Record Store Day

Is Record Store Day Actually Hurting Record Stores?

This weekend, on April 21, the fifth-annual Record Store Day will be observed by independent retailers around the globe. It’s certainly a notable and noble cause: Raising awareness for local record stores. But in the midst of all of the hullabaloo, is the larger, cultural significance of the day. Is this message simply being lost on patrons who are more interested in snagging autographs than preserving the sanctity of crate digging?

Record Store Day celebrates the heritage of local music communities surrounding over 700 independent record stores in the U.S. and thousands worldwide. The event started in 2007 with the original idea devised by Chris Brown (an independent record store employee), and officially founded by Michael Kurtz and Carrie Colliton, among others. Throughout the years, the event has evolved to be marked by superstar performances, special album releases, and meet and greets with artists.

While the star-studded nature of these big-name promotions draw crowds to the all-but-abandoned brick-and-mortar businesses, the buzz seems to fall on the side of gimmick rather than grandeur. What’s meant as a way to promote the day that was created for the purpose of re-engaging the youth culture with physical record stores has been buried under the weight of its own promotion. Something is lost in the translation.

It’s as if record stores are a ghost town where people arrive en masse once a year for a special performance, only to vaporize into dust as the clock strikes midnight.

The central intent is to promote the local music shops in lieu of the digitized and commercialized 21st century music era that’s dominated by downloads, iTunes, and YouTube. Unfotunately, in a lot of ways, appearances by the likes of Metallica, Bob Dylan, Erykah Badu and a slew of others seem to overshadow that meaning. While these artists may candidly support the prospect of independent record stores, the truth is that they represent cogs in the same system that mauled these stores in the first place.

Of course, it’s not every day that you walk into your local shop and catch a performance from Jerry Lee Lewis or have a run in with Chuck D, but building a single serving of celebrity-fueled hype negates the intent of creating a lasting connection with these customers – many fans seem to miss the point.

Record stores are cultural staples that represent more than simply an outdated technology. Instead, they represent the tangible connection between music and fans – something that’s all but lost in this digital era. And in local communities, they serve as platforms for local talent. Record Store Day is about what these shops have done for music as a culture, as the mainline for new and old music before radio and music television dictated our tastes. Indie shops offer an opportunity for discovery without filters, a place for local and national acts to reach fans on the street level.

The most important part of the day is the relationship between store and consumer, and that intimate feeling of the hands-on search for albums exclusive to a singular setting. Nowhere else can consumers connect with their music on such a visceral level. Not over the internet, nor at one of the corporate giants that buries a single copy of Dr Dre’s The Chronic under a mountain of Drake’s latest offering. It’s times you walk into a record shop searching for one particular album and you walk out with five others that define this magic. There are times you hear about live performances on random nights that are standing room only to see an indie artist that you may not be able to catch elsewhere. For an industry that is known to mould artists for mainstream appeal, the independent artists use these places — or once did — as outlets to display their content without compromise. It was the original safehouse for underground integrity.

The essence of RSD can be found at shops in small towns or big cities where they open their doors out of a love for music. A sense of trust is established between the shop and community because they are ran by fellow music junkies. These people act as the wisemen of our respective music communities, whom we depend on for something new or classic. From the southern shops with the bluesy rock vibes, to the west coast shops that cater to the indie crowd (i.e. hipsters), they each offer up an unexplored scene for some, and a sense of nostalgia for others that cannot be romanticized.

To celebrate Record Store Day is to champion the spread of music as an organic art, rather than a commercialized commodity. A single day shouldn’t be the only time that we look around and recognize the importance of independent music shops in our community. It’s something that’s easy to forget in the era of digital music, where music runs rampant and MP3s are strewn about like litter on the sidewalk. But, preserving these cornerstones of music is important because it represents what’s important about music. It represents the literal, physical bond between music maker and music listener. It represents passion.

And that’s something we can’t afford to lose.

Unfortunately, Record Store Day just reeks of desperation. Most shop owners would probably tell you that — it’s just about all they can do to revive their business for a single weekend, and it’s all they can muster to stay afloat financially. But, let’s not let this pivotal portion of music culture fall by the wayside. Do your part to help preserve independent record stores around the globe.

Use this April 21 not as a singular day of observance, but rather, as the start to a tradition of buying locally and supporting music shops that enable the flow of new music when other routes remain — or remained — obstructed.

Happy digging.

Category: Culture, Music

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