Why I avoid music stores

For most of us it’s the dentist. For 20-year-old musician, Hannah Thornell, it’s the music store. Read about why she’d really rather buy her gear online.

Image by Stew Dean

By Hannah Thornell

A few months ago, I met a guy in a café. On learning I study music, we struck up conversation. We talked about the instruments we play, the music we’re into, yada yada.

When I mentioned I needed a new bass amp for my home setup, this guy, who I’ll call Pat, told me he works at a local music shop and could sell me a VOX Pathfinder 10 that would do the job nicely.

But here’s the thing. Music stores make me anxious. No, worse. On realising I need to go shopping for an instrument or piece of equipment, I feel instant anxiety – right up until I leave the store, post-purchase. I’d buy online but because my location is set in Australia, a set of $20 guitar strings becomes $70. So, I reluctantly accept my fate.

On entering a music store I try my hardest to go unnoticed but because I’m young and I’m a women – I achieve the opposite. Outnumbered by staff, more often than not mostly men, they are hawk and I am prey.

“Um…can we help you?” Is usually the opening line to which I reply “No, I don’t need help”. Little do they know, I have spent hours researching the exact product I need to reduce the time I spend there.

As I scan the recording section looking for an interface within a university student’s budget I know I have surpassed their expectations and am now on forbidden territory. The fact I’m not after a cute new guitar strap or a beginner’s guide to acoustic guitar leaves them bewildered. In my head, I hear a woman in her late 60s sighing, yet amused. “Boys and their toys,” she says. After they warily complete the purchase with a doubting expression on their face, I am finally free to leave. Blue-carpeted, Pink Floyd-playing, place of nightmares.

So, back to Pat and that perfect VOX amp. My anxiety was in full force the morning I decided to go and pick it up. When I got there, I was immediately agitated because I was the only customer (and probably the first all morning).

Two young men stared at me – one of them was Pat. He was friendly and popped out the back to retrieve the amp that had been put aside. I stood awkwardly in the presence of the other man; overly conscious of how I looked in high-waisted denim jeans, doubting my choice in wearing them.

Pat returned, laughing at a post-it note stuck to the amp. “Put aside for Pat’s girlfriend … $80”. I was excruciatingly uncomfortable as this ‘guys having a guy laugh because their guy joke is hilarious’ situation unfolded. I was annoyed and angered by how ridiculous I felt especially as they were waiting for a reaction. All I mustered up was a nervous laugh. I left and walked briskly to my car where I sat analysing my interaction at the cafe with Pat. Was it my behaviour that led to this poor-taste joke?

I read something recently that reminded me of this experience. It said: “Whether a comment is aggressive or not, women have the right to exist in public spaces without being evaluated by men.”

I took up music as a hobby when I was 11. I am now a 20-year-old music student, involved in the industry for the foreseeable future. But it has only just begun to dawn on me in the past few years how excessively paranoid I’ve been when entering or existing in spaces like music stores. I find myself refraining from wearing certain clothes so as not to comply with stereotypes about music I may like, or what I might purchase, yet this doesn’t stop the unwelcome comments, looks and pre-conceived ideas of staff.

I am always interested and willing to engage in conversations about music with anyone – especially those in the industry. This is is something I am invested in and passionate about. I don’t appreciate that these conversations are often interpreted as flirting or my contributions are downplayed and disregarded.