It’s become an annual highlight for record shops, labels and collectors, playing an integral part in the resurgence of vinyl – but there are criticisms from some quarters, too. Long Live Vinyl gets four shop owners and a label boss round the table to find out their opinions on Record Store Day…
LLV: How much of a difference has Record Store Day made to your business? Is it possible you wouldn’t be here today without the impact of Record Store Day?
Adam Gillison, Jumbo Records
“It’s hard to say, and it’s hard to imagine the record shops’ calendar without Record Store Day. I feel sure that something had to happen to halt the decline in record shops. I think we all recognised that, and many of us were talking to each other to discuss what we could do. That probably laid a little bit of ground for Record Store Day to take root so quickly. I think that we had probably reached a ‘now or never’ stage, where if many more shops had gone, things could have started to collapse.”
Joe Blanchard, Bear Tree Records
“I think RSD definitely opened people up to discovering the shop, as we are pretty hidden. The releases and promotion around the event really push it to the forefront of people’s minds – to go out and seek out local record shops. I think, equally, the promotion we put in on top of the general RSD promo assists to boost awareness, considerably more so than at other times of the year.”
Ashli Todd, Spillers
“I think over the last decade-plus, RSD has contributed in a massive way to the general resurgence in vinyl sales, which is a benefit to the whole industry we’re part of. The turning point in the vinyl demise happened here around 20 years ago, but you definitely got a sense of it galvanising and gaining more momentum in sync with the first five years of RSD. It’s definitely helped make things more viable, and that reaches beyond the day itself.”
Tony Boothroyd, Vinyl Tap
“The shop has been involved with Record Store Day since the very first one, although I’ve only been involved for the last eight years. Vinyl Tap was an online business when RSD first started, and I remember at that time, there was a definite feel of doom for retail shops, and many of the shop owners were pessimistic about the future. When I found out that our local shop was to be the next to close, I decided I didn’t want that to happen and bought it. Since then, there has definitely been a steady increase in publicity about shops and vinyl, and this has to do in part with RSD. So, as such, I wouldn’t say that we wouldn’t be here without RSD – but it has most definitely helped with the profile of our, and all other, independent record shops.”
Tim Dellow, Transgressive Records
“I love Record Store Day – I think it’s a great gateway to getting people engaged with local music fans and their local shop, and also a chance for something magical to appear in their hometown – be it an in-store performance, signing or unique record. I think that sense of accessibility in an area that can be intimidating if you’re not an established collector is really important to the business, and its future! As a label, I’d like to think we’d survive without it, but I think culturally, it’s important, and that’s key.”
Much is written about the ‘vinyl revival’. How much of that resurgence is down to Record Store Day?
“It’s a big part, but to be honest, it was already there, even though it was at a much lower level. Record Store Day didn’t create the demand out of thin air – it was based on a small, but growing, passion for vinyl records and the process of shopping for them.”
“The vinyl revival seems to have been going on for quite some time now, ha ha. I think it’s always been there, and I don’t think Record Store Day has done anything to hurt growing sales of vinyl. The demand is definitely still growing, perhaps a little slower than two or three years ago, but there’s definitely still growth. I think it’s a variety of factors, though. Record Store Day has helped for sure, but I think equally passionate record-shop owners and staff, and passionate and innovative labels pushing things in new directions… it all works well together.”
“A few things that have been instrumental in the revival: the shops that had the conviction to ignore those that declared vinyl an obsolete format when CDs arrived; the customers who did the same and stuck it out, especially when so little was being manufactured; Jack White, for putting never-ending creativity into desirable, limited formats at the exact time the masses were being pushed to digital; and RSD. RSD’s mission statement was first and foremost (and this can feel lost in the ‘headline artist’ noise) to drive people into independent record shops (at a time when record closures were occurring). While this is definitely achieved, it’s also been a hugely successful PR campaign for vinyl, and it would be churlish to not appreciate the wider gain and positive impact that has for anyone selling vinyl all year round (even if this means that sometimes, an indie is ‘competing’ for sales with Tesco!).”
“My opinion is that the record industry actually believed that the general public did not want vinyl, and I spoke to quite a few industry people at that time who were totally against vinyl – they thought it too difficult and something from the past. CDs, downloads and later, streaming, was so much easier.
There are several reasons why vinyl has seen a steady increase in sales – I believe that a lot of the small independent labels, including a lot of the dance scene, kept plugging away. After seeing the initial sales on the early RSD results, the record companies started to take notice and then put a few releases out to see what reaction they got. The reaction they got was that the general music-buying public were still very much interested, and since then, it has steadily increased, with all the record companies now very much aware. While vinyl never really disappeared, on the second-hand front in particular, RSD has given new-release vinyl a higher profile in the media, which has certainly made it one of the driving factors behind the so called ‘vinyl revival’.”
