Record Store Day isn't dying... quite the opposite, it's a living thing.
Saturday April 16th is the ninth annual celebration of independent music retailing. Record Store Day is about the buildings and people who tough it out on the ever increasingly unsympathetic high street to stock new music. It was designed to raise awareness and, in some small way, to support those businesses that most people feel still have some importance. It has grown unequivocally to represent the single biggest day in the independent music retail calendar. So why then have people fallen out of love with it? Why has it been declared terminally ill? Why is it being read it’s last rites?
I wonder increasingly what people think 'Record Store Day' actually is. There are people (shops and organisers) who do meet and call and email and plan pretty much twelve months of the year. There are people who administrate it, so that all of the releases are correlated and brought into some coherent structure. There are people who promote it and engage with media outlets to highlight the releases and, in particular, the retailers who will be stocking them... but in it's loosest form it is simply a date (the third Saturday in April) and a very simple set of criteria to ensure a release is eligible to participate. It's certainly not a company that is in bed with any major record label, or a group designed to progressively devalue the independent sector, and it certainly isn't a set of people who can in any way tell artists, distributors or labels of any size what to release.
Being overly simplistic again, it is just a party isn't it? So why the long face?
Record Store Day does have a problem. It is ever increasingly a victim of it's own success. RSD has become remarkably popular over the last decade. Whereas the first few years had dozens of interesting, unique and exciting releases, the events that are staged across the world these days are simply staggering. Thousands and thousands of music fans, collectors and obsessives turning up to buy hundreds of limited releases. But when you diagnose the problems this causes in any great detail, you quickly realise that RSD is simply a banner. RSD is a concept. Without ever consciously deciding to do so, I have approached RSD with constant and unabiding waves and waves of enthusiasm. RSD isn't detrimental to my business. I always make new friends and always sell a shit ton of records. I do have empathy for shops and buyers who feel overwhelmed and buy speculative releases under duress, but it is all so avoidable. Maybe that is something that 'RSD' can do better, so i'll act here on it's behalf as a good will ambassador... "You do not need to buy all of the releases... follow your instincts and stand by what you would normally buy". Does that dispel another myth? Us shops are in no way obliged to buy anything we don't want or, in fact, to participate at all.
I am told that like One Direction before, Justin Bieber will be divisive this year... why? You're kidding me right? The guy is a narcissist and a terrible vacuous role model for kids, but if he's popular now, and that is going to be the entrance point for a young person's relationship with buying music, that is positive. I was lucky to have pretty switched on parents to advise me, but I bought some dreadful shit, when left to my own devices at twelve years old. It did however give me the confidence to go and buy copies of Odelay and Wowee Zowee, changing my life for sure. So I will be stocking the Justin Bieber picture disc if anyone wants to come and buy one, but again, I do not have to, I have chosen to. I chose to because I genuinely think that somebody in their more formative years will want to buy it. They are most likely a young teenager, they are most likely female and traditionally going to a record shop is an intimidating thing, but i'd hope that plenty of young people buy a record next month for the first time, have a great experience and get the record shop bug. Fellow shops, in the spirit of RSD I encourage you to be welcoming, you might be changing someone’s life.
I know by saying this I am opening myself up to being seen as evangelical or even naive, but the vast majority of Record Store Day's problems are fixable by a change in attitude towards your own approach to the day. The bottlenecking at pressing plants argument is always going to be sensitive, but it is in fact indicative more that the vinyl market place has grown faster than the plants can cope with. RSD does exacerbate the issue, but it is a great deal less than some people would have you believe. I was reliably informed that 'Christmas' was worse this year for pressing delays than RSD has ever been. Another celebration we could stick the knife into right?
I am the very first to admit that I am a snob. I love championing new artists, and at the point that they attain broader awareness and success, I fall right out of love. I think The War On Drugs are a great band, so why on earth would I roll my eyes when they are headlining a festival or playing live on American late night television? It's that elitist self-importance that got record shops into a torrid mess ten or fifteen years back, when they were at the point of extinction. All that negativity needs to be kept in check, for example the 1975... I mean seriously? I am dumbfounded that they are successful or enjoyed on any level, but I know that other people really like them so I stocked their album and sold some. Imagine the turn-off-of-all-turn-offs when you - as a customer - want to buy their new album, so avoiding the internet for whatever reason you make the effort to visit your local independent retailer and the guy behind the counter has nothing but bad attitude about the music you want. There will be releases on Record Store Day that you do not like - there are more than five hundred this year (over 80% of which are on independent labels incidentally) - just accept that RSD now caters to a significantly bigger and broader audience. A very experienced shop owning friend reminder me last month that "one man's trash is another man's treasure”.
This is all about choices. Participate or don't participate. Stock a release or don't stock a release. Buy a 7" for more than you normally would or don't. Host a band playing live or don't. Run a sale or don't. Queue up at 5am or don't. Reach out to your distributor and negotiate your own sale or return deal or don't. Whatever you do, just don't complain at a concept.
Whether you are the shop, the owner, the staff, the customer, the regular, the artist, the label or the distributor... you are record store day. It is a celebration that will evolve and change. It really is what you make of it.
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