So did you get the exclusive Record Store Day releases you were after? The Bowie reissues? The LCD Soundsystem live album? The One Direction picture disc? Actually, I’ve heard more about the latter and other commercial artists’ special releases since Saturday’s (19 April) annual record shop celebration than I have about the records people actually purchased on the day.
Started in America in 2007 as a means to encourage people to support their independent vinyl emporiums, 2014 really seems to be the year RSD came of age. Not only was there a record 643 releases, but there was a record amount of moaning about it. Phil Hebblethwaite’s excellent piece for The Quietus last week highlighted the side-effects of the event’s success. Like any ad-hoc, volunteer campaign there have been unintended consequences. Vinyl production is suffering a backlog as RSD releases take priority (isn’t it time the UK industry collectively invested again in the production of this resurgent physical format?), smaller labels are struggling to get their albums into shops and there’s some criticism about the type – and price – of releases scrambled out every April.
All fair points, and all frankly, honestly addressed and considered by RSD’s UK organiser Spencer Hickman in the piece. Hard questions have to be asked regularly to ensure the day keeps its bite and impact, but what surprised me most is the reaction to RSD this year from those who regularly visit record shops.
Taking issue with Harry Styles and co, one of the commenters to The Quietus piece wrote: “Getting new people in is great. But I would say RSD is not the day for it. There are 364 other days of the year, after all.” Elsewhere, someone who runs a label and I know is regularly in record shops tweeted on the day that: “I love the idea of Record Store Day and its intentions are good but let’s be honest it’s turning into a bloated corporate monster…”
Ultimately we have to ask what Record Store Day is for. To me, it’s always been about getting more people through the doors of shops. The hope surely is that a blaze of publicity, a spread of unique releases and a host of in-store performances will get lapsed customers and those who usually rely on iTunes (or worse, dodgy downloads) queuing outside. If just one of the hundreds of 1D fans likes what they see, enjoys the experience and community spirit of buying music in an independent shop then hasn’t Record Store Day done its job?
The event is a recruitment exercise – the fact it’s created a single-day cash boost for a lot of struggling shops is a bonus.
Not only should we welcome One Direction releases, the spread of artists taking part should be even wider next year. There’s nothing to stop record shop regulars from joining in on RSD too – particularly if they’re after a limited-edition release – but ultimately it’s not really aimed at you. My advice is treat it like regular drinkers treat the pubs on New Year’s Eve. Accept it’s amateur night and you’ll just have to be a bit more patient and queue a little longer… or alternatively stay at home and wait for the January detox to get served quickly again. It’s only one day a year and ultimately it might be that day’s takings and, better still, the new year-round customers it encourages, that means the shop will still be open come a rainy day in October.
There are things wrong with RSD, because there was no masterplan behind its inception, but these can be addressed without slating the effort. Pricing and the kind of “limited edition” releases that make the cut (for example, personally I don’t feel boxsets really have a place, aren’t these things you think about a lot before buying rather than panic buying on a single day?) should be top of the organisers’ to-do lists, while vinyl production and label distribution shouldn’t suffer too.
Paul Weller’s decision to not take part again after lots of the 500 limited-edition seven-inches of Brand New Toy ended up up on auction sites hours after going on sale is another wake-up call. It’s important RSD finds a way to combat the online touts as people need to have a reason to go into shops, but rather than the elitist moaning on social media or articles commenting on how terrible or evil Record Store Day has become, I’d urge the record shop faithful and labels to engage with the organisers to come up with creative solutions or ideas to fix it. Otherwise, if you really can’t bear it, how about just ignoring it? It might be that Record Store Day just really isn’t aimed at you, but if it keeps your favourite shop open for another 12 months is it really so bad?