Friday, April 17, 2009


The Importance of Record Store Day
By Greg Maniha

Photo: Breakdown Records Queens NYC

Let's face it, rampant capitalism has taken the joy of aquisition away from us for good. I don't care who you are, everybody loves to go out and spend a little on themselves for something they want rather than something they need. It's always more fun to go pick up a new book, game, or even a pint of ice cream than it is to pick up a set of say, batteries. The trouble is, now even the self satisfying act of getting something for you for the sake of injecting a bit of joy in your life has been bastardized by the mere existence of the dreaded entity known as the "big box retailer." WalMart, Target, Best Buy, Borders, Amazon and the various empires in between have seen to it that the art of getting something you love for yourself is nothing more than another task in our world of today. The idea seems to be that even if we simply want something, we zip over to the nearest big box retailer, grab the item and get out as fast as possible. Why would anybody want to stay in such a monstrosity any longer than absolutely necessary?

With this in mind, one would think it would be a no-brainer to come up with something creative to re-invent the conditions that contributed to a shopping experience from a bygone era. Big Box stores are just not fun to be in and support for the small, hands on, and yes, friendly stores we remember but never seem to see anymore is nonexistent on a local, national and, yes, political level regardless of what elected officials have to say about it.

Every single consumer industry would do itself a world of good by recognizing the need to promote occasional awareness for supporting the little guy in the sea of big fish if for no other reason that it helps business in America retain its roots.

The comic book industry hosts a free comic day for local comic retailers and the result is that during at least one day during the year, comic book enthusiasts will come out of the woodwork to purchase something in addition to the free items. Does it help the comic book industry? In the end, I'm not so sure it does. I do not see nearly as many comic retailers now as I did ten years ago and when I do see them, they are often surrounded by empty storefronts in low rent former high end shopping plazas. Regardless of whether it helps, the fact remains that there is at least an effort to accommodate and thank the loyalists among comic book fans for at least one day out of the year.

The record industry is perhaps on the verge of dying a horrible death and as much as it pains me to say this as a lifelong student of music, the industry has brought this looming situation onto itself. For too many years, the combination of fear and greed has driven a top heavy business loaded with self important, overpaid executives to make decisions based solely on protecting themselves in the short term rather than preserving the legacy of an overall rich archive of recordings for future generations to enjoy. Each and every time a new technological media delivery format presented itself, the record industry fought against it tooth and nail rather than find ways to embrace and adapt to it. When the blank cassette first appeared, they screamed bloody murder about "home taping" when in fact, many music fans were still buying the record as an equivalent to a "hard back" first edition and taping it with their home equipment. Eventually, the pre-recorded cassette would generate sales in and of itself. When the compact disc crept into the marketplace, they complained that technology was allowing the masses to have a recording on an equal level to a master recording (anybody who has had a chance to listen to a master recording forever is rewarded with a chuckle whenever they think of this argument.) When the digital audio tape, or DAT, was introduced at a consumer electronics convention, the record industry literally went to war to prevent it from ever being used as a delivery method for pre-recorded music on the basis that it could continuously record in "digital" quality. They even unsuccessfully attempted to prevent this format from ever reaching American soil, but it was ultimately embraced by recording studios and deadheads who taped Grateful Dead performances with the blessing of the band (tough shit, RIAA, you lost that one as you should have!) Overall, this technique of hostile resistance served the record industry well for a couple of decades until the advent of audio downloading exploded overnight in early 2000. Unsurprisingly, the record industry, as well as a handful of artists, reacted with a determination to prevent the technology from moving forward rather than seek ways to use it to the advantage of both themselves and their consumers. Now here we are in 2009! Downloading is more alive than ever with some of it being purchased, much of it happening without any money exchanging hands, and questionable recording quality regardless of whether it comes from iTunes or the hard drive of your buddy. Meanwhile, CDs are in danger of losing their footing in retail with every big box media retailer taking away swaths of space in their stores that were once reserved for recorded music.

In the middle of this brutal reality is a little event getting ready for a second coming called "Record Store Day." This annual event, at least for the moment, much like free comic book day, aims to raise awareness of the rapidly disappearing "independent record retailer." Remember the record store? It is possible that unless you came of age in the 80s or 90s you never had the chance to experience what it was like to discover music and be surrounded by people who truly absorbed it or truly felt helpful to you for knowing so much about the music you were hearing and seeking. If you can believe it in the age of WalMart, independent record stores still exist. It remains to be seen how much longer they exist in this world, but for the moment, there are still a few out there and on April 18th, they will be creating the most enjoyable shopping day of the year for music lovers.

