Record Store Day and the Spirit of Vinyl
I sure wish we had Record Store Day back when I owned a record store. The closest thing I had to Record Store Day was that time that the Orlando Lollapalooza date got canceled. My store — the only indie-rock-catering record shop in downtown Orlando at the time — was flooded with disappointed festival-goers looking for somewhere else to hang out. That was the biggest day of profit in the store’s existence.
Record Store Day is a great idea — in a perfect world, every Saturday would be Record Store Day of course — though many independent labels have serious issues as the event becomes dominated by major labels. Last year Numero Group, for example, blasted the current RSD as an “unwieldy grip-and-bitch fest … lines, fights, flippers, backed up pressing plants, stock shorts, stocking, and pricing at 4
As an independent label owner, I understand these gripes entirely. The now major-label (and major-indie) dominated RSD is mainly a nuisance for the small imprint. I’d instead release a high-profile album a week or two before Record Store Day. That way the shops will (hopefully) have my release in stock already, but I’m not vying for attention with the limited edition Devo boxsets and whatnot.
But as a former record shop owner, I am totally cool with Record Store Day. It was tough to keep the lights on at my store in the early ‘90s. I can’t even imagine how tough it must be now. But I do know that the money earned on Lollapalooza-cancellation day paid our bills for a good month. And it allowed us to take risks on some great new records in the following week’s stock order, too.
Meanwhile, Leor Galil of the Chicago Reader reminds us:
RSD’s founding principle is to support local record stores, but I don’t think such support should be confined to shops that stock RSD special releases. Thrift stores can be great places to buy music, even if they devote only a small fraction of their floor space to it. […]
Secondhand shops … rarely sort or catalog their collections in any way, so that it’s futile to take any approach other than “see what you can see.” Such stores are often the last stop records make before the landfill, and browsing their collections can feel like panning for gold in a sandbox. I don’t mind spending 15 minutes at a Goodwill, though, digging through battered Herb Alpert discs and high school marching-band LPs—the longer I look, the slimmer the chance I’ll find anything interesting, but even the tiniest chance is worth 15 minutes to me.
Though record stores maintain some aspect of discovery, I think customers are a lot more educated before going in
Unimpeded access to new music (via streaming and endless opinion and information online) creates a savvy customer who knows what he or she wants, whether today is RSD or not. I do wonder how many people still ask for recommendations from the geeky clerk behind the counter. “I like crazy modern European jazz … what’s good?” gets replaced by “can you direct me to the new The Comet Is Coming album?”
On the other hand, it’s impossible to go into a thrift store with a record-buying agenda. Though rarely can you ask someone behind the counter for a recommendation, but that’s beside the point. Following Galil’s train of thought above, thrift stores remain frozen, unaffected by streaming, by the internet, by the ups-and-downs of the ‘vinyl revival.’ Just as we did twenty years ago, you go in and hope. You often buy something because the cover looks crazy, not because you went in looking for it (you’re cheating if you call up Discogs on your phone). You’ll take a chance on a record even though it’s got a few deep scratches on side two. And then you take that stack home — whoa, it only cost $7 for all of them — and you put on that one record that makes it all worthwhile. You made a .50 gamble, and it’s the JAM. That’s the spirit of vinyl. Happy Record Store Day!
PSS – My best thrift store find? I once ran across mint copies of the first several original Telex 12″ singles on the floor of a pawn shop, a quarter a pop.