“RSD caught a wave that was growing without it – from underground scenes repopularising the idea of records as merch items, then being a badge of honour for fans of a band in the digital age. But it’s certainly given it some great PR, and I have no doubt that it helps people starting their collections each year.”
Who does Record Store Day benefit?
“First, the shops. That should be obvious by the name. Second, the customers – not just because they go home (hopefully) with a record or two that they wanted, but because the day helps nourish their interest. Third, the record companies – both large and small. Some would disagree with this, but at the very least, we should acknowledge the knock-on effect – if it helps independent record shops, it should be helping the record companies at some level. On top of all this, there are hopefully some knock-on effects for the artists, for other local businesses, and for town centres.”
“I think it benefits everyone a little, really. I know there are plenty of negative vibes out there about RSD, but it’s a huge day for pretty much every shop; even if they don’t take part, I think most record shops see a rise in business on the day. Obviously, the labels do reasonably well out of it and it raises the profile of artists when they have a release.”
“Everyone involved. Bands get great PR for being involved. Distos and labels get to firm-sale a huge amount of stock to shops, and if we‘re really lucky and get the ordering about right, we’ll cover the outlay and not end up bankrupt! Not to mention those who put the time in to queue. They get the joy of music and discovery. We love the aftermath, those who want to pick through the leftovers and chance on something bizarre. The leftovers can be where the gems are found. Those can be the esoteric releases we wanted to stock, but may have been lost among the headline-grabbing big-ticket items.”
“I think there are several things that benefit the music business. First, it gets people back into the retail shops, which is vital to show people that they are still there and open for business. Second, it is a definite boon for the record labels, who get incredible sales to the shops involved. Third, the collectors and music fans get some amazing product that, in general, looks and sounds fantastic.”
“The feedback that we get – record stores. It’s tough out there and this drives a huge amount of footfall to their shops. And we want to support that totally. I’d love it if people went each weekend instead of once a year, and we try to support that with special editions for indie stores, bonus discs and in-stores, but you can’t deny the importance of such an event. I think it’s good for fans, too – I’ve bought something every year on RSD. There are downers, sure – I think a bunch of regurgitated catalogue gets wheeled out that’s probably available on a perfectly good pressing (on delicious black vinyl) for a few pounds second-hand already… but we push to only do essential records, and hope that other labels take the same kind of approach. It also clogs up the pressing plants, which is a bit frustrating!”
Do you see a different profile of customer on RSD? Is that a positive thing?
“To some extent we do, but it’s easy to exaggerate this. Record Store Day attracts customers from far and wide, but we certainly see plenty of faces in the queue that are in the shop week-in, week-out. We also tend to see a good representation of families due to the additional events (live music and so on) that we sort out for the day.”
“We see all kinds of people. A bunch of regulars, a bunch of people who discover the shop for the first time and then become regulars, people who only come out once a year… it’s a bit of everything, really.”
“Not at all, our day-to-day demographic is extremely broad. We’ll be selling a rock ’n’ roll publication and jazz reissues to a 70-year-old regular, then a new popular indie hit to a teenager, and all ages/interests in between. RSD attracts a similarly broad crowd. I think there are a few too many releases overall for RSD, but you can’t argue with the fact that a lot of tastes are being catered for. It’s up to individual shops to carefully decide which releases are the best fit for their customer base, while trying to speculate on things they may not usually stock to try and win a new customer – not that different to stocking decisions made week-in, week-out, just on a much larger scale. It’s hard to please everyone when these items are firm-sale and high risk! It’s the Olympics of stocking.”
“We do see some people that we don’t normally see, but to us, that’s good – it gives us a chance to say, ‘this is what we do 52 weeks of the year’, with new stuff arriving and events all the time. We do a lot of extra work during the rest of the year to show people that we’re part of the local community – we have lots of live bands/artists and regularly involve local venues, pubs, cafes, breweries, colleges, etc. Having said that, we do also see a lot of brilliant regular customers in the queue on RSD, and the day itself is a reward for them for their brilliant support throughout the year, so we try to make a day of it.”
“I think it’s a good blend between the older die-hard collectors and also newbies – what I like is how encouraging both can be to each other. I’ve stood in queues and heard some really passionate debates about music between the generations – and that is entirely spiriting.”
Is it frustrating to see customers who only visit your store once a year? What does our industry need to do to get more of them coming back regularly?
