Record Store Day: Why It Does (And Doesn’t) Matter

The exclusives are great, but the stench of death hangs heavy in the air for record stores.

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud

Record Store Day: Why It Does (And Doesn't) Matter


More than 1,000 stores worldwide are expected to take part in the fourth annual Record Store Day on Saturday, April 16, joining official ambassador Ozzy Osbourne in bemoaning the inevitably oncoming extinction of the beautiful piece of American pop culture that is the record store, gathering en masse to pump a little more revenue into the IV tubes of a soon-gone but beautiful species.

On a day meant for celebrating actual records, those little spinning vinyl circles, participating stores will offer in-store events or performances by an impressive number of artists, as well as more hundreds and hundreds of unique, special releases including rare singles and albums by everyone from Foo Fighters to Deftones to Gorillaz and The Kills. Check out New-Vinyl for the full list of releases, which has reached an all-time high for 2011.

As you may have noticed, it’s getting harder and harder to find the local record stores of old: those unique little shops with posters lining the walls, spiked and tatted employees with encyclopedic knowledge of the most abstract musical history imaginable. They are quickly becoming a thing of the past, yet another thing that we’ll reminisce about to our children with a faraway look in our eyes, just like our parents did about whatever dated timepieces they couldn’t let go of. 


When was the last time you set foot in a record store? If Jack White is to be believed, more than 97% of high school students have never been inside a music retailer. It’s getting harder and harder these days to find the local record stores we grew up with – the ones where show posters line the walls, beautifully alien sounds blare from the speakers and spiked & tatted employees with encyclopedic knowledge of the most abstract musical history imaginable mock your every anti-cool move. In honor of this dying species, a group of small-store supporters banded together four years ago to create a nationwide Record Store Day, with the goal of raising support for independent record stores in their local communities. It was a celebratory affair, with over 600 stores and dozens of musicians taking part, and largely considered a success.

The stench of death hangs heavy in the air among the old guard of the music industry, a nauseating signal of inevitable, impending doom. While Trent Reznor, Radiohead and the like push the evolutionary envelope and lead by example, serving as pioneering forces in the New Industry Order, most major labels are still clinging to their antiquated, nearly-obsolete playbooks, heads in the sand and lawyers on the prowl, hoping litigious herds and the likes of Gene Simmons can pull them out of the fire.

I used to be proud of my massive CD collection – I’d have them organized and alphabetized with near-obsession. Now they sit stacked in a large covered plastic bin in the corner, awaiting my next pillaging for some extra cash from Second Spin or Amoeba. At some point just after the turn of the century they quietly became relics, outdated and absurdly fragile, just as the almighty mixtape did. Those sacred little pieces of plastic gave way to mix CDs in the nineties, which gave way to the iPod a decade later. Who needs to deal with scratches and a playlist you can’t remember, when you can take your entire music library with you wherever you go? It’s a no-brainer, and it was bound to happen at some point, no matter how much of a fight the labels decide to put up in an attempt to stop the evolution of musical distribution.

Sadly, it’s not only the fatcat label heads and pampered pop idols under the shadow of the executioner’s axe. The music-buying collective is finally coming around to the realization that those overpriced, fragile little plastic coasters are far from the be-all and end-all of music as a physical product – especially when convenience enters the equation. As a result, conventional music stores are disappearing at a blinding pace, and everyone – from the towering giants to the indie college-town shops – are biting the dust fast. 

I’d like to tell you that there’s hope for these sacred pieces of music history. That if we really band together on April 16, our show of goodwill will sway the Great Digital Movement enough to hold back its drowning tide and save stores like Lou’s Records, Vintage Vinyl and Amoeba. But it’s just not going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not hoping for these record shops to fail. They were an integral part of my musical development, and there’s no replacing the discovery of a new love while sifting through the stacks of vinyl- feeling the cellophane-wrapped edges under your fingertips, smelling that hard waxy smell so common in those places. All the same, the internet has unceremoniously rendered these gems entirely obsolete, bringing every musical Holy Grail a fan could dream of to their fingertips with a few clicks. Forever gone are the midnight release party rituals, the mystery and exhilaration of discovering a new album in person. Despite the RIAA’s draconian flailings, downloading music through services like iTunes and booming peer-to-peer networks is still exploding with popularity. For many like myself, torrent sites and music blogs with album downloads have become the new record shops – the opinionated rants of strangers I’ll never meet  are now my first impressions of the unknown. Interesting trade-up, but clearly the better move for my wallet.

Music will survive. We’re not gathering on April 16 to fight for the music. That part’s going to be just fine, and a one-day retail rush isn’t going to prolong any lifelines. But the commerce built around the product and peripherals that have replaced the focus on the music itself – that’s what’s dying the slow death. But don’t you worry – vinyl’s not going anywhere. Between the audiophiles, the collectors, and the Library of Congress, the art of vinyl is and will remain an artistic high-water mark within the realm of the actual music product.

So here’s to separating the art from the industry, if only for just one day. One hour. One side of a record. Let’s log off & out, drop the needle down and remember what it’s like to actually feel the music, to bathe in the waves filling the room, to experience it without the distractions of playlists, instant messages and compression.