Why, you may ask (or not, and if that's the case, just go to WalMart ) should I offer my valuable time to go to my local hole in the wall independent record store, if one even still exists in my area? Well, perhaps a far more creative take on the "so-called" exclusive releases could be a compelling enough reason to get you to drive to the bad part of town where the retail real estate is cheap and abandoned. Perhaps you are thinking that when The Eagles made their first record of new music in over 25 years, it was WalMart and only WalMart that got the exclusive release. I know you AC/DC fans out there (of which I am one) are remembering that sweet Black Ice box set with the T-shirt and god knows what else that accompanied the first new AC/DC record since the year 2000. Once again, WalMart prevailed in getting an exclusive release. Kiss fans could not manage to stay away from WalMart as the Kissology releases were filtering in with exlcusive a bonus DVD exclusive to, once again, WalMart. As a Bruce Springsteen fan, I was somewhere between mortified and laughing at the brutally awful and useless WalMart exclusive $10 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band greatest hits package that hit the shelves the morning after the super bowl this year. This exclusive had nothing unreleased to offer and nothing to excite the fan-base. It was packaged with the intention of reeling in the potential new fan after witnessing the super bowl performance. In an ironic twist of fate, the online big box giant, Amazon, was offering the previously released Bruce Springsteen Greatest Hits CD for $4.99. At least this CD had 4 exclusive tracks to offer in addition to every track on the WalMart exclusive release. The point here is, you already get plenty of "exclusive" releases at your local WalMart, so how can a bunch of little record stores compete with the power of WalMart when it comes to exclusive music by the artists we all know and love? The answer, my fellow obsessive musicphile friends, lies in the comeback of vinyl!

As we have already covered, CDs are rapidly losing their ground. They are not going to go away overnight, but it has already been covered that they are losing their shelf space and losing sales in alarming numbers. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that people are spending more money on different forms of media entertainment, such as video games, but much of this of course, points to the inferior quality digital download offered by everybody from Apple to Amazon to Starbucks. There is one growing and as of yet, overlooked factor contributing to the troubles facing compact discs, and that is the comeback of the most beautiful sounding audio delivery format ever created, VINYL!!!!!!!!! You heard right, after years of digital exposure to music rapidly taking control and taking away an acceptable level of listening quality, people started remembering the full, warm and fresh sound created by placing an actual record on a turntable. Indeed, there are music business experts that believe in time we will be buying records that will include download codes which enable us to download the record we just purchased. This would in fact , eventually spell the end of the compact disc.

Record Store Day will be capitalizing on this small but rapidly growing trend and it creates quite the buying guide for the musicphile and casual listener alike. Do you long for listening to a remastered version of the Black Album or And Justice For All by Metallica? These two 4 record sets are Record Store Day exclusives. Do you have the urge to remember how you felt once you heard Jane’s Addiction for the first time, well, Record Store Day will get an exclusive 7-inch single of "Mountain Song" and "Standing In The Shower…Thinking." Perhaps you are a Bad Religion fan longing for the sound of their first EP on vinyl. If this is the case, you will have a chance to score a Record Store Day exclusive of their first 6 track vinyl release from 1981. Radiohead fans will have the opportunity to stock up on 10" vinyl versions of 12 of their previous singles. Def Jam records will be releasing a 4 record retrospective that will make any hip hop fan giddy with delight! In addition, everybody from Tom Waits , The Smiths, Slayer, Wilco and of course Bruce Springsteen will be releasing something worth adding to your collection. And on a final note about the importance of doing your music shopping on April 18th, WalMart does not even sell vinyl so you will never find these exclusives there.

I know that for my part, the Record Store Day exclusives I have in my sights include the Bruce Springsteen 7" of "What Love Can Do" with a live version of "Night With The Jersey Devil” on the flip side, any Radiohead 10-inch record I can find, the King Crimson 40th anniversary tour box, the re-release of the the pioneering MC5 single of "Kick Out The Jams"/ "Motor City Is Burning," the vinyl re-release of the first Queen EP, the Slayer 7-inch advance of the brutal "Psychopathy Red" and so much more than I will ever be able to afford on this day I am so looking forward to. Do you your eye on some gems in the pipeline? Check out the link below to find your passion and while you are there, check your area for special in-store appearances. You may find out that anybody from Disturbed to Wendy and Lisa from Prince and the Revolution are playing sets in your stores. You could stumble on quite the concert to compliment an already fun shopping day.

So in closing, Record Store Day is an acknowledgment that the music industry relies on the small shop to get the word out about music. Oftentimes, it is the people working and shopping in these stores that not only have a clear understanding of what you are looking for, but they can even recommend undiscovered artists based upon what you like already. My recommendation is to go pick up a new turntable (or dust off the old one) and get ready to stock up on the next big thing in music.

For a complete list of Record Store Day exclusives so far, please feel free to have a look at this link.

Jello Biafra on Record Store Day:

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