3 Reasons Record Store Day Inspires Local Love
How often do you hear new music on the radio these days? Unless you’re listening to a college station, not often. Go into a local record store, however, and they’re playing some super cool thing you’ve never heard before. New or old, local or international, the music is something folks at a record store can tell you about—and they really like to share their discoveries. Whether you’re in Amoeba‘s cavernous Berkeley location, or the cozy nook of Aquarius Records, San Francisco’s oldest indie record store, you tell them what you like, and record store owners and clerks can recommend new music you’ll probably love. This Saturday, April 16, is a great time to pay your local record store a visit: it’s the eighth annual National Record Store Day (RSD),
Record Store Day: Discover music, score limited-edition items
Started by a group of independent record store owners, RSD is a marketing event that encourages music lovers of all ages to turn off iTunes, put down their laptops and mobile
devices, and head out to their local record store. To commemorate the occasion, independent and major labels release RSD-exclusive vinyl, CDs, and other promotional items. Participating stores around the world host live in-store performances by local musicians and DJs, celebrating the indie record universe of artists, retailers, and music lovers.
Record Store Day is not only reminding consumers what’s special about getting their tunes locally sourced, it’s reignited an enthusiasm for vinyl. According to one record store owner, “One of the reasons Record Store Day works (and it does work) is that it reminds people that music can be touched.” The resurgence of those 12” plastic saucers of yesteryear has resulted in a big bump in annual sales.
LPs sound better
There are serious arguments in favor of vinyl albums (LPs, really, which, for you young whippersnappers, stands for Long Playing)—they (often) sound better because they’re analog instead of digital, aren’t compressed as tightly, have superior range, and, of course, records are tactile. In a time when interacting with music can mean nothing more than clicking “Buy,” going to a local record store offers an experience. You flip through album after album, finally find it, that ⅓ lb of pressed vinyl in your hand. You have to wait until you get home to listen to it: gently pull it out of the sleeve, set it on the turntable, lower the stylus down extra carefully because it’s a new record. Suddenly, you can hear fingers sliding along frets and you listen to the whole album, as you were meant to. Music nerds could talk about this until the cows come home, but what seems to resonant most with fans is the physicality of vinyl, that good ol’ fashioned polyvinyl chloride and polyvinyl acetate blend—that, and the record store experience.
Like most things that start off with a low-popularity, high cool factor, Record Store Day has its detractors, who complain that in recent years it has been co-opted and corporatized by the likes of Universal, Red Bull, and Sony. Now, even Rolling Stone has an “ultimate guide” to RSD’s special releases.
Support a small business—and the musicians get a bigger cut
For record store owners, that’s some great free press reminding fans to buy local. Despite the criticism that RSD has lost its sharp plastic edge, it still results in exposure, sales, and new customers for record store owners. As the owner of Mills Record Company in Kansas City, Missouri, explains, RSD is “a high transaction day” during which she can expand her customer base. “I can expose great local bands to larger audiences [and increase] the [number] of people in my community who know they have a record store down the street.” The surge in vinyl purchases not only benefits independent record stores, it means the artists who make the music are getting a bigger cut of the profit than they do from streaming services.
For the founders of Record Store Day, it’s not just a day—the organization works year-round to support indie record stores, creating promotions with both independent and major labels. In 2013, co-founder Michael Kurtz was actually made a Chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters in honor of Record Store Day’s contribution to French culture. As a testament to the difference it’s making for local retailers, Record Store Day was dubbed the Marketplace Ally of the Year last year by an organization of independent music labels.
This year’s Record Store Day Ambassador is metal band Metallica, a band that came together at local SF eatery Tommy’s Joynt. Their drummer, Lars Ulrich, explains the impact his local record store had: “Ken and Ole, who were the guys responsible for the rock department at Bristol [in Denmark], were my heroes. Whatever they recommended instantly became a must have. In 1979 when I got invited back to Ken’s apartment to check out his personal record collection, it was one of the most exciting things in my life. Period.” For Ulrich, this kind of relationship is why record stores still matter, for artists and fans.
And, isn’t that really what all small business is? A special experience, a real interaction? Every small business is a part of the culture that makes not just us, but our communities. National Record Store Day isn’t just about vinyl, it’s about the niche, the small, the local, it’s about what our small businesses mean to us in all their richness, culture, and diversity.
You can find participating record stores on the National Record Day site. In honor of the Townsquared’s current small business communities, here are the participating stores in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Seattle, and New York. Be sure to check out in-store performances at your local record store!
Folks wanting to contact Record Store Day are encouraged to email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.