Record Store Day (RSD) was a brilliant idea, get artists to release something special on vinyl on a particular day and only release the product to independent record stores, which have been on the decline for well over a decade now. Surely everyone wins? The record stores get exclusive gear to sell and more customers through the door (especially with live performances in store too), artists get to give something special back to the fans and get greater exposure, and fans get more vinyl to add to their burgeoning collections.
Well yes I think it was a good idea, but I’m not so sure it still is. Has RSD jumped the shark? I think it has and this is why I won’t be going along to my local independent store for the second year running this year:
- I’m not so keen on either queueing outside a store that I am normally one of only a handful of people in at any other time of the year, and when I do finally get I cant get to the racks anyway.
- This means that it is actually the regular and loyal record store customer who can get left out on RSD, especially if they can’t make it.
- It used to be the case that the releases on RSD were genuine rarities or great opportunities for small artists and labels to get their music to a wider audience. This is still the case to a certain extent, but it seems to me that they have been swamped by the major labels who, frankly, seem to be releasing some pretty spurious ‘special editions’ on RSD. Things that the completist will feel impelled to buy, but are of little additional artistic value.
- RSD was originally an opportunity for real fans to get their hands on special stuff by their favourite acts. Unless you want to camp outside your local record store very early in the morning you are unlikely to get the very rare stuff.
- Which brings me to eBay – which is where a lot of stuff seems to end up very quickly after RSD, meaning that the real fan gets shafted by some chancer who is only in it for the money and not the survival of the record store.
- Because of this I note that many record stores are taking orders from people in the queue (one item per person) before opening and not allowing browsing before buying. This shows how difficult things have got, and how it’s no longer about going to your local shop and finding a surprise. You can now get what you want without ever having to go through the ritual of ‘digging’ for it (the ‘exclusive’ lists come out weeks in advance), its just like ordering on the internet but you need to stand outside a shop for a couple of hours to earn the right to buy it.
- When RSD was first introduced vinyl sales were very much in the doldrums and very few artists were putting stuff out on record. Since then there has been a steady growth in vinyl to the extent that probably the majority of releases, especially in the more specialist sector, are available on vinyl. I’m sure that RSD has played a significant part in this revival, but perhaps some other form of promotion is now needed.
- By that I mean that it is surely more about the survival of the record shops themselves rather than vinyl itself (which the plethora of releases surely suggests), which seems to have become the focus. One of my more depressing shopping days was walking around Greenwich Village in around 2007 (the year RSD began), arriving at boarded up shop after boarded up record store that I had visited less than 10 years before. In the (paraphrased) words of Sinatra, if they can’t make it the they can’t make it anywhere. RSD is there for the stores and not the (particularly major) artists and labels?
- So surely RSD skews the market. In these days of austerity we have a finite amount of money to spend on records. If so much that money is going out all in one day, does it mean that people aren’t coming into record stores at other times of the year (which is surely the aim)?
- And is more and more of that limited money going on (often poorly) rehashed product rather than genuinely interesting new music from bands that those visiting RSD might just take a punt on?
Let me be really clear here. I love Independent Record Shops and always go out of my way to search them out when I visit somewhere. I can spend hours in them and lose myself digging in them and I spend quite a bit of money in them (and only by my records from them). My argument is that, from my perspective, RSD is now less about stores and record buyers, and more about ‘the industry’. That very same industry that has turned a blind eye when record stores have closed in their thousand. It is surely time to still have RSD, but spread the promotions and events throughout the year to attract people over a period of time, because RSD seems to have lost its original focus and message.
So please continue to support and celebrate your local stores throughout the year. They need you and your continued regular custom.
Do you agree?
Are you in a band, do you run a label, are music buyer or do you run a record shop? What has RSD become for you?
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.