We met Emily through a gracious email she sent to us. The sense of community is more than we could have ever imagined, and today we’re happy to be able to introduce her, and her passion for what she does, to you. Emily Ravita is the the assistant manager of the independent record store, Monster Music & Movies in Charleston, SC. They are one of the largest independent record stores in the Carolinas and carry a vast selection of new & used CDs, DVDs & vinyl. She is one of two women that work there and says, “On a daily basis I get ‘can I speak to the manager?…Oh no not you, I mean the MAN-ager'”. But, as you’ll see that never deters her, and she absolutely loves her job.
In her free time she is listening to records and having dance parties with her two cats, Otis Redding and Cricket, “…well, I dance and they look at me judgingly“. She also has a lot of plants, and enjoys taking care of them and watching them flourish. “Maybe it’s the Siciallian in me, but feeding people is one of my favorite things to do. I love bringing cookies to work! Most days after work I need to decompress and go to the gym. I like to feel strong, physically and spiritually. Working out gives me time to listen to the music customers recommended or the records I took pictures of that I never heard before“. She is also a proud collector of many, many disco balls.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
Music has always been, and will always be, a huge part of my life. As a kid, I would go to the local music store, Strawberries, to buy CD’s. There was something about the atmosphere that just felt right to me. I very much wanted to work there, but I was too young at the time. Everyone in my family is musically gifted, but for me, the piano and oboe lessons never took. Appreciating music was where I thrived. I loved finding music and showing it to my friends based on what I knew about their tastes, and this is still a big part of what I do at the record store today. I feel like I’ve been training my whole life for this career.
After high school, I worked in a salon as a hair stylist for about seven years. The salon I worked in was cool, and I loved the creative side of it, but, for whatever reason, I knew I didn’t want to work there forever. In a strange twist, I ended up moving from Connecticut, where I lived all my life, to a new place where I didn’t know a soul – Charleston, South Carolina.
When I made it to Charleston, I Googled record stores in my new town and was pleased to find there were a few in the area. A new friend, someone I bonded with over records, told me about Monster Music, and the first time I went, that same feeling I got as a kid going to my local music store came pouring over me. There happened to be a big yellow sign in the door stating “We’re Hiring!” It was meant to be.
Within the first year, I was promoted to assistant manager, and I’ve loved working there for almost five years now. We have a small staff of eight people, all with their own unique quirks and tastes in music – my little work family. It’s the kind of job that doesn’t feel like a job, and I learn something new every day.
What is a day in the life like?
I think people have this misconception that working in a record store is super laid back, and we just sit and judge people all day. I can assure you, it’s not like that. We have the largest store in the Southeast, and there is so much to do. My day is fast-paced – I always have multiple projects going, while helping customers at the same time. And customers are always my top priority. I get to talk to people all day and help them find exactly what they are looking for and what they didn’t know they needed. My multitasking and big picture skills have grown because of this job. We have people coming in all day selling their collections of records, CDs, movies, cassettes and VHS tapes, all of which must be conditioned and evaluated.
I help manage our website, Discogs, eBay and Amazon selling platforms, which have absolutely blown up over the past year. I find myself sprinting across the store to get that last package in the mail when our postal service worker arrives. The store is also a big part of the Charleston community. We have a big Monster Music tent we set up at local events, where I get to sling records and meet new people. Some of my favorite events are the South East Punk Flea Market and Rockabillaque, which is my jam. We also pop up at local breweries and farmers markets. A lot of work goes into each of these events: curating, packing, unloading, and constantly talking to customers, both sober and not so much.
My favorite part of the day might be the mornings before we open. I can blast whatever music I want. A coworker and I have Bossa Nova mornings when we open together, drinking coffee and getting the store ready for the chaotic day to come. I know it might be a tad corny, but I think about the quote from Almost Famous: “and if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” I feel like that in the mornings, when it’s quiet and dark. I try to take a moment, to appreciate how lucky I am to be surrounded by so much history and talent. There is something to be said for the tangible – the artwork, liner notes, smell, and feel of a record is special. There’s nothing like it.
What has been your favorite sale / relationship made from behind the counter?
