Why I Gave Up On Record Store Day

Other Music on Record Store Day 2008.
Other Music on Record Store Day 2008.

Last week a ton of stories about Record Store Day percolated through blogs—Feistodon! The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends! St. Vincent! Beach House! Holy crap, you gotta get on line at 8 a.m. to get the best picks! On Friday, when I got an email from a store that contained both a list of records and detailed rules about how to make purchases, and I imagined standing on a sidewalk for an hour just to frantically paw through stacks of records hoping that one magical 7" would still be there, it hit me: I hate Record Store Day.

Record Store Day is a yearly event that happens on the third Saturday of April, and in the five years of its existence it's grown into a global thing. Record stores have all-day sales and maybe live performances or DJs, and they encourage people to come in and drop a healthy amount of cash on physical copies of music. One of the elements of the day that most appeals to collectors is the release of limited-edition records, whether they contain exclusive non-album tracks, or are special versions of some sort.

I appreciate that RSD has become a huge deal for independent record stores. It's true that it can help out smaller shops' second-quarter bottom line, driving customer traffic into stores and loosening up people's wallets to actually buy music in a way not unlike that time you had a few too many whiskeys and opened iTunes when you got home from the bar. I've gone to Other Music in the past, and last year I took advantage of Black Gold's "hey, here's some stuff we haven't priced yet for $1 an LP—have at it!"

But the exclusives kill me.

First, I hate that they encourage the absolute worst impulses in music collecting. Acquiring many of these releases is not about listening to a good song, or discovering a new band, or sharing music with friends. RSD exclusives are for trainspotters, the kind of people who will judge you for having A Nice Pair instead of original Harvest Pressings of Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets—and then go one better and judge you for having the pressing of A Nice Pair where they airbrushed out the topless photo. The glut of exclusives encourages competition over scarce items that will be touched once (if that!), then carefully filed away until you need to make the rent and you put a few records on Discogs. Take Feistodon, which involves Feist and Mastodon covering each other. A playful, goofy way to expand each artist's fanbase is pushed as a "special limited edition" and hits eBay within hours of the event at collector prices. Similarly, the new Beach House single is selling for more than $20, and the Flaming Lips/Heady Fwends LP is commanding close to $100. It's obvious that many fans are getting cut out of the process of getting a shot at buying something fun and are instead getting shunted into the collector's market—and what's the fun in that?

And in a larger sense, this speaks to how I feel RSD frustrates the most important function a good record store can serve: building community. This day may be a one-day bonanza, but does it encourage people to keep shopping during the rest of the year? Is it driving new buyers to understand how a good record store not only sells you records, but helps you discover new records and new musicians and connects you to things going on in your town? I know that when I woke up at 9 a.m. Saturday and checked my normal news/social media diet, I was already seeing pictures of block-long lines that had formed at record stores in different parts of the country, and it made me think of how intimidated—and turned off—somebody unfamiliar with record store culture could be by that sight. Couple it with going home and seeing that the record you wanted got shoved onto eBay before the day even ended, and you're not training people to buy records in stores; you're teaching them to wait a few days and go on the secondary market.

I know that this comes off as oldmanyellsatcloud.jpg, and I acknowledge that it kind of is. I worked at a record store (Go! Compact Discs in Arlington, Virginia) in the '90s. But I think back on the stores that made me a music fan—Tower, Smash!, Record Convergence, Vinyl Ink, Other Music, Kim's—and it makes me disappointed that so many record stores that have survived the past couple of decades of changes in the music industry are becoming more and more reliant on gimmicks like RSD to draw attention to themselves. Because to be frank, RSD feels like the last gasp of something to me, not the start of something new.

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