In all fairness, RSD has been a Wimshurst machine of joy and complaints. There’s the quality of the artifacts versus the prices of said items. Then there’s the war between the genuine record enthusiasts and the auction-site “flippers” reselling titles for up to six times over full retail. Let’s not forget the entitlement issues of people who are weekly supporters of their fave record emporiums who get shut out because they don’t want to wait six hours in a line waiting for the store to open. (RSD forbids stores to hold items or allow for multiple copy sales of one title.) The highly regarded label the Numero Group bowed out of RSD this year in a public post while still acknowledging benefitting from the event in the past. These attitudes aren’t exclusive to any one player in this game. As far as community, there is something to be said about the camaraderie (however fleeting) between strangers discussing music, the cold weather and their need to be warmed by coffee.
Deathwish’s Bannon understands the disconnect between the intent of RSD and how it plays out in the real world. “In theory, [RSD] brings attention to music in a very general way. I wish that was there all the time. It’s weird: [RSD is] kind of like its own construct now, like a brand and a label onto itself. Like, we have ‘the official list of RSD releases.’ Well, every fucking record that is out is valid. [RSD] can be construed as exploitative of the medium. I’d rather see Artist And Musician Appreciation Day.
“There’s already a subculture in place,” he continues. “You can’t have the idea and then attach the narrative to it. If you’re making 5,000 copies of a record that has an audience of 10,000 and you’re putting them strategically into certain stores in major cities, those records are going to get sucked up—usually not by the people waiting in line to get them—and they end up on eBay. That’s benefitting eBay and Discogs percentages in terms of actual sales—because the bands aren’t getting any more [money] from it.”
“We love Record Store Day,” Schaefer says. “We know the people who run it, and they’re doing it for all the right reasons. I think the challenge of RSD is wrangling all the labels. The success or failure of RSD relies on the quality of the product being offered. If the labels are super-bought-in and you can get a lot of the great indie labels to press great stuff, it will continue to be successful. But some labels use RSD as a reason to do a 30th repress of something that never should’ve been pressed in the first place. That’s a liability. It’s very challenging, but we’re cheering them on.”
“I think much of the mania surrounding RSD is subsiding,” Blackwell says. “Third Man almost exists way outside of that. On one end, it seems to be the busiest day of the year for most independent record shops. Do I agree with everything that’s released on limited-edition colored vinyl for the occasion? No. But I don’t agree with most of what’s released in archival reissue format. [Laughs.] It’s not that different from any other day of the week for me!”
What’s interesting is that while he bemoans the major labels’ insistence of reissuing records nobody really needs (here’s looking at you, Top Gun soundtrack), Blackwell says that a lot of critics aren’t really aware about the real-world demands of used record stores, which he credits to streaming. “Great music is trumping everything. A friend of mine who runs a used record store came up to me and asked if I had any lines on your standard classic rock bin items. ‘I used to have 30 copies of Springsteen’s Born In The USA in backstock built up over time, and now I can’t keep it in the racks longer than a week.’ There are classic titles that you and I know that have been around forever. That’s not reality anymore: Those are all gone. There are more people interested than ever, and there are more people looking than ever. Every college freshman—after they’ve been given their first joint and first pair of Converse All Stars—gets told to buy vinyl copies of Bob Marley’s Legend and the Beatles’ Abbey Road. If the used record stores can’t keep Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours in stock, that’s why [the label] keeps pressing it. That title used to be a dollar, maybe five. There’s a whole new generation vacuuming this stuff up.”
The nature of high-spirited, passionate debates in music—from the purportedly “superior” formats, the pros and cons of RSD and the validity of a title’s mere existence (the elbows-in-eye-sockets digi-brawling and existential pricing crises on message boards such as Steve Hoffman Music Forums and Waxidermy)—gives music that sense of importance and vibrance that feels seemingly lost in today’s what-else-do-you-got, swipe-left culture. In the past, this writer has often described his collection to friends and acquaintances as “my life as illustrated by other people’s art,” long before hive mind hashtags (you know, #FourNounsThatDefineYou). Admittedly, that mindset can be quite dangerous, as exemplified by the 2000 documentary Vinyl where people can get completely lost in their obsession. Still, there’s one big reason why having a room surrounded by shelves of records feels more satisfying than a hard drive encrusted with band stickers.
“Record Store Day celebrates vinyl the way the 4th of July celebrates America,” Rhino’s Pinkus says. “But we’re releasing vinyl full clip, week in, week out. We are 100 percent committed to the format. As long as the fans want it, we will make sure we keep giving it to them.”
“The stores are just a giant cog,” reminds Deathwish’s Bannon. “But they’re not the only game in town. It’s all about music and art—the real things that should be celebrated.” alt
Record Store Day is Saturday, April 21. For a list of participating stores and offered titles, head over to recordstoreday.com.