Chasing Edwin Outwater: A tale of music distribution in a post-CD age

My friend Andy flew up to Seattle back in September for a visit, and we took a day trip to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. It was my first time there, although Andy visited many years back.

Pretty much every trip I’ve taken has some sort of music shopping mission attached to it, and this one would be no different. I figured if I’m going to Canada, I would try to find a CDs by some Canadian artists: one by Royal Wood, another by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony conducted by Edwin Outwater.

How hard would it be? As it turned out, quite difficult.

I would find out Royal Wood is handling his own distribution, so for the purposes of this tale, I’ll focus on Edwin Outwater. Here is the disc in question:

Edwin Outwater/Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony - From Here on Out

I downloaded this album many months back, and the music on it is really quite good. But I must confess — I wanted to buy a CD in the hopes there would be more photos of Outwater in the booklet. He is pretty.

So I set out to find this album during my visit to Canada.

Of course, my first cultural mistake was misconstruing the notion of “local”. The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony is based in Ontario, which is all the way the hell across the country from British Columbia. It’s not inconceivable that a music store in Austin would carry albums from a band in Seattle and vice versa. But an Ontario store would probably feel more local pride for a guy like Outwater than one in British Columbia.

My first stop was Zulu Records, reportedly one of the most renowned music shops in Vancouver. That was my second mistake — conflating my record store experiences. I’ve been spoiled by the likes of Waterloo, Amoeba and even Easy Street here in Seattle. I thought Zulu would similarly expansive. The square footage indicated otherwise.

That’s not to say that don’t have good stock — for the size of the store, the titles they carry would never be found in big box retailer. But in terms of finding the Outwater disc, it was obvious in the first 30 seconds that it wouldn’t happen there.

Another mistake was depending on outdated information in the form of a guide book from 2008, the one Andy used when she visited Vancouver. The book listed a number of music shops, but the doldrums afflicting music retail on the whole laid waste to the buying options in Vancouver. HMV, anyone?

Luckily, Vancouver has one music store specializing in classical music: Sikora’s. I’ll cut to the chase: they didn’t have the Outwater disc either.

But it wasn’t for lack of trying. I asked the guy behind the counter about it, and when he saw the cover, he recognized it — he just didn’t happen to have any copies in stock at the moment. Nor did it seem to be a disc he would keep around, although he did offer to special order it for me.

I told him that I would be across the country’s border later that afternoon, but I took a business card from him anyway.

A few days later, I would venture to a music store in Seattle I hadn’t yet visited: Silver Platters. I was browsing the incredibly expansive classical section which was inherited from the building’s former life as Tower Records. With the defeat of my mission still fresh in my head, I flipped through the miscellaneous conductor collections section just to see what would happen.

I found him. Edwin Outwater, his handsome mug staring out at me, partially obscured by a price tag.

I went to Canada to find an album made in Canada by an ensemble located in Canada. I failed.

Then I went back home, where it was waiting for me all the while.