It is not out of pure luck that the, now famous, Record Store Day transformed from an “inside joke”, a small gathering with a few lunatics, into a worldwide celebration in which participate hundreds of musicians, thousands of record stores and many large and small record companies with vinyl record limited editions, only for that specific day. The Record Store Day is now an annual affair, devoted to independent record stores and not to vinyl records, as it often is mistaken. It is traditionally held on the third weekend of April every year.
How it started
The Record Store Day started as an attempt to mimic the “Free Comic Book Day”. The foundation for the Day was laid in a meeting between several record store owners, in Baltimore in 2007. This day was designed to cater not only to record store customers and owners but also to the artists too, who try and honor the day, in their own ways.
The Record Store Day is now held consistently every year and it makes the perfect medium to celebrate your “obsession”, if you are a vinyl record aficionado, get up to date with all the new and vintage offerings or make a special purchase which will be in your discotheque for ever, if you are a special edition collector.
This love will be practically expressed, from the creators’ side, with exclusive editions (new songs, different covers, live sessions etc.) in the form of Vinyl Record, CD or cassette, in limited copies and, from the audience’s side, through their visits to the local record store, buying the collectable releases and supporting a local business. It has to be noted that this whole movement has been so closely connected with the vinyl record, that many people believe the whole Day is about that medium only.
The Record Store Day has a lot to do with raising awareness regarding the minority of people who love music, using a more traditional manner and stands its ground against the inundation of the radio waves with cheap karaoke pop. To be fair, though, the whole vinyl record market for 2014, was just 2% of the purchased music for that year; more or less what the love troubadour, Ed Sheeran, sold on his own. This is one of the cases where semantics truly matter.
On the third weekend of April, the record stores go on sale and offer low prices while unveiling special releases which are made specially for the Record Store Day. Moreover, there are parties, record fairs and concerts which are not necessarily held inside the record stores. Throughout the world, it is evident that the independent record store culture is still strong. Although there are losses every single year – mostly from old and well-established stores – there is always a new store popping up, specializing in a genre. Another interesting fact is that vinyl records are making a comeback and have come to be sold in supermarkets in the UK. This is something which hasn’t happened since the 80’s and 90’s, something which makes the vinyl record accessible to the digital generation. Good news for the market and the multinational corporations, then.
On the other hand, according to a study published by the NME, 41% of those who purchase vinyl records, don’t have a turntable or have one but don’t use it. That is a big number right there. But what does that truly mean for music? Is all this beneficial for the independent stores?
Universal’s sales manager, Marc Fayd’Herbe, said that the Record Store Day is the best thing that has ever happened to the independent record stores.
The Wrong Estimates
The “expert’s” estimated that the Record Store Day is a temporary phenomenon which will wear out very fast. They were proven hilariously wrong. The increase in vinyl record sales is constant, the phenomenon is becoming a worldwide reality, the numbers are impressive; it seems like the people were long ready to return to the fundamental pop culture fetish: the vinyl record and the record stores. The endless generations who grew up with them, never seemed to let it go. The young music lovers seem to find no charm in the dematerialized forms of music. Ten vinyl records and a turntable is much more lust worthy than a hard drive filled with thousands of songs or an annual subscription on a streaming service.
For the majority of the world, it seems to be another day on the calendar. For the Record Store Day foundation is much more than that. They provide marketing opportunities, promotion and other perks to record stores all year round and the website never stops updating. It’s like the Rio Carnival: It happens one day – it is getting prepared the whole year.
One Important Notice
The Record Store Day has nothing to do with the fight between analog and digital sound. Besides, most people who love music have vinyl records and CD’s and tons of MP3 files on their laptop. The traditional music lover stereotype, who listens only to vinyl records and the tech geek equivalent that downloads music only from subscription-based services seized to exist.
The point here is not which medium sounds better. It’s just that the vinyl records, and the way we buy them, always had some socializing aspects, as well as the joy of discovery, the repetition and the required patience. The digital sound, on the other hand, better reflects the way we live today; it’s fast, it’s versatile and disposable.
As much as we love Neil Young for leading the revolution against the “iPhone and its revolting sound, which massacres songs”, the truth is that good music remains good regardless of the way you listen to it and it’s all about your mood and taste. If you don’t like something, whether you listen to it from your laptop, your turntable or your…Walkman jogging down Mount Everest, you still are going to not like it.
Of course, as it happens in these occasions, if something catches on, it is stretched until it breaks. Following that path, since last year we have the Cassette Store Day, which takes place sometime in autumn, and, yes, it was formed to try and create a resurrection of the 90’s favorite item. We used to tape some songs and then overwrite these songs with others, until the tape broke and got tangled in the player.
