Record Store Day: Redux

Remember Record Store Day? It was only a week ago. Has it changed your shopping habits?

Will you keep buying your exclusive, 1000-only, limited edition, 7″ glitter-flexi-disc vinyls from your local shop now? Or will you continue to order it off the internet like you did before?

Record Store Day enjoyed its highest-ever profile this year. Stories about eager music fans queuing to buy one-off singles featured in the news on non-music radio stations, and every newspaper trundled out someone capable of writing a thousand words on the joys of purchasing a CD without hesitating to think beyond happy teenage memories.

This all seems very heartening, very healthy, very important, doesn’t it? Record stores are special, aren’t they? Aren’t they?

When I was at school, I used to visit Mike Lloyd Records at least three times a week. I’d go after class with my best friend Andy, and we’d loiter among the record racks until the shop closed when we’d get turfed out.

I bought my first ever single there, and walked home with my head down, devouring the words printed on the inlay, desperate to absorb every bit of information before I got home.

Andy and I would buy CDs on the basis that we liked the cover art, or that the band had a good name, or had a terrible name. Plonking down the still-ludicrous sum of £15 for an unknown CD represented a huge, thrilling gamble to a 16 year old, but it was a roll of the dice we were more than willing to take.

This was years ago, though. Mike Lloyd’s no longer exists. Most record shops don’t either. I loved Mike Lloyd Records. It gave me my musical education. Now and again, I mourn the halcyon times I spent there.

But things have changed. Almost no-one releases singles any more. I discover music via the internet and can listen to it instantly, as often as I like, without having to scribble down the band’s name as the DJ segues to another song, and then scamper off to a shop to buy it.

Remember: Record Store Day is primarily an event to bolster an ailing industry. Lots of industries  do it. The British Potato council has National Chip Week.

What grates is that in Record Store Day’s case, this truth is obscured by waves of blather about how record shops are essential to find out about new music, and how they are very important to sustain the fabric of our music society. You can even discuss music in them, with people who know about music!

Amusingly, writers were especially keen to point out that record shops are no longer intimidating places: hey, now anyone can come along and shop in them!

Most people won’t, and will continue to download their singles and albums in whichever non-physical format they desire, cutting the old middleman out and paying a new one instead.

Shops are a place to buy physical commodities. Music only fell into this category for a very short period of time, and music isn’t a physical commodity any more.

You don’t need a 12″ plastic disc and the accompanying artwork to listen to your new favourite song, as pleasurably tactile as those things may be. And when people no longer need something, they tend to suddenly become overwhelmed by ambivalence towards it.

I want record shops to exist. I love them. But if they are no longer viable, then their useful lifespan has ended, and the ruthlessly pragmatic human race will just move on. No number of special one-off singles by thoughtful bands will change that.

Record shops are lovely, but so are steam trains. You can’t get a steam train to London any more, and the Virgin Pendolino gets me to London hours quicker than I could by steam. And ultimately that’s what counts, isn’t it? People have a funny way of getting down to brass tacks when the need arises.

It’s also why steam trains are now the reserve of hobbyists and holidaymakers, and why Record Store Day might be viewed as an exercise in faux nostalgia – of a time when such places were successful businesses.

If record shops vanish, we will still find people to discuss new music with, and places to do it. We will still discover new sounds from new bands. The music and the associated happiness won’t change, just the delivery of it.

When I was at college, I had an evening job in a bakery the size of a terraced house. It was a remnant of the time when small local shops, not supermarkets, would provide our staple food – bread – to all and sundry. I knew the family who ran it. It was a happy, tasty, friendly place. It smelled amazing.

In the early Noughties, the bakery closed, suddenly, amid mounting debt and horrendous personal crises. It was soundtracked by the tears that flow from broken lives, and it was the passing of a small, local, wonderful institution.

But no-one gave a shit. They shrugged, and began buying their bread from a supermarket just like everyone else. An old way of life disappeared. Why did no-one campaign for Bread Store Day?

2 thoughts on “Record Store Day: Redux

  1. Hi Joe, I have this debate with myself internally quite a bit. I think even though my heart says CD’s are still the way I want to purchase music, my head tells me otherwise. I think it is a nostalgic feeling that music lovers crave as much as the actual music itself. I remember teenage years in my bedroom, poring over those CD’s and their sleeve notes and artwork. As I grew up and technology changed, most of those CD’s were ripped to iTunes, and my main way of listening to music became the iPod either at home, on the move or in the car.

    I agree, that for those who still actually buy their music (assuming some people actually do that, or is that just naive?) there is a choice to be made, and it often comes down to financial issues. The record stores have always been fighting a losing battle here, since the internet came along and can sell the same CD’s far cheaper than other methods.

    That said, these questions often come up when the industry tries to tell the consumer what they want and prices it accordingly. Remember Minidiscs? They were more expensive than CD’s and you could buy a blank box of minidiscs and just copy the CD’s onto them for less money. CD’s survived. Thing is, now the actual downloads themselves are more expensive than CD’s say from Amazon.co.uk.

    I think ultimately that is why there is a feeling that some music lovers who like the idea of download only music won’t take that leap of faith. The MP3 market is by far the best and most expansive record store you’ll ever set foot in, but until that price reflects the lack of physical product, many will stay hanging on the edge and won’t ever make the jump.

  2. Record Store Day 2013: Totems, Artifice and Exclusivity | A New Band A Day!

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