Why Does Record Store Day Matter? Let an Actual Record Store Owner Explain
It's fun when you discover a band before their first record comes out, before they get signed and they're making demos on used tapes they find at thrift stores. And when they start to sound too polished by their second record, or get to big, we wax nostalgic about that raw energy we miss or how they're no longer hungry or true to their sound. I get it. I've been that person.
But please, let's not do this with Record Store Day.
I own a record store. I opened it almost two years ago and it's doubled in size during that time. I have great people who helped make that happen and have a kind caring community of local artists and musicians who have made this the record store it is.
And without Record Store Day, my store would be smaller in its reach, customer base and ability to serve the community.
After reading many recent articles splaying Record Store Day -- both the organization itself and many of the large distributors and labels that support the day -- all written by people who do not directly pay their bills by selling records, I decided it's time to speak up. I understand the nuance of a situation is more difficult to examine and discussing polarities draws a quick audience. But the truth of Record Store Day, as I see it, an owner of a record store, is somewhere in the middle -- and that is often an overlooked story.
First of all, one of the reasons Record Store Day works (and it does work) is that it reminds people that music can be touched. That you can get in your car, visit a small business that sells physical music, be greeted with a smile and have a music conversation, and meet like-minded people in your very own community. That's a pretty big win right there. Sure, there might be low margin, highly sought after exclusives thrown in the mix, but we're still discussing the pros, not the cons.
Being small means you can make your own choices and stock the titles you believe in but it also means that you don't get the corporate ad dollars and incentives that drive people to your stores versus a Hot Topic or Urban Outfitters; anything free that reminds people that I'm here is a big bonus. And Record Store Day, the day and the organization, provides that.
It also provides an audience that wants to buy a 7" red record shaped like the state of Alabama an opportunity to get out of bed and get in line at 6AM. Some of us would never do that, but thank God, some of you do. Or will, tomorrow. Vinyl is reaching a new customer and with that comes a demand that many staid record store owners can't fully get behind.
Record Store Day fuels my business; it's an investment in the future.
And then comes the conversation about the good ol' days when RSD was small and the exclusives were meaningful. Some RSD exclusives admittedly have a toy-like quality to them. So f---ing what? Come find my store for an expensive star shaped 7" Black Star single on Record Store Day but stay for the connection and the discovery, and come back for the local band that we having playing in-store next week. That is how Record Store Day fuels my business. It's an investment in the future.
I buy low margin items for a high transaction day in order to meet new friends, and by expanding my customer base, I can expose great local bands to larger audiences. By increasing the amount of people in my community who know they have a record store down the street, I have more cash flow to buy that cassette from that just-started DIY band. I can feature that band on my store website and the customer that read our article about RSD might accidentally discover something really cool.
Another frustration is that Record Store Day exclusives put a strain on the small number of record pressing plants and the small labels take the hit. No doubt this is true. Narrowing the amount of titles and strengthening the quality of the selection is for sure an issue that should be addressed, but killing the day and the reason to visit an indie record store is certainly not the solution.
Many of the recent articles hating on Record Store Day highlight stores that mainly operate on a cash basis and deal largely in used vinyl. That is an entirely different business model than mine, so I can't speak for their experience. But I can say this from being a consumer: Not all record stores need to be the same. There always needs to be record stores that smell like your grandpa's basement with decaying paper and the war on mold just slightly at bay. And those record stores may not care about Record Store Day and heart-shaped pink 7" records (I know, I keep picking on the 7") but let me tell you, they do benefit from Record Store Day. Customers make a day out of it and visit more than one record store.
Any good entrepreneur could and should use that day to build their future business and honestly, stop whining about the exclusives they've chosen to or chosen not to carry. I admire any business who makes a conscious choice about what they believe in, who they want to be and how they choose to interact with their customers. Quite frankly, Record Store Day, as an organization, has done that.
Are there things wrong with Record Store Day as a business process (the crazy ordering game, allocation, late arrivals)? Yes. Most definitely. Should there be a stronger initiative to support small but mighty labels and regional labels? Yes. Have large corporate distributors found a way to wrangle this day to their advantage? Of course they have. In what industry has that not happened? As I type this, is someone listing an unreleased exclusive for 10 times the suggested retail? Probably.
Does any of that mean that Record Store Day doesn't help me grow into an established record store? No. And I'm not the only one. Is the work worth it? To me it is. I enjoy building events and managing a three-ring circus. If I didn't then I would keep my version of Record Store Day small. Every retail business has its rush season and this one is ours.
Any day that encourages people to get off line and come touch a musical format that has a rich history, I'm all for.
As an indie, small business record store owner, I get to choose how I embrace this day and find ways to utilize its offerings to align with my own business goals. Any day that encourages people to get off line and come touch a musical format that has a rich history, I'm all for.
It's worth the work, it's worth the mound of invoices on my desk right now, the boxes of still unpriced vinyl at my feet that means I'll be here until 2AM tonight. It's an introduction to a relationship with hundreds of people that I plan to continue for the 364 other days of an indie record store's year.