Record Store Day Celebrates the Return of Vinyl Junkies

Benjamin Wright

 

The entertainment industry has long been viewed by cultural critics as a contradiction. On the one hand, there are company executives who are rewarded handsomely when companies profit from the albums, movies, tickets, and books that we, consumers of culture, purchase. On the other hand, there are hundreds of artists, even mainstream artists, whose work is wrapped in messages that are arguably intended to subvert the status quo.

 

As music and cultural critic Ellen Willis once wrote, “Mass consumption, advertising, and mass art are a corporate Frankenstein; while
they reinforce the system, they also undermine it.” While entertainment industry profits have been undermined to some extent by the digital age of file sharing and piracy, and while record labels and some music artists are fighting a tooth-and-nail battle for what they view as the heart of the music industry -- as CD sales dwindle and mass chains have slashed music selections and closed several stores, laying off thousands of employees in the process – the sale of vinyl records has risen over the same time frame, as has business at many independent record stores.

While many indie record stores have disappeared in recent years, notably with the closing of Tower Records’ doors in 2006 -- just like indie book chains and video stores -- there has been an ever-growing demand for the charming antiquity, the arguably superior sound quality (even with the crackles and pops that annoy proponents of digital sound), and the artistic merit of vinyl records. Stellar examples of the latter can be found in colored and splattered vinyl and in album artwork, such as the peel-and-see Andy Warhol banana art on the cover of the Velvet Underground & Nico, the equally fascinating Warhol-designed zipper artwork on the cover of the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, and Peter Corriston’s mix-and-match hair and face combos on the cover of the Stones’ Some Girls.

 

A new generation of vinyl junkies has inherited from their parents’ (or perhaps grandparents’) generation the love and appreciation of the vinyl recording – music the way it was meant to be heard, with bonus aesthetic qualities. This has no doubt been impacted by the birth and growth of Record Store Day, which was founded in 2007.

 

Many holidays have been created over the past few years, each with their own share of contradictions: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparent’s Day, and Secretary’s Day are just a few of the better-known highly commercialized holidays used to drum up greeting card and floral industry sales while simultaneously showing love and appreciation for those who make a difference in our lives. Record Store Day has crept in with these other holidays and is certainly more well-known and appreciated than Ear Muff Day or Lumpy Rug Day, and for good reason.

Record Store Day was conceived in 2007, the brainchild of independent record store employee Chris Brown (not to be confused with Rihanna’s ex), and founded by Eric Levin, Michael Kurtz, Carrie Colliton, Amy Dorfman, Don Van Cleave, and Brian Poehner, to both help drum up support for the dwindling number of independent record stores and to simultaneously celebrate the culture of those establishments. The day is observed on the third Saturday in April by more than 700 independent U.S. record stores, and by tens of thousands of music fans and artists, in addition to hundreds more stores and many more people around the world. This year’s Record Store Day falls on April 21st and features more than 250 releases, from artists like Arcade Fire, Patti Smith, Wilco, Captain Beefheart, Karen Elson, Leonard Cohen, and others. 

 

If rock and roll is quintessentially American, along with apple pie, baseball, and the atomic bomb, then Record Store Day could be viewed as the uniquely American holiday (that is celebrated around the world). And it has come a long way since it got its start a mere five years ago. 

 

Following the success of the first Record Store Day in 2008, the number of participating stores more than tripled the following year and the number of special releases more than octupled, with special appearances and live performances by a number of artists at local record stores across the country. Several record stores also offer free food for their customers because, well, what’s a holiday without food? Not to mention, free goodies make longer than usual lines more bearable. Each year was marked by the participation of more stores and an ever-growing number of special releases. By 2010, with the popularity of the previous two Record Store Days, the event creators added a second yearly event on Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving when news headlines are typically filled with reports of violent bargain hunters. 

While vinyl sales spiked in 2008 and have continued to grow ever since -- despite making up a very small share of overall music sales -- in 2011, according to Billboard, overall album sales jumped 8 percent during the week of Record Store Day, with a 39 percent weekly increase for independent record stores (representing more than 182,000 units sold in such stores), a huge increase from 2010. According to the same data, the number of 7” and 12” singles sold in independent record stores soared by nearly 700 percent during that week.

 

Record Store Day may be a mere five years young, but it has grown significantly in those few years. The fledgling event that was born in 2007 has become somewhat of a cultural staple today, particularly for record collectors. While some may view the event as a gimmick to bolster recording company profits, it has certainly helped out independent record stores at the same time, which have doubtlessly suffered at the hands of the digital revolution and particularly with the growth of Internet sales and file sharing.

 

For vinyl junkies, musicians, and community activists who care about small business diversity, the birth of Record Store Day is perhaps one of the most important new cultural holidays in years.

 

For some great finds, limited releases, and to help ensure that your local record store doesn’t meet the same fate that Tower Records and scores of other independent record stores faced in the 2000s, check out your local brick and mortar record store on Saturday, April 21st.

 

Author Bio:

Benjamin Wright is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

 

Photos: Fotopedia, smartmoviemaking.com

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