So today is Record Store Day, the day when a whole lot of exclusive limited edition hard to find records are released to the world*. Theoretically this is to promote independent record stores, opening them up to a new audience who might not otherwise wander in, keeping these shops afloat and relevant in this modern age of Amazon and all the rest. I have all sorts of issues with this, but I’ll start instead with an account of my experience of Record Store Day this year.
So I got up, on a Saturday, to leave the house and get a bus to Sunderland at 7:45am. Anyone who knows me will know how out of character this is for me. Leaving aside the insane idea of me getting up before noon on a Saturday, I went to SUNDERLAND. I hate going to Sunderland. The only way people have been able to get me there in the last year or so has been with the promise of a vigorous session of laser tag – but that’s a digression. Anyway, so there I was at 9am queuing outside Hot Rats Record Store with a group of around 30 other customers. We waited, in silence for the most part, for a half hour or so as we were ushered into the store one by one to see if our desired records were there and then leave.
I’ll briefly interrupt to mention what I was actually after at RSD15. I really only wanted two records, although there were a few I would be vaguely interested in if on a flip through they jumped out at me.
The main two though were these:
A Warpaint/Daughter Split EP where they’d remixed each other’s songs. The Daughter remix of Feeling Alright is really awesome, and Warpaint are pretty much my favourite band these days. I have all of their vinyl releases (bar one which seems to be a US Rough Trade exclusive), and I love sitting back and listening to them. Needless to say this was a must have. However I didn’t have a lot of hope for getting this – as it’s a limited run of only 500.
The other was a Courtney Barnett single (inexplicably pressed as a 12”) with a John Cale cover on the B-Side. I’m absolutely infatuated with Courtney Barnett’s music at the moment, having recently picked up her new album. So again, I really wanted this.
Once I was ushered in the door and up to the counter I was asked “What are you after?”. Turns out they had no copies of Courtney Barnett’s single, and their sole copy of the Warpaint/Daughter EP had already been sold (they’d ordered three, but of course they didn’t get that many). Oh well, out the door I went and the next walking wallet was ushered in. There was no incentive to spend any more time than that in the shop to be perfectly honest.
Similar story over at Pop Recs, albeit with even fewer releases and neither of the ones I was after. Awesome. So I said sod it and went home. A wasted trip all around.
None of the stores had anything else on really, and I actually hate digging through endless crates of rubbish – so there was no point in me hanging around. Fortunately, shortly after I got home the postie arrived with an Amazon parcel for me. What could it be? (Find out at the end!)
So here’s my beef. I don’t buy records as collectables†. I don’t buy them as investments or wall art or because they’re rare and that makes me feel special. I buy them because I really enjoy the format as a way to listen. You sit down, you pay attention, you admire the cover art, photo inserts and/or lyrics and you experience the music in a way that just isn’t the same as playing it in the background as you work, walk or exercise. I generally do that too – it’s why I also like having music in a digital format – but I treasure the experience of sitting down and actually listening to an album. I wanted both of those releases because they were music from two artists i love that I wanted to listen to. So I was genuinely pretty gutted that I couldn’t buy them. Music is for listening to, not collecting, and a limited release only deprives fans of the chance to listen to it.
And here’s my other issue. Most record stores? I’m sorry, but they suck.
In this they have a lot of common with games stores. There are two types. Type 1 (and the rarest) is the good kind – an owner who wants people to come in, who makes it a friendly place and goes the extra mile to have the store actually provide a service which can’t be matched by the internet. This is what it takes to keep a store business going – you can’t just have a pile of stuff, the internet will always have more. Type 2 is the store which doesn’t really want customers, it’s a place hostile to non-regulars probably run by someone who opened it to indulge their own hobby (gotta love that wholesale discount). Record store day doesn’t help either of those types of people. The Type 2s are the same as always, and the Type 1s are too stressed out to offer any of the actual benefits of being a Type 1 store. I hear mythical tales of stores with live bands and special events on RSD – I’ve never seen one. I know Pop Recs does that at other times – and good on them, but it doesn’t make Record Store Day any better.
Sometimes business models just die, sometimes the new thing is better. Nobody mourns the loss of the horse and cart industry. If Amazon can rush ship me Courtney Barnett’s Double EP the day after I order it then why would I take a 45 minute bus ride to rummage through some crates on the off chance a shop has it? I don’t feel particularly guilty about the one vinyl which I actually got to play today.
*Only to certain Record Stores. In extremely limited numbers. Available only to people who can queue outside a store at 9am.
†As of writing there are 4 copies of the Warpaint/Daughter EP on Discogs and 14 on eBay. 9 copies of Kim’s Caravan on Discogs and 19(!!) on ebay. All mint and still in shrinkwrap of course.
Much, much later update:
I managed to find both records online at their normal prices through Rough Trade and RecordStore.co.uk – turns out they had a bunch of surplus which they didn’t send to the stores. Typical.