. We don’t just press vinyl, we produce compilation CDs for some local artists too.
Can you tell us more about Teenage Head Records’ collaborations with local artists?
We’ve organised in-store signings for bands like Couple, Seven Collar T and Margasatwa. Record Store Day and Cassette Store Day are our own initiatives. We don’t use other people’s money or get help from anyone else. It’s always a word-of-mouth event. We have also organised in-store performances by regional bands from Indonesia and Singapore. Organising these events doubles up as exposure for the shop. When they have their event at our store, we are mentioned in their social media posts.
Even after the event is over, we always hope that these people will return as customers. So the few hundred ringgit I pump into these events is going to translate to people coming into the store in the future. The pandemic has definitely hindered us from hosting our usual events that garner a crowd of a thousand people outside the store, so now it’s a matter of transferring the excitement into our web store. We have to create the buzz online instead.
What does the future hold for Teenage Head Records?
When I set up the store, my goal was to make enough money to cover expenses like my kid’s school fees. When I moved to Malaysia, I got all my debts settled. So I am not overly stressed out for the shop to make loads of money. In that sense, I don’t set my target too high. The challenge is not to aim too high but maintain moderation. I don’t need to make 1 million, I just want to make a few thousand.
Some even suggested that I open another outlet but my reply is, “I’m trying to retire here.” I just want a cool record store that I run with my wife with a couple of part-timers here and there. People are quite surprised that I have managed to live here for six years. It’s because I set my bar low. When we set up the store in 2014, we came with the mentality that the crowd will come in. When you open a proper store selling the right stuff, the crowd will come. I never did any promotions, everything grew organically.
Check out Teenage Head Records’ extensive list of music albums for sale here. And don’t forget to follow us on our Instagram account @kitajiran to find similar stories on small independent businesses in Malaysia.