Record Store Day has gotten so big so quickly, it’s spawning subplots: Will the hardened eBay sellers who try to buy up all the limited album pressings spoil the fun for everyone else? Will the resurgent vinyl LP — the centerpiece of Record Store Day’s expanding product line — continue its retail revival? Or have record labels and retailers blown a vinyl bubble that’s ready to pop?
RSD No. 5 arrives Saturday at a participating non-chain outlet near you with great fanfare, a few questions, and Iggy Pop as this year’s official ambassador. If you go you’ll rub elbows with music geeks and casual browsers alike, and in many participating stores you’ll get to see live performances by DJs and bands.
It’s a party for the home-grown, esoteric trade celebrated in High Fidelity and assorted dispatches from The Onion (“Nation In Love With Girl From Record Store”), and a celebration of endangered pleasures such as record racks and analog sound.
Even in our less tactile age of e-tail, file compression, and digital playback, Record Store Day also looks more and more like a necessity: Staffers at four shops in lower Manhattan — Other Music, Bleecker Street Records, Generation Records, and Rebel Rebel — and one in Fort Lauderdale — Radio-Active Records — all said it is now one of their strongest sales days of the year, surpassing even the winter gift-giving season.
Compact discs still occupy plenty of shelf space inside these downtown storefronts, despite their loss of market share to downloading. But LP fever is the main attraction on Record Store Day.
“People still want to have something they can hold in their hands,” says Rob Lecuyer of Bleecker Street, repeating the catechism of vinyl’s recent comeback.
Artists, labels, and stores are feeding the frenzy with a release bonanza. More than 300 new or reissued titles go on sale Saturday, the great majority stamped from vinyl and fashioned into various sizes and designs. Everyone from the Flaming Lips to classical conductor Gustavo Dudamel has a Record Store Day exclusive in the dock.
The official RSD on-sale list, which numbered about two dozen releases in 2008, is long enough today that it’s partitioned into categories: national, regional, one-day-only, and available later.
Many participating stores take a pledge of retail purity, promising to offer all the new product over the counter on Saturday and not withhold it for later sale at an additional markup, or auction it online.
That vow, of course, assumes a certain amount of consumer demand. Some store owners wonder if it’s not assuming too much.
Sean Ragon of Heaven Street Records in Brooklyn sees Record Store Day as a good idea gone bad. He’s not taking part, for reasons both practical and philosophical: he doesn’t want to be stuck with a lot of heavily hyped product that doesn’t sell; he also thinks the promotion of new releases as instant collectibles is a con.
“People are being strong-armed into buying box sets [for Record Store Day] that would never sell otherwise,” says Ragon.
He talks about his own store as a community resource first and a source of income second — not that the money is great. “I live pretty much like a monk because I have to,” he says.
He also plays in a band, Cult of Youth, and operates a small record label, Blind Prophet. Describing himself as “a little fearful about the future of the record business,” he doesn’t want to stake everything on running Heaven Street Records, and says if he comes to the end of his 10-year lease having only broken even, “That would be okay.”