April 20, 2018
Independent labels hate it, punters are on the fence, but what about the people it was intended for?
The annual circus that surrounds Record Store Day, as it stumbles bloated into its second decade, is as loud as ever. We know how dissatisfied independent labels are with the production bottlenecks and price-gauging that the event encourages. We also know that, for the most part, Record Store Day helps independent retailers keep food on the table.
Record buyers can also be a funny bunch. Some lament the day as being a betrayal of the true collector, who believes ‘every day to be Record Store Day’. Others feel like it doesn’t go far enough, lamenting instead the paucity of buyable exclusives, and the prevalence of touts, flippers and sharks. Not to mention the high prices, long queues, and low self-esteem of a morning spent squabbling for Bowie picture discs.
But what about the shops themselves? Is it worth their while? Do they even get a say? It is for them, after all. We returned to the source of the debate to find out just how three established independent record shops are feeling as RSD turns 11.
How much preparation is required ahead of RSD?
Natasha, Resident Records (Brighton): The preparation that goes into it is phenomenal. To be fair, as I’m involved in stuff behind the scenes as well, the work is pretty much all year round. In terms of shop preparation, it’s weeks and weeks of work. Some of that is of our own making though, as we like to do everything properly. We believe in the detail and like to put in extra effort to deliver the best version of this event that we can.
Patrick, Piccadilly Records (Manchester): We start the prep before Christmas, and then for the whole month leading up to the day that’s pretty much all we’re doing behind the scenes. In a lot of ways the preparation is actually harder work than the day itself.
Trevor, Tiny Record Shop (Toronto): Leading up to the event itself, it’s like any other event that you’re going to throw, it needs preparation, attention and planning. Without that, it’s going to be a mess of day. We avoid that. We start planning a couple of months in advance to line up what bands are playing that day and who our sponsors will be for beer and food etc. People are generally excited to be part of it.
What does the day itself look like from the shop’s point of view?
Natasha: It looks like a hell of a lot of work, a hell of a lot of stock and a hell of lot of risk. It’s exhausting and slightly terrifying in the build up. Then, on the day, it looks like a hell of a lot of work, a hell of a lot of coffee, a hell of a lot of customers and a hell of a lot of fun. It genuinely is the best day of the year. A real adrenaline rush. Tangible reward for effort put in.
Patrick: It’s kind of jovial chaos really. We need all the staff (as well as a few ringers) behind the counter, so we’re all tripping over each other and forgetting who we’re serving. The queue starts before noon the day before and ends up going all the way around the block until it meets itself. Once we’re open, we’re faced with all kinds of haphazard lists covered with arcane markings and tiered requests. It’s also a load of fun though, with DJs and live acts keeping us entertained throughout the day, and friends on hand to keep us going with brews and cake.
Trevor: There is usually a line outside for those who wants the exclusive RSD titles, then the doors open and people have at it. We sell lots of records right away. We’ll have bands starting at noon and play each hour until around 4PM. Beer and food will be severed during this time too. The shop will normally have a sale on new vinyl items that are not part of RSD to entice people to come down and buy not only RSD titles but regular vinyl issues as well.
How about afterwards… what are the consequences for your shop?
Natasha: We do tend to burn out if I’m honest. We always have to remind ourselves and the team that it’s not about getting through the day, it’s about getting through the week afterwards and beyond. The time when the buzz and the adrenaline has worn off somewhat but when we are still crazy busy. RSD isn’t just one day anymore. It’s a good two weeks for us.
Patrick: Well, it helps us pay the wages for a start, and enables us to take more risks stocking interesting and forward thinking records during the rest of the year. Obviously we end up with some stock left over after the day, but that just helps to spice up the January sales.
Trevor: Afterwards we look at our sales and congratulate ourselves for a well planned event and a great sales day, all worth that prep we put into it with our wicked team that we hired to work the event. Take a deep breath, have a beer and grab a broom.
What’s the most frustrating thing about RSD?
Natasha: 1. The Naysayers. The day’s not for everyone. It can’t be. If it’s not for you, steer clear of it and leave it to those who do enjoy it.
2. Inaccurate information from suppliers and labels – being told that a release is going to be a picture disc or a coloured vinyl, and then it arrives as a standard black vinyl for the same price but without the demand to go with it. I personally don’t care what colour my music is but many people do and we buy (non-returnable) stock on that basis. The price is never reduced accordingly.
3. People piggy backing on the event to put out releases that aren’t special in anyway just to chase sales and profile.
4. Labels and suppliers keeping stock back to sell to wholesalers / from their own sites / from other territories. Fair enough if they haven’t sold it through to then use these channels to clear stock, but shops have their RSD orders cut in order to fulfil these other channels even though the stock is supposedly only being made for our event. If you’re making it for us, let us sell it! If it’s not for us, it’s not for RSD.
5. Some of the prices are eye-wateringly difficult to justify and we as shops end up looking bad and greedy. That’s obviously not the perception we want to be leaving anyone with, especially not new customers or those being introduced to the world of indies for the first time.
Patrick: Probably the amount of reissues. While it brings a lot of different customers and collectors into the shop, the lack of new music means there isn’t a lot to excite our regular customers.
Trevor: One thing that frustrates us about RSD is some of the titles that are offered and the supposed limitedness of them. They tell you it limited to a certain amount and you order it in and people are excited, and then shortly after that they release a readily available version of that same record . It only cheats the fans who buy this stuff and is wickedly short sighted.
Another example is last year when all the Spacemen 3 reissues came out and all the shops ordered them up and were excited. Then the week before RSD the band went on the record to tell fans not to buy them because they weren’t sanctioned by the band and the manager did it without their permission. Great story and thanks a lot for the sweet promo on that record, as it sits on our shelves forever because fans don’t want it now.
What’s the best thing about it?
Natasha: 1. The atmosphere in the shop on the day and the buzz in the build up to it too. The feedback from customers about their experience.
2. The profile it offers us – both as individual shops and as a sector. We don’t get much attention the rest of the year.
3. The way it brings our sector together. We are all independent businesses but this gives us a platform to work together as a collective. It gives us an opportunity to meet, talk and share. It’s easy to work in a bubble when you’re an indie.
Patrick: It brings new customers into the shop, has a positive impact on sales obviously and helps to put some attention on the hard working record shops out there – generally spreading the musical love.
Trevor: Getting to throw a wicked party and having so many people pass through the shop that wouldn’t normally come here. It’s open to families, so it’s nice to have the kids out enjoying the live music while the parents enjoy the beery beverages. Watching people buy music in general is fun, I love seeing the look on someone’s face when they find something they’re looking for.
Finally, would you like to see it continue?
Natasha: Yes, absolutely… but as with any event like this, it needs to evolve. It needs to listen to the shops it was designed for, and address their current needs and the issues they face on the high street today. Retail is a very different beast to when the event was set up 11 years ago. We need labels, suppliers and customers to work with us all year round to keep our businesses exciting and vibrant and to help us become more resilient. The support, communication and attention needs to be continuous – not just for the one day.
Patrick: We’d like to see it improve. Now that there are reissues every week, and a lot of the high demand items have been done, the labels need to look beyond reissues to create some truly special releases for RSD. Otherwise there’s a risk it’ll put off the regular customers and vinyl fans who make the shops what they are.
Trevor: Sure, I’d like to see it continue. As long as you can make it work for you and to your benefit, it can always be a fun weekend for music fans.