Is Record Store Day good for independent music?

By Neshy Denton

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I wish there was a word to describe the feeling you get when you buy a new record at the local shop. If I were able to bottle it up and make a candle out of that very sensation, I’d be rich in the bat of an eyelid. The trek back home being pushed by an invisible hold on your anxious excitement to play the fresh new find you just purchased. Сould also be that absolute banger of an album you’ve always loved which you found tucked away, underneath a pile of other long-forgotten hand me downs.

It’s so ironic. I never really believed that adage which describes the cycle of life. But, today we are all witnesses of such event. In the eyes of all music enthusiasts we can confirm that, effectively, flowers do grow back eventually.

Because, after all these years, vinyls have completely 360’d back round and fallen, once again, into music lovers lives. The physical distribution market ran into a crisis between the late 90’s and early 00’s, after the emergence of file MP3 sharing, followed by streaming services on smartphones and devices. It caused a 43% dip in vinyl sales as a whole. Driving most record shops to fall head first into the depth of their own grave. 

This is where the creation of Record Store Day arrives. Conclusions were drawn in a meeting of independent record store owners in Baltimore, that there was a need to resurrect the life of the once revered record shops. To restore the beauty of holding music in your hands as a physical format. Allowing space for independent music to find its way back into the realm of the industry, before it got completely singled out by the established names, by being able to make money through selling records. To celebrate something which was beginning to find its way into a non existent hole. Long story short, to also save independent music. 

But, has it?

Ever since the first RSD back in 2008, the third week in April has taken over the scene (which has also extended to Black Fridays in November). With the goal to bring awareness to the indie record shops and, not only celebrate, but encourage, their existence. The day has become a global ceremony which shop owners and musicians spend half of the year preparing for. It has given emerging bands an opportunity to catch people’s attention. And has given record shops the opportunity to sell limited edition vinyl sales, organise special DJ events, host meet n’ greets with local artists, be the artistic hub for the area… It has basically become the music industry’s version of Christmas. It is what my mother would call chaos in disguise. In the sweetest manner possible. 

The prolific sales are, of course, a great economic boost for record shops. This annual reminder has become the curing medicine for LP formats and, not only has it given old souls a nostalgic inkling to buy these for auld lang syne, but has allowed younger devotees to discover the hobby of collecting physical music and to appreciate the iconic warmth of its textured sound. 

The sudden reemergence has then become a key ingredient for most underground (independent) bands, whose fanbase rely on the personal closeness of buying these beautifully crafted, limited edition vinyl pressings on offer – alongside a very modish merch selection. The purchase of these has become a way to form part of a band’s community, in which fans can show their love and support within reach of the members of the group. It goes much further than just having the music physically. It revolves around the deeply crafted experience the band has prepared for the people they most value (their fans). And, at the end of the day, it is just plain cool to appreciate the artists you like on wax. This music buff corner of the sector has been the stepping stone for most indie bands to be able to financially carry on.  

But, it is the dire soullessness of some vultures who visit the shop this one time a year, to put their hands in the profit of these particular sales. Of course this is inevitable. However, the aim is to attract those who appreciate the art of the industry’s minority and build towards a future where stores get the same support all year round. Not to attract the capital hunters once a year. 

Furthermore, might it be the hijacking of the commercial entities which has tainted the one opportune day to shout-out the small artists? And the music labels who specifically aim to function independently from the help of mainstream record companies? It is argued that major record labels seized such opportunity to fiddle with the concept. To bring in their own special take on the event. Low budget bands, who use this occasion to press their new editions in time for RSD, get pushed to the back of the line in factories, due to the prioritisation of the scenes’ high end names. Making it all that more difficult to stick to schedules for, what is a day, to promote music yet to be unburied. 

Because, don’t get me wrong. If there is a day to celebrate all music culture, music entities/companies/labels, whatever their dominance, all have more than a right to express their passion. Whether their end goal is to make money or not. It is the world they belong to at the end of the day. A whole new conversation would arise if we were listing the pros and cons of being part of a major label. However, this particular day doesn’t quite involve the latter. It involves something much more personal. 

So therein lies the question. The third week of April constitutes a great awareness. Thousands of aficionados delight in RSD’s arrival. And many have learnt to appreciate the art behind discovering emerging bands on this side of the sector. And supporting the local retailers. But, does this outdo the sheer lack of respect coming from the opposite side of the spectrum? It might just have to.