Low Fidelity: Thoughts On Record Store Day

As every Flexi lover and vinyl nerd knows this Saturday is Record Store Day. There’s no one better to break down what it all means than our main man, Low Fidelity columnist and record store employee Neill Jameson. He is the brains behind the great black metal band Krieg and also survived years as a member of Twilight. They put out their final record this year.

Record Store Day, celebrated this Saturday, is supposed to be a yearly “holiday” that promotes the brick and mortar indie record store, with exclusive in-store releases. Some shops hold performances, listening parties and probably mustache and fancy hat contests. Every year since 2008 it’s grown into a nearly uncontrollable monster. This year’s RSD list looks like a fucking college science class and has somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 releases. It’s built to be the day for us, the mom and pops of the music industry, to make people aware that we exist and you just got your tax return so come spend it.

RSD was formed off the hump of Free Comic Book Day. Both “holidays” have the same goal and both have exclusive releases to draw new people into old stores. There are rules: namely one copy per person and don’t throw this shit online to sell at inflated prices to people who had to work, go to a funeral, or were just too fucking lazy to leave the house and come grab whatever tickles their fancy.

Rules are made to be broken, right? This whole shebang is getting corrupted by people who line up the night before to grab the most wanted items, only to put them on eBay two hours later for the price of a down payment on a pony. We know who they are, too: always the asshole you’ve never seen before except for the week or two before the event who asks detailed questions about what you’re getting and can you break the rules and hold it for them? It’s the “my friend won’t be able to make it, can I have two copies?” sort of thing.

This brings us to the big problem, which is quantity. I’ve been told every year by distributors that I don’t understand allocation, numbers or how not to curse in emails asking why we only got two copies when we preordered 20. How can this, the greatest tragedy affecting this nation, be allowed? I know, it’s a national shame, probably the president’s fault. If this reaction seems like farfetched tunnel vision nonsense then you’re a rational person. Congratulations, your card is in the mail.

Record stores only get a certain amount of titles regardless of how we preordered or what back alley deal we made to make sure you got that fucking Grateful Dead live DLP with a piece of Garcia’s hair. We don’t have any kind of idea what we’re getting until the box gets to us days before. This can actually turn away customers because if they waited in line, especially at stores with a massive customer base, looking around the store for other records doesn’t seem as special anymore. That’s counterproductive to the whole idea.

Of course, not everyone is a sore loser and some people just come out to see the spectacle, like watching people beat the shit out of each other to save twenty bucks on a television on Black Friday.

Last year, I was out of town for RSD so I missed the fun here but I did my duty as a music fan and observer of humanity and shopped around in Columbus, Ohio, which has a plethora of indie record stores. Stores looked like bombs had detonated. The staff would tell me about the initial rush and then how the day progressed. Some of these places had bands performing, including one small upstairs space that was ill-equipped (but they had free beer and it seemed like a good idea even while hung-over at 11 a.m.) Others were having special giveaways, raffles, even sales.

Stores like Amoeba, Vintage Vinyl, Reckless etc. all have performances but even many of the more modestly sized stores like Sit and Spin in Philly have special listening parties and giveaways. It’s a day where stores do their best to give you a reason to wander into the big and scary world and check out their wares, an act showing how much their store means to them.

RSD should be used to say thanks to our regular customers, the ones who keep our lights on all year, and not those looking to make a buck on the back of someone’s passion. RSD has had a lot of criticism leveled against it, especially once the majors started throwing releases into the mix, and a lot is justified. It has turned into a spectacle where greed is good and money is king, where a record will sell out in a few hours and go online for eight times the prices only to deflate back to ten dollars days later. It’s a shame that it takes the promise of exclusivity to bring people in, but that’s the culture of the collector and that’s where it seems records are ending up.