As a kid, I never wanted to be an athlete. That’s why I became a record collector. Long before the Internet, local Cleveland-area record stores like Wax Stacks, Record Exchange, Chris’s Warped Records, Time Traveler, Peaches and Record Revolution were the places to discover bands and scenes from around he world, connect with kindred spirits and turn on or get turned onto life changing music.
And then, with Record Store Day (it's Saturday, April 18 this year), record collecting became a highly competitive, full-contact sport and endurance event.
You know the drill:
- Arrive at 4:00 AM on a blustery April morning and still not be the first in line.
- Incur the wrath of your line mates when you dare take a pee break in the nearest Starbucks or alley.
- Endure the stench of men who have not showered or likely left their parents’ basement in months.
- Get pushed around by hired goons and their extended family members who have no interest in talking about music, they have a list of items to buy for their eBay overlords and will kill you to get it.
- Once the doors open, get herded in like cattle and face the gauntlet of which part of the alphabet you hit first.
- Strain, hop, grope, beg and fight over access to plum bins.
- Decide what to spend your money on since there are hundreds of releases — and you already have one mortgage.
- Wait in line for another hour to pay while blocking every inch of aisle space from actual patrons of the store.
- Leave feeling exhausted and defeated yet superior to the hopeless schmoes still in line.
- Check eBay prices throughout the day to see if you are newly rich or a complete sucker.
Why Record Store Day exists is puzzling. If its intention is to save independent record stores, then why is it only one day per year? Why are all the profits driven into the after market? And if the industry is in such a fit over illegal downloads, why are they making it so hard for fans to buy music?
I’ll admit, I am more pissed off this year than most. My idol, Dave Grohl, is Record Store Day ambassador. Foo Fighters is releasing a limited edition EP, "Songs From The Laundry Room," that I have no chance in hell in getting my hands on, thus ending my 20-year career of collecting everything they ever put out. Years after it was released, "Medium Rare" is still not available on CD or MP3. The only reason I own a copy is because I endured the above humiliation to get one. And now I have kids. Fuck Record Store Day; we’re going to sleep in and go to the park. Toledo’s Culture Clash Records is re-releasing a totally rare, 89X-FM staple from back in the day, "Spin" by 24Gone. Yea! There are only going to be 500 copies — on vinyl — no CD or MP3 — and it’s a regional release and I live in Seattle. Dammit!
A conspiracy theorist might argue that employees of the stores, labels and publicists are among those profiteering in the eBay aftermarket by limiting the amount of product that hits shelves. But let’s assume everyone is on the up and up, here’s how to save our actually stores without Record Store Day (at least in its current form):
Make Record Store Day a once a month thing. Fill the bins with dozens of special releases once a month instead of hundreds of releases once a year.
Do the Beyonce. Without any fanfare or advance publicity, randomly drop HUGE exclusives right into record store bins year round. Make every week’s “New Release Friday” an event on its own. Let social media handle the publicity.
Reward your most loyal customers. Most indie stores already have buyer’s reward cards where so many stamps entitle you to a free disc or other perk. What if that perk was "Front of the Line" status at RSD? The more albums you buy year round, the further up in line you go. Push all those annual eBay assholes to the back of the line. Or better yet, the perk is the ability to request a single item and have it held for you. The more cards you fill year round, the more exclusives you get to BUY without having to work so damn hard for the privilege.
Offer rainchecks. Hey labels: If a hot title sells out, press more and keep selling it. If some asshole gets their rocks off having one of 500 RSD Edition first pressing green vinyls, all power to em. But why prevent me from ever hearing the music? Do subsequent pressings on black vinyl or better yet, keep mixing up the perks of subsequent pressings until the market is tapped.
Host your own auction. If the labels are short sighted with their ambition, seize the day and auction off all or part of your inventory right there at the store — why let eBay have all the fun and profit — charge admission, make enough money to keep the lights on for the next few months.
Turn the emphasis onto experiences. Less focus on collectibles, more on in-store performances and record signings.
Offer a VIP newsletter. Once year-round buyers hit certain levels of purchases, upgrade them to VIP and GOLD CIRCLE lists to get first warning of hot new secret releases — year round.
Don’t kill the CD. The compact disc still offers portability and pristine sound. Labels have all but given up on them by selling new titles in flimsy, booklet-free eco paks. Revival labels like Cherry Red Records, on the other hand, package their CDs in gorgeous gatefold packs filled with images, artwork, lyrics and liner notes from the artist or well-versed music critics and editors. CDs still offer indie shops a lot of resale potential as new and used titles.
Don’t fill the pipeline with shit. While there are loads of cool titles in every Record Store Day lineup, the majority are crap titles aimed at fucking the “completist” collector for any given band:
- PR Cash-ins: Readily available tracks repackaged as limited edition vinyl singles and EPs.
- Advance promos: Vinyl singles of upcoming inessential full length releases.
- Vault scrapes: Inferior versions of beloved songs and lost tracks that should have stayed lost.
So what can you do?
Skip record store day. Demand to be treated with dignity. And don't buy on eBay — or at least until prices drop below what they originally paid. Shop year round – discover new music by talking to the clerks and fellow shoppers. Trade your old, unwanted stock for new titles. Discover new artists, buy their albums and go see their shows. It’s all part of the independent music ecosystem.