Record Store Day was held this past Saturday. Over the last few years I’ve had a complex relationship with the “holiday” but like most relations, friendships and inevitably, marriages, in my life, it’s deteriorated, eroding what was what initially something positive into an unsightly hair that grows back thicker every time you pluck it. Look, I’m shit at metaphors—the point is it’s gotten out of control in so many ways and I’m here to complain about why because that’s kind of my wheelhouse.
I’m sure some of you have seen the reaction piece to Nails vocalist Todd Jones’ comments regarding RSD. For those not attached to social media 23.5 hours a day like I seem to be, the CliffsNotes version is that Jones said RSD fucks labels, bands, and essentially fans on a few levels. He’s absolutely right. The reaction piece basically says that this is a privileged response. It’s along the lines of someone saying that musicians shouldn’t care about piracy because it’s the music that matters. It’s naïve at its most innocent and an uneducated spoonful of dog shit at its most vindictive.
Some background on my stance: For four years I ran two record stores, I’m a musician embedded in the label system, I’ve had an RSD release in the past and I’m also a voracious music fan. I’ve seen this on every side. I understand why people might have that opinion. I also know they’re wrong.
Initially, Record Store Day was created as a way to try to get customers into independent record stores by creating limited runs of special releases. There’s been some honestly very cool shit released over the years. That seems to be drying out though because major labels witnessed the success of the first few RSD’s and couldn’t allow small businesses and labels to have something without sticking their festering greedy dicks into it. The way major labels have fucked this event would make an excellent episode of Law & Order: SVU but there probably isn’t enough time for all the trigger warnings it’d need to be preceded by. Have you looked at an RSD list from the last few years? Less and less weird and exclusive small batch releases are coming out in favor of a few dozen overly priced reissues of shit that most indie stores have in their bargain bins for a few bucks that people already ignore. Then they added a Black Friday edition in case the crass consumerism wasn’t obvious enough. They might as well take a fucking billboard out on the moon to advertise that intent. Now they’ve changed release dates from Tuesday to Fridays and there’s some kind of RSD connection there, but, much like you with this column, I’ve lost interest in even reading into it. The false sense of collectability has completely replaced the original good intentions. I highly doubt anyone even listens to half the shit they buy on this day but I’m sure someone in the comments section’s dick is already getting hard as they type a contrarian response. It’s taking advantage of fans devotion by sucking their wallets dry for shit they’re told is “essential”. It is essential—essentially garbage.
Y’all hear vinyl is coming back? Fuck, thanks, CNN, for such hard hitting reporting. Anyway because of the resurgence everyone and their mother (god rest her soul) is either buying or releasing vinyl. Why is this a bad thing? Thanks for asking. It’s bad because the demand is far outpacing the ability for the plants to keep up. I know that may sound like it’s creating more jobs here in Trump’s America, but it’s actually causing some severe economic problems that are eventually going to burst the vinyl bubble. Like in all businesses, he who has the most cash wins, right? Who has the most cash? The majors. The majors then use their massive amounts of cash and clog up the press plants causing delays for anyone trying to press a record. Why is this bad? Fuck, I should teach economics. It’s bad because most independent labels are run by people with regular jobs. It’s not cheap to release a record if you want to do it well and by having a six- or seven-month delay it means the money these people have put up is essentially tied up. It means they can’t do much to reinvest in their labels unless they put more hours in at their 9-5 and sacrifice in their personal lives, which most label owners in the independent scene that aren’t connected to a major in some way, already do. And bands that are self releasing? Same thing. It means waiting on money that could be used to tour, buy new gear, do better recordings, whatever it is bands spend their money on. It creates tension and stress which turns something that should be done out of love into another job. On the non-economic spectrum, when you create music, you have a certain enthusiasm. But you also continue to progress (in theory, because some bands will always suck) and so if you wait nearly a year for something to come out while you’ve already been working on newer and, presumably, better material it’s difficult to be motivated by stale material. As a musician you want people to hear your best and—in most bands’ opinion—it’s always their newest material. Endless delays at the press plant because they needed to do some 11-LP Flaming Lips box set that no one’s going to want in four days has the potential to throw off tour cycles. How many shows in the last few years have you been to that bands don’t have the record they’re touring for? A lot more than 10 years ago. While this may seem minor to a casual observer busy making cute hash tags it really adds extra stress to what could already be the breaking point for some labels and bands. To sit and make fun of it isn’t just naïve, it makes you a fucking asshole.
Saying Record Store Day is the only thing keeping brick and mortars open is grievously ignorant. Go into most indie stores over the next few weeks and tell me how many have a ton of unsold RSD titles not just from 2016 but years passed in bins with major mark downs. Not only that but the wholesale prices on this shit has become obscene, thus causing stores to either inflate the prices or sell at nearly no profit in order to not fuck their customers who come in the other 364 days of the year. The only real way RSD helps record stores is when people purchase other things that aren’t related to the “holiday” when they’re in the store, something that has low overhead costs for the store and helps refill the coffers. Otherwise, much like with the indie labels, it ties up money into product that after the initial frenzy is over a few days later. The store I worked at did the prior—something I had a very ethical problem doing. The one year I was out of town for RSD I received phone calls from customers asking why 7-inches were priced five times above cost. The answer was to match the online sales frenzy that fortunately places like Amazon and eBay have taken steps to reign in the last few years. Which only helps in the short term but business is like sex—if you cum too quick no one’s going to want to shop in you. I might have messed that up but you get the idea.
Ok, so you’re just a fan—how does this affect you? Outside of speculators buying up the limited releases to flip to people who have more dollars than sense online, thus causing you to miss out on a record you might actually enjoy, you also have the growing costs of this ludicrous shit passed on to you. With increased production costs, labels will have to charge more for their records, especially to help make up for lost time if there’s a delay you could have had a baby in. Stores will raise their prices to help cover their costs. Labels will start shutting their doors because they’re either broke or the entire process just isn’t worth it. Soon stores will just be loaded with 180 gram Jim Croce reissues and the entire Moody Blues catalog on colored vinyl, remastered for the fifth time in case you somehow missed a note on the previous four. The glut will cause a crash. It’s like late ’80s baseball cards or the stock market all over again.
Is this first world musician’s privilege? Fuck you, no. You know what privilege is? Being the entitled asshole who wants shit for free or only if it’s collectable and doesn’t care if the route this garbage gets to them is littered with the shattered dreams and new alcoholism cases of label owners, record stores and musicians. Because it’s all about feeding the consumer and the consumers apparently are eating whatever the majors are telling them is special. What started as a well intended idea to bring attention to struggling business is having an opposite effect of trampling on independent music and its culture, it’s strangling those who are fighting to keep this culture free from conventional and corporate interests. And regardless of how many clicks it gets your website it’s nothing to fucking joke about.