Record Store Day
A Reason to Celebrate
During the decline of physical media in the early to mid 2000s, there were winners and losers. In the winner’s corner you have digital music services such as iTunes and the budding streaming industry. Independent bands exploded in popularity overnight due to the colossus that was MySpace. Emo bands and hip hop acts, such as Paramore and Soulja Boy respectively, became overnight sensations due to the digital platforms massive reach.
A visual representation of the past thirty years of overall media sales.
But the battle between digital and physical was not one on one; it was a tag team match. Legitimate outlets such as iTunes and MySpace were joined by the legally gray peer-to-peer download networks such as Limewire and Napster before it. An artists entire discography was available at the click of a button for free. Couple this with the ability to stream an artists music on their MySpace page prior to either downloading or purchasing, the incentive to buy physical media had all but vanished. Big box retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart began reappropriating precious floor space from CDs to various other products. When I took a job at Best Buy in 2013, most of the middle of the store was dedicated to CDs and DVDs. My manager at the time told me that he got his start with the company by being hired to constantly stock, organize and alphabetize the media section. In 2020 you will be lucky to find a new release gondola in the front of a Best Buy. But you will find a dedicated section to vinyl records and turntables. There is a reason for that, and Record Store Day has a big part in it.
Record Store Day (RSD) originally organized to give independent record stores a shot in the arm for sales. The industry’s decline had been particularly harsh on these stores, forcing many to close. 2008 was the first year for the event and it was a modest success. Only 10 stores were apart of the first RSD, but this quickly grew to over 1,400 participating locations. The idea behind the event is simple; have exclusive records for sale at participating locations for one day. The subsequent traffic ought to lead to more sales, or at the very least awareness of the stores existence. This is a similar event to Free Comic Book Day, where independent shops hand out free comics to entice potential customers into their stores. The effort of RSD has helped the resurgence of vinyl to the point that we are seeing an increase in record sales for the first time in over 25 years. On the surface it seems as if RSD is a low-risk high-reward scenario, but that is not necessarily the case. Stores are required to purchase the records and are unable to refund any remnants from the event afterwards, leading to prior years exclusives gaining dust if the interest is not there. There is also the question of licensing the name Record Store Day, which favors stores that are able to afford the press kit and records.
The records are often a mixed bunch. Some are highly sought after while others are not. Pressings are limited and some of the more anticipated records are known to sell out quickly. Scalpers, much like sharks, can smell blood and sense the opportunity to buy a few popular records and flip them online for a quick buck.
The scalpers never rest
Trout Mask Replica’s Hard Lesson
I felt the frustration first hand of wanting a hot record. In 2019, RSD announced the list of records to be sold exclusively in stores was Captain Beefheart’s magnum opus Trout Mask Replica. This is no simple reissue, mind you, it is a remaster from the original analog tapes, and a new cover from the original negatives. The promise of a new dimension of depth on one of rock and blues music’s landmark albums seems too good to be true! Jack White’s own Third Man Records was in charge of the remastered release, and their reputation set the expectations even higher. This is one of my favorite albums of all time. I have to get it.
On the morning of Record Store Day 2019, I decided that the safest bet would be to go to the local Exchange store. Small town, small store, small lines is what I thought. I was wrong. In front of the store was a line of about 25 people, way more than I have ever seen in this Exchange. I arrogantly reassure myself that the record is too obscure for anybody here to spot or recognize. My sense of musical superiority lulled me into a false sense of security. Once I got into the store I was met by hoards of older men scrambling to the bins to grab their pick of the bunch. I waited patiently for my turn to dig through the crates when an older man cut me off and said “I’m just grabbing this one.” My blood pressure shot up like the mercury in a thermometer in a fevered mouth. After finally searching the crates, my search was for nothing. No Trout Mask Replica. I (foolishly) decide to call other record stores and even driving thirty miles for the off-chance that they still had my precious available. I had to admit defeat and walk away empty handed.
This album originally sold for $25 and is seeing big mark-ups.
The next mistake I made that day was checking eBay and Discogs, only to see significant mark-up on scalped copies of the album. It was at this point I decide to bid on an original pressing in very good condition, and as fortune would have it, I was awarded my consolation prize. I would never know the sound and sight of the remaster, but I now have an original.
I have mixed feelings about Record Store Day. On one hand I appreciate the effort put into the event and the awareness it brings to the hobby of record collecting. I have purchased a few of the exclusive records, such as At The Drive-In’s Diamante, Hozier’s Nina Cried Power, and Elvis Costello’s Someone Else’s Heart. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020’s event was postponed from April to June, and postponed again to three separate dates beginning in August. This year’s white whale is Tyler, The Creator’s 2015 album Cherry Bomb, and if I have learned anything from prior years, it is to keep my expectations in line with reality and to accept that I may not get a copy. This will not stop me from possibly throwing a fit and pouting on Twitter, however.