It’s not often that you hear of someone coming to NC State to start a career in the music industry, but that’s what Stephen Judge ’97, ’98, owner of Schoolkids Records, did.
But Judge couldn’t settle for one career. As a record-store owner, music label president and magazine publisher, Judge is a rock ‘n’ roll Cerberus.
Judge grew up in Rocky Mount, N.C., and spent his high school years making regular sojourns to Raleigh to buy music he could only get at Schoolkids, which has been in the Triangle since 1974.
He’d buy Sugarcubes and Soul Asylum records, and the experience introduced him to a living, breathing alternative music scene that left him wanting more. “It was like a whole new world and like the tip of the iceberg,” Judge says.
So Judge decided to come to NC State, go to shows at the Brewery and secure what he saw as an “internship” in music at Schoolkids. He got a job there his sophomore year.
Judge worked at Schoolkids for a couple of years until he left to manage Athenaeum, a band from Greensboro, N.C. He returned to Schoolkids in the mid-’90s and managed its Cary and North Raleigh stores until Redeye Distribution, a Haw River, N.C., independent record distributor, hired him as its marketing director. He worked there for seven years and became the company’s first general manager, a position he credits with teaching him valuable business lessons to supplement his NC State business management and accounting degrees.
Last April, Judge felt the pull to invest in the place that had given his career to him and add it to the list of his music industry endeavors. He’s also president of Second Motion Records and publishes Blurt magazine. At the time of his purchase, Schoolkids had closed its Cary, North Raleigh and Chapel Hill stores. Judge didn’t want an institution on Hillsborough Street to suffer the same fate.
“It’s such an important place to me,” he says. “If it wasn’t for Schoolkids, I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve had for 22 years. The shopping experience can come in many different ways, but you can’t replace going into the store.”
Judge says Schoolkids’ legacy is the intimacy music lovers share with the favorite albums, something he believes many mom-and-pop stores around the country depend on to thrive. “People remember this is the place where they bought their first Ryan Adams record. ‘I bought my first U2 album there,'” he says. “I think Schoolkids is synonymous with that.”
One facet that should help preserve that legacy for Schoolkids and Judge is the resurgence of vinyl, which has been a boon for record stores the last few years. Judge says vinyl sales have grown 40 percent and account for 50 percent of sales at Schoolkids. He attributes that to consumers growing bored with the music on their computers and iPods .
“There is an appreciation for the physical component of it, holding something in your hand again,” he says. “The artwork is better. And a lot of it has to do with the sound. Vinyl sounds so much better than a CD.”