Record Store Day 2017 – What’s it about and what’s in it for you?
Like records? Like queuing? Read on...
Saturday 22nd April will be the tenth annual Record Store Day held in the UK. From fairly low key beginnings it has become an event that achieves considerable media coverage and occupies a very significant position in the calendar of participating stores. So what is it all about?
Before we go any further, a confession. Records are a big part of my life but Record Store Day up to this point has not been. Aside from an opportunist visit to a store in Nottingham on RSD2010 which I was walking past at the time, I’ve not made the trip out. There are a few reasons for this; I’m not wildly keen on large masses of people, latterly I’ve been responsible for a toddler on most Saturdays and on a more general level I’m usually broke. It’s clear from the increase in numbers and interest in the event though that many people don’t think like me (and rightly so).
The Rebel Alliance
Although ten years isn’t really that long a period of time, it is important to stress that the situation for many music stores a decade ago didn’t look very promising at all. The multiple assaults of online piracy, online music retail and bought downloads had a great many people fairly sure that the days of the bricks and mortar music store were numbered. Just as importantly in the wider picture, the prospects for physical media didn’t look too great either. CD sales were beginning the decline that continues to this day and vinyl had yet to begin its unlikely and rather spectacular comeback. People may say that vinyl never went away but between 2003-2006, it recorded its lowest ebb in terms of new media sales (which is why many releases from this period are so sought after as they are often very rare).
Into this space, a coalition of independent record store owners came together to figure out what was in some cases a survival plan. The inspiration for Record Store Day came from similar events held by comic book stores, where teaming up for events had greater clout than would be the case if they simply operated individually. The first Record Store Day was arranged for April 19th 2008.
Fundamental to the significance of Record Store Day is the premise that by visiting these stores on the day, you will gain access to material that has been created specifically for Record Store Day and is only available from participating stores. Some of these releases are new while others are reworked and remastered versions of existing material. The quantities available of each album varies and the rarity of some of them is broadly engineered to achieve ‘instant classic’ status. This has led to a side effect of people buying and then relisting the material which we’ll come to in a bit.
Ten years in
Record Store Day 2017 promises over 400 releases from artists as stylistically diverse as Aqua (they of Barbie Girl fame) and Motorhead. A general rule of thumb is that some particularly esoteric releases will also creep in unannounced. These will be available through a group of independent stores which can be located via a handy page on the website. The ambassador for this year is American singer/songwriter St Vincent. As has been the case since 2015, Rega will be the official hardware partner and has produced a version of the Planar 1 turntable for the event. A number of these have been signed by famous musicians which will make for an interesting discovery for a number of happy owners.
Amongst the generally positive outlook around Record Store Day, there are some criticisms from various parties. The first and most often repeated of these is that the prime releases in any given year will be scooped up by people with the sole intention of listing them for sale online at an inflated price. This is undoubtedly a factor and it’s hard to contest the amount of unopened RSD exclusives that will be for sale by the end of the day. The counter to this is that Record Store Day is hardly unique in this regard. Make something in limited quantities – be it McDonalds Mulan Szechuan sauce or a Porsche 911 GT3RS – and there will be people who secure it with the sole view of selling it on. At the very least, Record Store Day levels the playing field to those able to hand over money in the store on the day.
Harder to quantify is the distortion to the business of pressing and distributing records. The mechanics of producing 400 unique titles for a specific event undoubtedly affects the release and production of non RSD material. As part of the wider growth of vinyl as a format though, the capacity to press records has (slowly) started to increase and this should hopefully mean that the issues are less – if you’ll forgive the pun – pressing.
I spoke to David Kosky, owner and founder of Black Circle Records in Leighton Buzzard who will be participating in his eighth Record Store Day and the first for his new shop. While participating in Record Store Day remains incredibly hard work, David is entirely upbeat about the event. It offers superb coverage for venues thanks to the centralised website and general press interest that now surrounds the event. He is happy to admit that a number of the people that appear on the day are not seen on any of the other 364 days but plenty of people who show up for a Record Store Day become regulars. Although a sample size of one is hardly useful, it was thanks to the Record Store Day website that I learned of David’s store and depending on whether I have a toddler with me, I fully intend to pay him a visit.
What’s in it for you?If you haven’t been to a Record Store Day before, what might tempt you to visit? If you still buy physical media – be it vinyl or CD – paying a visit to your local retailer could well be worthwhile in terms of visiting a place that would be useful on many other occasions. If you’ve perused the full list of titles being offered for Saturday, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t something there that didn’t tickle your fancy – although I probably don’t have to explain that it is unlikely that most smaller stores will be able to stock all 400 items. On a wider level, if you’ve found yourself bemoaning ‘the death of the high street’ at any point, it might be worth the effort of going to an event that is in a small way trying to arrest this decline.
What to expect? This is hard to give an exact answer to as the experience will vary from store to store but in general, expect queuing and fairly keen demand for some of the marquee releases. If you simply want to have a look round, I’d suggest waiting until later in the day. Humanity in all its rich tapestry will be present and this means you’ll hopefully meet some interesting people and very possibly some hateful ones too.
Ultimately Record Store Day has already achieved a great deal. I won’t say anything so stupid as to the effect that life is now easy for an independent music retailer but, physical media has unquestionably staged a seriously impressive fightback as something that is a desirable item for a number of people. This is at least partly fuelled by the desire to own things that are rare and interesting. If your interest extends solely to trying to make a quick buck out of this I’d respectfully invite you to go forth and multiply but if you have looked down that list of albums and thought “bloody hell, I’d love a copy of that”, I wish you the best of luck securing one.
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