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Record Store Day 2011

The Growing Pains of Record Store Day

written by: on April 15, 2011

In 2008 no one gave a shit about Record Store Day. The event’s first year saw only a smattering of releases drop on that third Saturday in April, and there was nothing exclusive about them. Each release that was offered would be readily available after April 19, which meant there was no reason to rush out and wait in line. Worst of all, a lot of these releases were on CD.

“The first year sucked. Like, five things came out,” says Dave Hofer, a new product buyer at Chicago’s Reckless Records. Five may be a bit hyperbolic, but given the scope of the last couple Record Store Days, it was definitely a lackluster introduction for the event.

“We’re a vinyl-only store and the very first year there weren’t that many vinyl releases,” says Dave Crain, owner of Dave’s Records in Chicago, “There were a lot more CD releases,but I was just trying to be part of it in some way. Anything to promote record stores is fine by me.”

After the disappointment that was Record Store Day’s inaugural year it had to find a way to become relevant. Luckily, it did.

The number of participating stores increased, as did the amount of exclusive vinyl releases. “The Record Store Day thing really got some traction that second year,” says Hofer, “I feel like I did a million interviews about it and it was all over the press like, ‘Vinyl still exists!’ But of course, we’re all cynical like ‘It never went anywhere.’ It’s just cool to have people paying attention.”

Not only did people pay attention in 2009, artists and labels shifted their focus. “The number of releases kind of changed the dynamic of it. By the second year there were lots more vinyl releases and I think what they discovered was that’s where the interest was,” says Crain.

Helping spread awareness of Record Store Day’s second celebration was a diverse roster of artists. Legends such as Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan created exclusive releases alongside up-and-comers like The Dead Weather and The Gaslight Anthem.

This diversity bridged a gap between the old school collector and the younger fans. It built camaraderie in a tradition that is often considered to be a solitary excursion.

“Not everyone is standing in line to get that Phish single; there are people who are going to be here for some other thing. So that broader range is a good thing,” says Crain, who believes that having a diverse group of participants breeds something more than just consumerism, “It casts a wider net of people to come out and participate in it. It’s a different kind of thing,” says Crain, “Record Store Day is not like your typical day in a record store.”

In its fourth year, Record Store Day has amped up its number of releases to a figure that could seem overwhelming. With more than 200 releases scheduled and several hundred stores participating stateside—30 different Chicago locations will be participating—it is hard to imagine the amount of work going on behind the scenes.

“We always laugh about how it’s Record Store Day and we have to do so much extra work. It’s like if mothers on Mother’s Day had to cook four dinners or something [laughs]. Shouldn’t people be pampering us?” Hofer asks jokingly, “I guess the benefit is the sales, but there are so many headaches ahead of time.”

If coordinating a couple hundred releases is hard on one of the Midwest’s largest retailers, it could be an absolute nightmare for smaller shops. “You have to have relationships with a variety of different people to get access to these things,” says Crain. “If you’re new to this and you don’t really have a relationship with these distributors, or labels, or whatever then it’s going to be a lot harder of a feat to get access to these things. It’s harder, because it’s become such a big thing.”

Despite Record Store Day having grown substantially since its first year, one thing that hasn’t increased is the pressings of certain high profile releases.

2010 saw the Hold Steady unleash its album Heaven is Whenever weeks before its slated release date. With fewer than 700 copies available in the U.S., and even less in the U.K., it became highly sought after. Within hours of stores opening copies began hitting eBay, causing fans and collectors to be held at the mercy of flippers.

“People take notice that there is money to be made here and people are going to do it. There’s no way to stop them,” says Hofer. “It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Just stay away and go make money somewhere else. That’s my passion, and to see somebody come in and so blatantly scam people … There’s nothing you can really do about that except just be sad.”

Though it is nearly impossible to regulate what consumers do with the records they purchased, the organizers of Record Store Day have done their best to ensure that stores are not committing such acts by having them sign a pledge. “The pledge they had us sign this year said that we won’t put them on eBay, we will sell them in the store, that we will not hold copies back and that kind of thing,” says Crain.

Although Record Store Day has its problems it is, first and foremost, a celebration of music and the experience that record stores give the music fan.

Hofer jokes about having the customers pamper him, but Crain has direct experience of customers showing appreciation: “I’ve had people come in who don’t necessarily participate, but just come in and said, ‘Hi’ and ‘Thanks for doing what you do,’ and all those kinds of things. For me it’s a reaffirmation for what I do on a yearly basis.”

When you’re in line hunting through the gargantuan list of releases on Record Store Day, take a moment to thank those serving you. If it wasn’t for record stores there would be a lot less worth celebrating.