For a transplant like me, making relationships in this town is so important on so many levels. I have a sense of community in a place I never thought I would. On any given day, I can walk through the store and greet people by name. I live for the moments when I recommend something to a customer, and they return to give me their feedback. Who would have thought what I loved doing as a kid would be such a big part of my career? Playing an album in the store and a customer asking what’s playing and then immediately purchasing the record is such a cool feeling! There are tons of regulars that I’ve formed relationships with, and they really do brighten my day.
On the other side of it, it brings me immense joy to help someone pick out their first turntable or first record. I get to be a part of their first steps into something I am so passionate about – something that will impact their life in the best way. The K-pop fans might genuinely be my favorite customers. There is no other music genre that has a fanbase so dedicated. I’ve watched people literally cry out of pure joy at how much K-pop we have in the store. There was so much demand, we expanded the section into an alcove adorned with a fun, bright area rug! I personally don’t know a lot about K-pop, but the fact that they get so stoked for it warms my heart.
In your opinion what has been the coolest thing to come through your shop / the thing you had to keep / almost couldn’t put out for sale?
That’s a tough one. There are a lot of cool things that come through the store. The first collection I bought for the store was all used Third Man Records. I wanted to buy EVERYTHING. I ended up snagging The Raconteurs “Live at the Ryman Auditorium” and Jack White and the Bricks “Live at the Garden Bowl Lanes July 9, 1999.” Another one of my favorites to come through the store was a green vinyl copy of David Bowie’s “Earthling” – the only U.S. pressing. It’s easy to go broke working at a record store.
What has been the craziest experience that has happened at the shop?
The first Record Store Day I worked was Black Friday. It was big and exciting, and I loved it, but I had no idea what the April RSD was about to unload. This day changed the way I viewed my record store career in such an exciting, positive way. I knew Record Store Day was a big deal, but I had no idea how big. People camped out all night to secure their place early in the line. The amount of people who were there before we opened blew my mind. I thought it was so cool how much dedication and excitement all these people had. As the doors opened and the people flooded in, this wave of positive energy rushed in along with them. My previous retail experiences were in corporate stores. That vibe was completely different. Monster Music, an independent record store, was full of sparkling happy energy. RSD was a whole new experience. So much planning and work had built up to this moment. Outside, the parking lot was full of food trucks and even a bounce house. Inside, local bands were playing all day. Regular customers were bringing the staff food and coffee. It was the longest, busiest day ever, and I loved every second of it. It was a celebration.
I’ve been a big fan of NPR’s Tiny Desk for a long time, and that year, Tank and the Bangas were voted NPR’s best Tiny Desk concert. They were touring in Charleston that weekend and agreed to perform at our store for Record Store Day. They killed their set! It was incredible. There were so many people crammed into the store, dancing and having a spectacular time. They even stayed after and signed their first official album. I will keep my copy forever. The band was totally excited because it was the first time they had seen the physical copy of their record. All around it was a very special day for everyone involved.
That day made me realize how important my job is, connecting real people to tangible music. Before the physical record comes to me, there are countless people working to make it happen. There has to be an idea, talent, sound engineers, managers, pressing, quality assurance, marketing, the list goes on. All those people’s effort goes into making this 12-inch beautiful creation. I get to see firsthand all those people’s hard work pay off in the glimmer of delight from the person purchasing the album. It’s really cool.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Apply! If you are passionate about connecting music to people, apply at your local record store. I try to hire women but the applications are mostly male. What I look for is someone with passion, curiosity, and excitement about learning. If you have even the smallest inkling that you want to do this, dive in!
I hear from a lot of women that they feel intimidated going into a record store. I’m here to tell you “stop it!” You have as much a right to be there as the guys. Enjoying music is not a gender-specific thing. In fact, it brings people together.
I really try to create a welcoming environment for everyone. Flipping through records and discovering new music is fun, and why should we let the men have all the fun? Go to record stores and talk to the staff. We love it when you come and talk to us. Ask us for a recommendation. I swear we aren’t snobby. Yes, the plural of vinyl is vinyl. If you say “vinyls,” I don’t care. You’re in a record store, and that’s awesome. I am not judging what you’re buying. If you’re jazzed about it, I’m jazzed for you! I have a lot of regulars that are men, and we love you guys, but I need more women! I have noticed over the past year women coming in the store more frequently – I’m not sure why that’s been a trend recently, but I love it!
