Thursday, November 26, 2015

Editorial: The Problem With Record Store Day

       Record Store Day (RSD), the 2nd Record Store Day of the year, is this friday; Black Friday- named so as it is the day retail stores have the opportunity to move from the red into the black column financially. I have mixed feelings about RSD (aside from calling it 'Day' when it is actually twice annually). It began in 2008, on the 3rd Friday of April, and still is, with the addition of a 2nd RSD the day after Thanksgiving, as a way to help and celebrate independent record stores, and now has over 1,000 stores participating. The oddity of RSD is that while it works to support Independent record stores, it says nothing in it's mission for supporting independent record labels and bands. This was noticeable at the very first RSD with Metallica being picked as RSD ambassadors.
        There is no denying that RSD has been a godsend to local record shops, with many store owners saying that without RSD they may not be in business,  but in recent years, it has become apparent that the choices of the RSD organization is having major negative effects on the industry as a whole.
While RSD helps bring attention to record stores, it's official releases are generally over priced major label reissues and live recordings, that has effectively commandeered the few record pressing plants that exist globally (with less than 20 in the U.S.), which has pushed out the small labels that have always maintained a vinyl presence. The major labels who gave up on vinyl years ago are now wanting to monopolize the game with overpriced vinyl releases, and can do so by ordering large quantities which has forced pressing plants to push back small orders to astronomical wait times (6 months or more) or to quit taking small batch orders altogether.
Over the last 20 years it was independent labels that kept the vinyl torch burning, and in return gave independent record stores a product they could sell that couldn't be found at the corporate locations.
With RSD's giant success, small shops are faced with an impossible situation. They cannot turn away from RSD, which brings sales that keeps their doors open, but they are seeing the small labels they have worked with for years break under the monopoly RSD has given the major labels.
     Jack White, who was the RSD Ambassador in 2013, has apparently seen the effects of RSD and is working to counter the effects. He will be opening his 2nd Third Man Records Store on Black Friday in Detroit, but none of the press information lists anything to do with Record Store Day. Furthermore, he plans to open a record pressing plant in that location in 2016, citing the increasing difficulty of small labels and bands to get records pressed as a motivator.
        Ben Blackwell, head of production at Third Man Records said of the opening of the Detroit location "Part of the concern in this world is that vinyl can very easily turn into an exclusionary thing, but this is going to make it easier for a little punk band to make 300 copies of a 7-inch'."
Personally, I had a lot of trouble finding a pressing plant for the new 2016 Louisville Is For Lovers release, with my normal pressing plants saying they are no longer accepting new clients, or that I would have to wait a minimum of half a year to get my order; which is a far cry from a few years ago with waits times around 6 weeks not 6 months.
    I am not saying Boycott RSD, the idea of celebrating vinyl as well as Independent record stores is great; what I am suggesting is that as consumers  we can send a message that we love vinyl and don't want to see it monopolized and turned into a high priced gimmick by major labels. The small shops need our support, and so do the small labels and bands. So this Black Friday, head down to your favorite neighborhood record store, but maybe pick up vinyl releases from your favorite indie labels instead. The folks at RSD will only work with Independent record stores, maybe we can encourage them to do the same with Independent record labels and bands.
Here is a small list of Independent record labels that have been pressing vinyl for 10-20 years or more that could use your support:
Merge records 
Secretly Canadian 
Temporary Residence
Drag City

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