Sunday, April 27, 2014

Editorial: Record Store Day 2014

Last year, Record Store Day officially claimed Jack White as their ambassador to the masses. Now this makes sense due to the man’s accomplishments with the vinyl medium (pioneering the triple decker record, the liquid record, and the 3rpm record), but it seems to me like all he did was walk around URP and touch stuff. This year, the ambassador is Chuck D, who challenges independent record stores to start their own pirate radio stations.

It’s noble enough of a proposal, and while RSD boasts impressive releases every year and continues to enrich the record store community throughout the country, the list on their website is the standard that people follow when drafting their picks for the holiday. This year had plenty of great releases on the list including pieces from LCD Soundsystem, Pharaoh Monch, Built to Spill, Christian Death, Sam Cooke, The Yardbirds, Devo, and everything inbetween; the only problem is that the list is incomplete year after year, excluding most of the country’s independent label releases (don’t worry though, there’s a link to Warner’s online store on every page of their website). In order to consider this flaw effectively, one has to acknowledge the duality of RSD’s existence: there is Record Store Day the organization, and Record Store Day the third Saturday of April.

The organization was founded in 2007 when a coalition of record stores met to discuss an event similar to Free Comic Book Day, the following year spawned the first RSD celebration at Rasputin Records in San Francisco. Since then it’s been an annual event, expanding to most of the independently owned record stores in the country.

I started observing Record Store Day in 2010 when the Flaming Lips released their version of Dark Side of the Moon with Henry Rollins, Peaches, and Stardeath and White Dwarfs. Since then it’s been a ritual; I think I’ve only missed it once but I could be wrong. Every year it’s the same people at the same record store, Toxic Beauty in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The event’s created quite a loyal community, none of us even live in Ohio anymore but for some reason we all make the trip up and camp out in front of the store the night before. Likewise, when the sun rises there is a line down the block and store owner Josh Castleberry sprints with a smile to open up for his best business day of the year.
The campers.
The line.

I never can buy much but it’s always fun and I’ve been able to add a little flare to the collection. This year my little brother Hayden camped out with us and we were the first two in line. He was the only one who's ever thought to bring a deck of cards. I just picked up the Ramones’ MELTDOWN 10” and Nirvana’s Pennyroyal Tea 7” at the store and saved the rest of my money for Culture Cringe’s Megajoos/Roman Polanski’s Baby split 7”.
Just trying to kill those last couple hours.
As the event continues to strengthen, the presence of the independent record store in the US and abroad, one must ask “what are they doing for the independent record label?” With hundreds of releases each year and thousands of participating locations, why is it that the majority of the pieces on the official website are put out by major labels? In an interview with NME, Chuck D said “The record stores are sonic libraries that can offer the curation that the record companies cannot and will not do.” Though the ambassador’s speech is on point in exposing the major labels’ exclusive pursuit of profit, the organization still caters to them.

Music retail has been on the decline in the past decade and the independent record label is gaining an audience through online and small-run releases; the money in the music industry is shifting toward live performance and merchandise sales. So with such a powerful presence in the record community and such goodwill for the future of music, why is it that releases like Gubbey’s New Brovado single isn’t an “official” RSD release, and bands like The Pass and Megajoos are having their singles postponed by pressing plants to make way for said “official” RSD releases? Would it be so hard to draft a regional, submission-based list and send out stickers to the small labels who self-distribute? I still love record store day and will continue to attend as often as possible, but the true spirit of the event remains lost in its organization. 

New Brovado's RSD single "Sol Similar" may still be available at better record stores near you.

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