While we are discussing negatives, the thing is this: people did not just stop shopping from record stores. When the average CD goes on sale for 20 euros, something is not right with the world. It doesn’t really matter if it is the labels’ fault, the constructors’, the large retailers’, who had the luxury of selling at lower prices or the increased running costs; the point is that the prices never managed to go with the times. Suddenly, the average Joe had to decide, on the limited budget he has, if he would buy a record or go to a live concert. The final blow came with Internet Piracy and it becomes obvious why everything went down the drain.
Negative criticism and complaints
Apparently, the biggest beneficiaries of the vinyl record revival are the large record companies, which seem to play the game hard. The way they use the vinyl record is their last hand at selling a physical, tactile product, since the CD hit rock bottom the last few years. They are struggling to find yet another way to attract customers. However, the little labels or anyone who does any substantial effort with a conscience and some responsibility, not for the money but for the sake of quality and a badass experience away from anything digital or the chaos of the Internet, do not get their fair share and this is a problem.
The Record Store Day has also faced criticism for its target audience. There are voices who say that it is focused primarily on collectors and not music lovers in general, that it delays the releases of other artists who don’t participate, that it forces record stores to buy vinyl records on wholesale without the ability to return and that the moment a vinyl record is sold out, it goes on the digital black market for astronomical sums of money.
Although the Record Store Day has been linked to the recent increase in vinyl record sales, there are complaints that the Record Store Day benefits mostly the large record companies and has taken a very different character than the one it started with.
Some record store owners and sellers told e-Record Fair Marketplace:
- “Because of this trend for the vinyl record, there are some distortions, such as the promotion of the day as a celebration of the vinyl record and the countless and pointless Record Store Day-exclusive releases, with prices that go up every year. Also, we can’t forget that now, most of the large franchises and websites are selling these products, too. This was never the intention or the idea behind it and we believe that if we don’t restore the balance, the people will turn their back on this.”
- “I have a lot of objections, but I wouldn’t take up all your space to analyze them. Let’s just say that there is a huge problem on the pricing policy of the vinyl records from most of the record companies, as well as defective distribution of the titles. I expect better distribution, a careful selection of releases and a friendly pricing policy. With time, though, this event, in my opinion, has lost its original target and character and should be redefined by its founders.”
- “ It is pretty obvious that there has been some sort of detachment – or even discomfort – on the subject of where the Record Store Day is going and how this event for the independent record stores is evolving. For example, on this day, anyone who sells vinyl records is celebrating…”
- “The Record Store Day does indeed offer some help, but since the multinational companies managed to be a part of it, the independent productions are set aside and the event is distorted. Independence was the original goal of the day, after all…”
- “The Record Store Day was initially a very innovative and remarkable idea. It seems to need a different approach by the people who run it; on the quality of the releases, the prices, the distribution of the records between the stores and the involvement of the multinationals.”
For now, the Record Store Day continues to raise the interest of people, but the negative reactions become louder and louder every year. From the customers to the record stores and the small labels, every one is vocal about the challenges above.
The positive message
The distilled message coming out of this story, and the biggest beacon of hope, is solidarity; the feeling of community and the true support of it. In the middle of an era which is slowly turning us into socially non-functioning individuals, where activism is exhausted and lost inside Internet Hate, where Facebook posts and photos are filled with furious messages, there is an important thing to take from it all. If you are active and not dormant, you might actually succeed in doing something good. The small businesses, if they work together, will flourish together.
Are vinyl records and independent record stores truly back in our lives? Are they not? Will the dynamic comeback be complete in the next five years and then the bubble bursts?
We don’t know, to be honest, and maybe we shouldn’t even pay attention to all these questions, which have become the motivation for many more articles like this in the last three years, for one and simple reason: the people who deeply love the vinyl record and buy them regularly, will continue to do so for the rest of their lives, in contrast with those who do it just to seem “cool” for a year and then stop. Those last people don’t really do any harm, whether they return or not.
The Record Store Day’s effort is very important though. It is important because for even one day a year, the words “record store” will be heard from ears which migh have long forgotten them. The most important part, however, is the sentimental and physical investment of the music lover. The tactile and evident support towards music, the bands and the whole entourage of people who live from and by them. Imagine yourself in 20 years, when you are going to hold your favorite CD or Vinyl Record in your two hands and remember the day you bought it, how much you spent for it, where you bought it and how it felt to open it for the first time. I don’t think anyone remembers the day they downloaded an MP3…
Regardless of anyone’s personal preferences, we should treat the Record Store Day as Mother’s Day. Once a year, as we symbolically show our affection for the person who brought us to life, we should support this tradition from the record stores; because you never know how much you love something until you lose it.
We wrap up this article by reminding everyone what we say here on e-Record Fair marketplace: “If you are a true Vinyl Lover, every day is a Record Store Day”.
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