Coming up on 16th April is Record Store Day – that one day of the year when the music buying world is supposed to support its local record shop by attending whatever event they may be holding, and paying a lot of money for limited edition records. The thing is, I think your local record store deserves your support every day of the year, not just Record Store Day – it’s the same as a puppy isn’t just for Christmas…
Record Store Day started in 2008 in America, when a group of people realised that the vast majority of small, independent record stores were closing…and that these stores were the ones where they’d learnt about music, bought their first album, been sneered at by the shop assistant for buying something popular, basically where they’d developed into the music fan they now were. Their thought was (accurately), if you lose those stores then current music buyers, and future generations of music buyers, will end up buying online, or, even worse, drifting away from music completely. So, they launched a campaign, a day specifically for those independents. They got smaller record labels on board (and some big name bands), the sort who need local sales to survive, and they produced some limited edition records that you could buy because you were a frequent visitor to the store, so you knew something was happening.
Unfortunately, fast forward to 2016 and things aren’t quite the same. Whilst it’s still vitally important that independent record stores exist (for all the reasons given above, and many others) Record Store Day isn’t quite the localised, small scale enterprise it once was. To give you some idea of the scale, the UK version is now in partnership with the BBC, every major label is involved (wherever there’s a chance of money to be made a major label is guaranteed to turn up) and there are over 500 different releases available on the day…and that’s probably the biggest problem of all.
Record stores have to place their orders in advance…which means they have to “guess” what they may be able to sell. On top of that, just because they’ve ordered it doesn’t mean they’ll get it – supplies are limited after all, there’s only so many to go around, and for some of the more popular acts involved that can mean none arriving at your local store. Under the strict rules of Record Store Day nothing can be reserved for a customer, sold early, or sold online until after the event. That means if you see something on the list you want you’d better be prepared to queue, probably from VERY early in the morning. Last year I got lucky when I arrived mid- morning, I got one of the four things I wanted, the other three had already sold out. Whilst my local store has canvassed opinion, and asked people what they would like ordering they’re not allowed to save anything – so I’ll be standing in line from VERY early to hopefully get all four things I asked for…that’s assuming I can afford them, as some of the items are very highly priced (thank the record labels for that one) – last year I wanted Steve Reich : Music For 18 Musicians, but wasn’t prepared to pay over £50 for a double LP! On top of that, small independent stores can’t afford to take one delivery of over 500 records – that’s a huge part of their (very tight) budget for the year gone in one day. So they have to try to work out what might sell, and take a guess. I know my local store has ordered something like 170 different records, and lots of those will be more than one copy – that’s still a significant risk to take!
A side effect of these limited stocks, and high prices, is that dealers and money makers now want a share of the action. Take a look on EBay or Discogs on Sunday 17th April and see how many RSD limited editions are for sale…and just how much the prices have been inflated as they’re “rare, limited edition, never again available” etc etc. These aren’t music fans, or even record collectors – they’re people out to make a quick buck from the likes of you and I who wanted a certain album as we’re a huge fan of band ‘X’ but were unlucky on the day.
So, your local independent record store needs your support – that much is very true. But, just like that Christmas puppy mentioned earlier, it needs your support all year round. It needs your support in summer when everyone is away on holiday and takings are low. It needs your support in January and February when the credit card bills have come in from Christmas and everyone stops spending money…hell, as I said, it needs your support all year round! Go in there, introduce yourself, ask for some advice, tell them what you like, see what they recommend, flip through the racks yourself. Just remember, Amazon may be £1 cheaper (although I wouldn’t bet on it, certainly not for anything other than the absolute mass market albums), but Amazon won’t save a s/h album that just came in because they knew you’d like it, Amazon won’t run a loyalty scheme (my local shop runs a stamp collection card, a shop in Bristol I visited recently gave discount in the cafe downstairs etc) and Amazon won’t be there Saturday when you want somewhere to escape for an hour while your significant other is watching football or getting their hair done. By all means go along on Record Store Day, you’ll stand in line, have a laugh with other music fans, natter about your different likes and dislikes, and hopefully pick up something you really want but please, go along the weekend after as well, and take some time to do all those things (without the standing in line) – trust me, your local record store will love you for it.