“I try not to worry about it too much. One visit is better than no visits, after all, and I like to think that most customers will be back at some point before the next Record Store Day. The industry already creates quite a lot of releases throughout the year that are only available in independent shops, so that’s good. As shops, we should also be thinking about what we can do to get customers to come back. Some of that might be about creating enterprising ideas – some of it might just be about making Record Store Day as celebratory of record-shop culture as possible.”
“I don’t think there’s much that can be done to tackle that, it is what it is. People can shop where they want. They may visit my shop on Record Store Day, but spend the rest of the year shopping at a different independent shop, or Amazon or HMV, who knows? But there are definite benefits of going to an independent – you will find no end of interesting stuff in there, via browsing, the shop stereo, or staff recommending stuff to you. I think the independent labels are doing a good job at steering customers to independent record shops by doing events, exclusive versions of releases, things like that, and they’ve been doing that for many years. Major labels are also steadily building on this approach. There are definitely benefits there, for both the labels and the shops. It’s a gradual process, which I think shops should also be involved in – trying to initiate collaborations, build relationships with bands and labels – both local and nationally – and hence get people to come back to physical bricks-and-mortar shops to come have that experience of browsing records, and the culture that’s there.”
“Not in the slightest. We get plenty of people who only come once a year –Christmas holidays, for example. Or people who only come in for a new Beatles reissue… I’m not inclined to get on my high horse because someone’s life keeps them from visiting more frequently, or if they only want these limited goodies. I think the point of RSD is to create an environment that hopefully leaves someone wanting to come back (which is admittedly difficult if you’ve just sold the last Wedding Present 10″ and they storm out in a huff). It is what it is.”
“It is frustrating, but as I would like to think it is an opportunity – that we can use the event itself to show people what we actually do all year round – this gives us that chance.”
“I think it’s a great day for stores to build a relationship with new customers – even though it’s the busiest day of the year, trying to take the time to talk to them and invite them back – engaging with them and recommending other records based on their tastes: all the things I love about my favourite record shops, the personal recommendations!”
There is a degree of cynicism and negativity about the event in some quarters – what do you say to the naysayers?
“It was designed to support the record shops, and you won’t find too many record shops that would prefer to be without it. But on top of that, you only have to look at all the events and celebrations that happen on the day to see that this is much more than just shameless commercialism.”
“It’s a tough one. I run both a shop and label, and I know in the past, a bunch of labels had problems getting stuff pressed around Record Store Day due to the increased volume of stuff going to plants for RSD deadlines. We always seem to luck out and it works fine, but I can sympathise, for sure. It’s definitely frustrating to have issues with pressings, I’ve had it and it’s a nightmare. I do think pressing plants have stepped up their game in the last few years, and it seems like they can handle it a little better than previously. I know there are a lot of people out there who think that Justin Bieber LPs and One Direction picture discs are the worst thing for what Record Store Day is, which also, I get… That’s not my thing at all. However, a whole load of people love stuff like that. I think it should be viewed as an inclusive day for bringing all music fans together in an environment that’s exciting and will introduce them to a world of sound they never knew. I pretty much 100% bought stuff I wouldn’t dream of saying I ever owned now back when I was 10. It’s the way of the world. We grow as people, our tastes change. If a 10-year-old kid wants to come in and get a Bieber LP from an independent record shop, I’m good with that. They will discover a whole bunch of insane other stuff in the long run, if they start going back to that indie shop they got that from.”
“Cynicism is fine, it’s par for the course in a hype-driven industry to have a backlash. But every year, there seem to be more people discovering RSD than deserting its cause. On the subject of ‘eBay flippers’ – a small minority of bad eggs, but what can you do? I really don’t think it’s as rife as the noise about it implies, and if someone spending hundreds of pounds on a bunch of releases wants to sell a big-ticket item to fund their purchase, who am I to prevent them? Buying purely to make a raise is mean and evil, though. No question. Maybe each shop could be issued with a lie-detector test to grill each customer before purchase…”
“It is bound to get some criticism and I listen to the naysayers’ issues, which tend to be these points in general: price – things are too expensive. Yes, I agree that some things are expensive, and this is out of control for the independent shops, but in general, the items tend to keep their value well and usually increase, and there are some fantastic products issued, which tend to be very limited. People complain they can’t order things – well, that is part of the hunt and how collectable the items are. Also, if we allowed people to pre-order items, we’d have no stock left to sell on the day and nobody would come to the shop, which would completely miss the point of the day. Flippers – this is where people come to buy things just to resell them at higher prices straight away. I know this annoys many people, but the only thing I can say is – don’t pay the high prices. I know that the staff at ERA are closely monitoring the online auction sites such as eBay and try to bring the listings down. Also, we recommend people check out as many stores as they can – you’d be surprised what you can still find either later in the day, or after the day altogether, at other independent retailers at the original prices.”
