Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wherein Record Store Day forces me to confront that which I never wanted to admit...

Wherein Record Store Day forces me to confront that which I never wanted to admit; or, how I learned to stop hoping and accept a once good friend's irrelevance.

WARNING: The following is a partially emotional argument. It's why it's appearing here and not on Chicagoist or donewaiting. It's just my view, and my response to Record Store Day. So take it as such.

The record store, the one I grew up with, is dead. I spent decades hanging around dusty vinyl bins, then scouring used tapes and CDs, and I went nearly bankrupt at a couple of points buying imported albums and singles. I love music in its physical form. I'm reasonably certain I have been physically addicted to it for the majority of my sentient life. I cherish what the record store stood for and the guidance even the snobbiest, snottiest clerks tossed my way. From the early days of stalking mall record stores in the early '80s because I knew of no other outlet to the smoked-out dude at Hip Cat Records selling me Pink Floyd cassette bootlegs to the wise staff at Quaker Goes Deaf to the underpaid experts at Reckless Records. Hell, my very first albums -- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band and the Ace Frehly KISS / solo picture disc -- were bought at a Mexican flea market in the Texas Valley when I was a wee tyke ... so I've hunted out music wherever it may lay.

Record Store Day is supposed to remind us of the importance of record stores. Only, record stores really are not important any more. Once they really were the primary reopsitories of advice and arcane knowledge, but now that function os delivered everywhere anhd anywhere by millions of music themed blogs, many of which burrow into their own arcance corners of sub-genres collecting information and offering advice to any and all music lovers.

Even the one hook that Record Store Day had to offer, the promise of exclusive vinyl and CD offerings, failed to convey the power of actually hunting out and buying those things. If the items in question weren't already sold-out they were overpriced and marked up by greedy outlets, andd if you didn't get them all the "exclusives" were on offer via eBay or craigslist within a few hours. This in itself was certainly expected, but it did nothing to dispel the buying habits of the average consumer who knows they need never actually hunt anything down since it can always be found online.*

Hell, MP3s of ALL the exclusives are already posted FOR FREE all over the interwebs.

Sentimentality will not save record stores. My negative views on last weekend's event has earned me a fair amount of vitriolic email, and I know that's because I'm hitting a nerve with people that -- like I one did -- hold out all hope that "the kids" will finally get why record stores are important. But, they're not. Not anymore. While I'm happy to hear that this year's event was more popular than the previous year's, and that many record stores sold massive amounts of merchandise, I think it's foolish to hold that up as some sort of victory since the sales number are certain to drop right back in the sub-basement until next year's event.

Record Store Day ain't gonna save the indies. Moving their sales online, offering immediate MP3 downloads alongside physical merchandise whilst you wait for it to ship to your door, engaging consumers in a way they find meaningful ONLINE ... these are tactics will save the indie record store or at least stave off their demise. But getting folks out one day a year to chase down a handful of vinyl ... that's not gonna do it.

*For the record, I'd like to point out that I DID chase down a number of these exclusives, and bought them for the sheer joy of owning the physical versions, but would never expect anyone under the age of 30 to actually chase these items down as I did since it wasn't until the fifth store that I found what I was looking for. Some off this was poor planning on the retailers part (how stores located in Chicago didn't have enough of the new Wilco DVD still confounds me, unless it was an issue of availability, but that seems far fetched) and part of it was just plain shady (like the store that pre-sold all of its swag to "regulars" thus defeating the idea of egalitarianism the day should've promoted).

I did end up getting everything I set out to purchase that day, but even that personal victory wasn't enough to convince that Record Store Day itself was able to follow though on any of its implied promises.

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