Record Store Day

Hooked on the needle

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Back in 2007, the year Record Store Day was founded, independent music stores were in freefall, decimated by the ready availability of all the music on Earth on the World Wide Web, just a click—or, more likely, an illegal download—away. Like a fast-moving train they could see coming from a mile away but were powerless to avoid, independent record stores, not just in the United States but the world over, could only react to the digital revolution after impact. Indeed, many did not survive, including those long considered to be institutions in their respective music communities.

And so a group of forward thinkers brainstormed during a record store owners’ meeting in Baltimore, determined to find a way, however small, to arrest the downward slide. In doing so, they hit on some simple ideas that formed the cornerstone of what we now know as Record Store Day. First, rather than making a plea that would tug at the heartstrings and prick the consciences of their music-loving potential customer base, they would instead incentivize the shopping experience. The idea being that it is easier to get people to come to your party if you show them a good time rather than guilt them into it.

The second stroke of genius on the part of Record Store Day founders was to limit the day’s releases to vinyl. No digital copies, no CDs—records only. This was likely a no-brainer given that, while it is possible to buy nearly anything on the internet, one thing independent record stores have over cyberspace is the same people who like listening to vinyl tend to be those who like the experience of tracking it down in the real world. And there’s hard data to back up that supposition: despite the aforementioned cratering of sales at brick-and-mortar music stores, vinyl sales have held strong, with vinyl being the only musical format to see an increase in sales in 2013.

Speaking of those vinyl releases, most, if not all of them, are exclusive to Record Store Day, which means you’ll only find them at one of the 1,200 participating independent record stores, who have all agreed not to hike the prices of the often rare and limited releases, hold them for customers or sell them on the internet. As well, it has become Record Store Day tradition for stores to offer musical entertainment, and the participating labels and artists often throw in other random freebies. In short, Record Store Day might very well be the most fun you can legally have in an independent record store.

In Bellingham, Record Store Day—which this year takes place Sat., April 19—has come to mean an all-day sidewalk concert in front of Avalon Music on Railroad Avenue. As always, the musical lineup is local and the aim is to represent a variety of sounds and genres. The family-friendly, all-ages action begins at 1pm with Shoddy Prototypes, John Sampson’s new project. Following at regular intervals will be Biagio and the Argonauts, Baltic Cousins, and Moongrass before rounding things out with Totalizer, and whatever other music the Avalon crew might have called into action.

As for the Record Store Day releases, what was at first a relatively limited selection that first year has grown into a staggering list of drool-worthy music. As ever, the rules and limited quantity of the releases will mean that Avalon ordered what they ordered—and will get what they get. And they won’t know until the shipment arrives on the big day. But with recordings by the likes Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen, LCD Soundsystem, Death Cab for Cutie, Gram Parsons, David Lynch, David Bowie, Mastodon, Charles Bradley, Dolly Parton, Sam Cooke, the Velvet Underground, Soundgarden, Nick Cave, One Direction—the potential for a major record store score is high.

But Avalon isn’t the only Bellingham independent record store with a dog in this fight. In fact, just across a downtown intersection from them is Everyday Music, who, if history is any judge, will have their own, different allotment of Record Store Day releases, and possibly an in-store performer or two as well. Not to be left out of this glorious mix is Anacortes’ newly minted Best of Skagit winner, the Business, who, in keeping with the spirit of the day, put their Record Store Day eggs into an independent basket, eschewing major-label releases.

While this bounty of Record Store Day locales and options might seem like a blessing, it does bring up a particular problem: Without knowing what releases any store might receive, how do you know which one to line up in front of before the doors open for the day? Roll the dice. You might just get lucky on Record Store Day.

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