I write down the names of bands I hear in conversations, so I’ll remember to check them out when I get home. I take pictures of records I think look cool and want to listen to later. I go down rabbit holes on Spotify of suggested songs. I hang out with a lot of like-minded people who could talk about music for hours. I listen to music podcasts: Broken Record, Cocaine and Rhinestones, Questlove Supreme, You Talkin’ Talking Heads to My Talking Head, and All Songs Considered are some of my favorites. I recommend doing some of these things too – just be a nerd about it and go full in.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
I am. I grew up listening to primarily Classical music and Jazz. My dad is a classical guitar player and was the Musical Director of my high school. He also had a turntable and record collection. I remember being around ten years old when I was flipping through them and came across Sergeant Pepper’s. The cover art drew me in. It was so colorful and weird. My dad showed me how to properly handle a record and turntable. And that was a wrap. I had gone from Classical to the Beatles, and my mind was blown. I had never heard anything like it, and all I wanted was more. While all my friends had posters of NSYNC and Justin Timberlake, my room was wallpapered with the Beatles and a framed Paul McCartney photo, borrowed from the White Album. From that moment on, I chased that feeling of finding new records that would blow my mind.
I didn’t seriously start collecting records until my twenties, before that it was primarily CDs. I also want to point out that you can start collecting records at any point in your life, whether you’re eight or eighty. The beautiful thing about collecting anything is that you can do it however you want. Don’t be intimidated by anyone. It’s your collection, and you make the rules. Working at a record store for four and a half years has one hundred percent increased my record collection tenfold. Getting first dibs and a discount are the perks of working in a record store.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Unfortunately, it comes up more than it should. People have asked to speak with the manager, and when I show up they refuse to believe I am, in fact, the manager. Some part of me expects it from men, but it happens with women too. That hurts more because women should be looking out for each other. I’ve had people ask me a question and refuse to believe the answer I give them. Meanwhile, they will accept the same answer if it comes from a male coworker. It motivates me to know my shit. And I do. People bring in crates of records to sell and then get surprised when a woman evaluates them. One guy was shocked enough to say “are you going to go through those all by your little self?” Ridiculous.
The good news is that my male coworkers aren’t like that. I work with a fantastic group of guys who always have my back. There is also this scenario that happens almost daily, that proves to be a challenging part of my job. A customer will come in and say, “I don’t know the name of the song, artist or lyrics. What is this song?” and then they start humming! Have you ever tried to decipher a song being hummed at you? It’s really hard! Or the customer who says, “what song did I just hear on the radio?” I’m not sure, I wasn’t riding in your car with you just now. Over the years I’ve honed my detective skills and have solved a lot of these cases with my customers. Those are the fun difficulties of my job. If only the misogynistic aspect would go away.
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
I love seeing innovative creations like color variants. For whatever reason, heavy metal albums are the prettiest, most intricate color vinyl I’ve ever seen. They often come in a plastic unsealed sleeve, so I get to look at them when I’m checking in inventory. They are simply stunning. I also love Third Man Records and all their gimmicks. Like Jack White’s Lazaretto playing from the inner groove out for no reason. I like things to be fun and am intrigued when a record label does something quirky and cool.
The supply chain has been a little tricky lately, and covid has definitely had an impact. One silver lining of covid, however, is that all last year people had time to reconnect with things that made them happy. Like music. I saw an increase in turntables leaving the store to find new homes. When there were no live shows or in-person entertainment, people brought music home instead. I wasn’t sure if the trend would continue after things started reopening, but so far we’re still going strong. It seems like in this digital age, people are still craving that analog feeling.
During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?
Make an effort to buy from your local record store or from the artist directly. Think about how much you love the environment of a record store. We need your patronage to stay open. If you don’t have a record store near you, most stores including mine, have websites and will ship. Just keep being curious and passionate about music. There is so much music out there, there is something for everyone.
Anything else you want to share? If not, tell me: What is your favorite music genre or band right now? Don’t think too hard about this.
Empowering women is extremely important to me. Women are constantly fighting an uphill battle and we’ve all been put down at some point. If we women stick together and lift each other up the possibilities are endless.
And, Amyl and the Sniffers “Comfort to me” might be my favorite thing that’s come out this year. It hits me on so many levels. Dry Cleaning “New Long Leg” is a big one for me too, and I listen to Ann Peebles almost every day.
Monster Music & Movies: @monstermusicsc