Tucked away in a quiet back street of Stockton, hidden from view, sits Sound it Out Records, the last surviving vinyl record store in Teeside. The town has been struggling in recent years, and for many people the store represents more than a place to simply buy music.
Jeanie Finlay grew up just three miles from the store, so her aptly named documentary, Sound it Out, represents something close to her heart.
Everything was just done with no money, but plenty of love, care and attention. The former artist explains, speaking exclusively to ReelScotland ahead of her film’s screening at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.
It’s an area which has been hit hard by unemployment, and the shop is like a cultural beacon. The film is about the community that keeps the shop going, how important the shop is to them and how important music is to their lives.
Far from being a straightforward, nostalgic appreciation of vinyl records, Finlay wanted her film to explore the significance of music, and the store itself, in an age of the internet and downloading.
“It’s is not about vinyl per se, it’s about the meanings attached to music,” says Finlay. “It’s to do with the physical transaction, and sustaining this community. I think music is just a really good way into a personal story.”
Within the film, she decided to document some of the regular customers of the record store, gaining a greater understanding of their feelings on music and, in turn, their lives.
“I think you’ll find people can describe to you why music is important to them, in a way that if you ask them to explain what’s meaningful in their lives it would be much harder to articulate. If you get them to tell you about something they are really passionate about then you get an insight into the human condition, an opportunity to look under the surface a bit.
“Music is readily available all around us, whether it is from a large retail outlet or the internet, so the continued success of the store is somewhat extraordinary, but not without reason.”
Sound it Out Records offer a very personal and welcoming service, basically the opposite of the film High Fidelity, because everyone is welcome at the shop. That is what’s so endearing in a way, and it’s the thing that has kept Tom going, he’s sustained a community.
Tom is the store owner, and self-confessed music fanatic, who is instrumental in attracting people to return again and again for their regular music fix, and he even had a profound effect on the director herself.
“I stopped buying records, and had sold all my records before I started making the film, but once I started being in there I felt enticed to start collecting vinyl again, and it’s all Tom’s fault!
“In addition to his comprehensive knowledge of music, Tom also learns a customer’s musical tastes and requirements so he can pick out certain artists and genres that suit them. His regulars will even receive a text from him occasionally, informing them that he has obtained a certain record that he feels they will enjoy.
“In one of the scenes in the film he is showing me all of the bags he has at the back for various customers, saving records for them, and now I’m one of those customers!”
The project is one that Jeanie has worked extremely hard to complete, especially considering it started with absolutely no funding.
“Originally I’d pitched it to the BBC,” continues the director. “It was rejected and they said this wasn’t going to work. But I disagreed with them and I knew there was a film in there.”
Her commitment to the cause was encapsulated by the fact she filmed unfunded, for a full year, whilst staying in her old bedroom at her parents house. But money was eventually going to be required if she was to get the film off the ground, and through the generosity of the public Finlay found the support she needed.
“The film is completely crowd funded, 270 members of the public helped and put their hands in their pocket and supported the film. They funded the shoot, the post production and they even helped us get to Texas for the South by Southwest Film Festival.”
And it wasn’t simply random members of the public either, as more than 60% of the men and women who have funded the project are people who once ran record shops, and the donations came in from as little as $5 to as much as $2000.
Whilst the screening of Sound it Out at the EIFF marks a huge achievement for Jeanie and her film, her aspirations do not end there.
A theatrical release of the film is planned for later this year, and further funding will be required to make this happen.
“We are planning a small theatrical release later in the year and we will be running a final crowd funding campaign before this, so it’s really important that we get as many people on Facebook and Twitter as we can.”
Sound it Out will be showing at the Filmhouse on Friday 24th June at 22.10 and Saturday 25th June at 17.15. Visit the EIFF website for more details.