“It’s a real labour of love, running a record shop… or indeed a label, of whatever size. I think naysayers should not bother turning up on that day but support the stores every other day – and indeed, a lot of great records are still available at those stores the very next day (assuming they open on a Sunday)!”
Are labels doing enough to support Record Store Day? How do they need to change their approach?
“In general, yes. The biggest thing that they can do is keep producing good releases for us to sell on the day. The idea that it’s all about a split between majors and indies is ill-judged, too. Major labels and indie labels produce strong and not-so-strong releases alike. The main thing is to keep it diverse, interesting and of a high standard. One great release from a little independent label has as much of a place as 10 from a bigger company; and that can’t just be judged in sales terms – it’s partly about capturing the spirit of the day.”
“I think one thing a lot of shops think is there are too many releases, it’s a drain, a real financial drain, and it is daunting, looking at 500 to 600 releases. Even taking one copy of everything, you’re looking at potentially £8,000 outlay. And that is scary. But you just have to balance it. Some kind of small returns percentage on RSD stock could be a good thing from the labels, but at the same time, if 100 shops return something from a very small label, it can make or break that release or label. It is very complicated. I think generally, if all the labels can remain upbeat and promote their releases, tell people which shops will stock it, that’s the best we can ask for, really. But as much as it’s the label that should promote shops and releases, all us shops need to get behind releases on labels and push them out there, so people are aware.”
“I think it would be a beautiful thing if labels encouraged their bands to take part on the day and got out to shops and connected with their fans (on both sides of the counter!). More artist involvement, for sure – in-stores, signings… We’re all in this together, right? I think that some labels have really followed through in support of independent record shops through exclusive pressings and pre-order incentives, and even dedicated listening events with giveaways, so there’s lots of positives.”
“In an ideal world, the labels will release superb product at good prices that music fans want, and there is enough to go round! The labels know that if they issue a top artist and only allow the shops one or two copies that the demand will be huge, so they have to be understanding. I remember a few years ago, we had one Arctic Monkeys purple vinyl 7″ and could have easily sold 100 copies – so that meant a lot of disappointed punters. As shops, we want to make as many people as possible happy and give them a good experience that they remember… and make the profit that means we can survive.”
“I guess this is one for the shops… We aren’t doing a special release this year, as we didn’t have anything that hit our utterly-essential-on-this-day-only criteria. In the past, we’ve done deluxe reissues of Neon Indian, as those records were highly in demand and sold out in their original pressings. We’ve done a 7″ of Johnny Flynn’s Detectorists theme tune, as it didn’t fit on his album and is one of his most popular songs. We’ve reissued Bloc Party’s debut single on red vinyl, which was £100-plus in its original press. We’ve done a super-deluxe live record from the Mystery Jets on gold vinyl with a poster and replica programme. We used it to launch our At The Drive-In reissue campaign, bringing records to vinyl for the first time in years, on stunning new masters and in a one-off colour… all things that we think are utterly vital. I think if more labels follow suit and really think about making a meaningful piece, rather than Phil Collins’ Face Value on grey vinyl or whatever again, then it’ll help.”
How would you like to see RSD change and develop?
“I would like to see shops get likeminded local businesses involved. I think it’s essential to keep record labels engaged with the day – to encourage them to find their place within it, for the benefit of all. Every year throws out fresh challenges, we all just need to make sure that we do our best to cope with them. Record Store Day isn’t perfect and never will be, but I still think that we all need it.”
“At the moment, I’m kind of okay with where it is, to be honest. I would love it if stock arrived a little earlier from some distributors, so we don’t have RSD releases showing up two days before, but that’s generally not been too bad in the last few years… Basically, as little stress as possible is my top priority. If they can make it a little more relaxed (I have no idea how that’s possible), then that’d be good.”
“I don’t think it needs to develop per se: if it did that too much, maybe it would be getting further away from the whole ‘this is about/for independent record shops’ remit. I think the key thing to maintaining its credibility and longevity is to curate the releases with care, rather than knocking any old reissue out and sticking an RSD sticker on it. Music is about creativity and imagination – we can do better than that! There’s room for a bit of both, but integrity is key.”
“One of the things we’ve tried to do is make the day more of an event, with bands playing and lots of local companies being involved, with freebies, etc, and just making it something special. This is one thing all the naysayers can’t say anything bad about, as it is a music event and all that stuff is free for everyone – maybe some of the record companies could think about this as well and give us things to give out… and maybe even send out their artists to play around the country, to really make it a great day for physical music product.”
“I think more support to indies and local labels, where possible, among the tent-pole items of Bowie 7″s would be great… but I also think it’s obviously working, so that it just flourishes from year to year.”