Despite being a lifelong music fan, sometime music journalist, and owner of a much-loved record player, I hadn’t attended a Record Store Day until this year. The idea of shoulder-barging through a scrum of hipsters at Rough Trade East never appealed to me, plus there was never anything on the product list that I was desperate to get my hands on. Though both the former and the latter remain true, what tipped the scales this year is the city I live in. It seemed way more manageable to maneuver around the the three modest-sized record shops Cambridge has to offer, than battle with the behemoth of London.
I decided to make the most of my first foray to RSD by speaking with local bands, record shops and labels ahead of the day. Though this won’t be a shock to those of you already familiar with the annual rigmarole, what I quickly found was two opposing attitude towards the event. When I spoke to local acts Gaffa Tape Sandy and Goldblume, and local label R*E*P*E*A*T Records were thrilled about the support and exposure they were receiving in line with their RSD exclusive ‘You Flexi Thing Vol 4: Look Sharp’. However, elsewhere, there was a handful of potential interviewees that didn’t want to speak out about their views at risk of ruffling feathers.
One local music mogul, who will remain unnamed, explained: “RSD creates more of a ComicCon vibe, with people collecting LPs to keep sealed or sell on later, it seems less and less about actual music and more about just the physical product, a lump of plastic in a ‘special colour’ with a ‘limited number’ stamped on the back.” This sentiment around RSD’s more novelty releases has been widely echoed, especially by record store owners.
In this thought-provoking piece on The Guardian, record shop owner Rupert Morrison argues that vinyl gimmicks alone won’t save record shops. Though he acknowledges it would be disingenuous to completely write off a day that puts a spike in his sales, he questions how well the day reflects true vinyl culture. “It seems contradictory to present the day as your chance to go out and connect with a record shop, and to then release titles that are screamingly discordant with what the shops stock every other day of the year.”
It seems that there’s not just dissonance within the realm of stock. Record Shops wanting to officially participate in Record Store Day have to meet the technical requirements of being an independent shop, and yet there’s no reflection of those standards in the product list- it’s increasingly dominated by major label artists and reissues. What with the sky-high prices (some singles were pressed on 12” meaning you were paying the average price of a full-length for two songs) there’s hardly any room for discovery on Record Store Day.
Aside from ‘You Flexi Thing Vol 4: Look Sharp’, nothing I purchased on the day was exclusive to Record Store Day. All my purchases were records that had been on my wishlist for sometime and it seemed like there was no better time to splash out than Record Store Day. I recognise that in itself is a massive advantage for record shops. As Relevant Record’s music specialist Tom said in our interview: “It’s more a day for welcoming new customers into record shops; fanatics and music geeks already spend all their time hanging out here anyway – the day is about raising the profile of independent record shops and attracting a bigger crowd with lots of live music and special releases.”
Though that’s definitely true in my case, it’s most likely the ‘fanatics and music geeks’ that were queuing up at 2 am outside the Mill Road record shop. Tom said that the first customer spent around £1,100 but added that he probably ‘shifted the lot on Ebay’. That seems to be the reality of a day that serves novelty above everything else, even the music. As if to prove that point, one Ebay seller has posted a white label ‘mystery’ record for £20 from RSD 2018. Needless to say, the white label thing only works if you’re buying it from a record shop, not from an unknown seller who knows full well it’s a Bon Jovi reissue.
As with every aspect of Record Store Day, there are pros and cons. The vinyl revival, along with RSD, has brought an element of scarcity to music, when streaming services have made it ubiquitous and abundant. At the very least it’s clear the event is getting people past the threshold of their local record shops, but when their product ends up being sold on for three times the value, with no extra pay off for the record shop nor the artist, you’ve got to question what Record Store Day actually achieves for those most in need.