For next-level music geeks — from vinyl purists to obsessive completionists — Record Store Day is the most wonderful day of the year.
Since launching in 2008, Record Store Day has been celebrated all over the world on the third Saturday in April. It’s a day to celebrate independent record-store culture, a culture that has been threatened at varying points — first by the proliferation of big-box stores, then by the Internet and music’s move to digital formats. The recent resurgence in vinyl — which some credit Record Store Day with starting — is largely to thank for that culture’s survival; according to a Billboard report, 67 per cent of all vinyl albums were purchased at independent record stores in 2012.
It’s not just vinyl seekers who are keeping the indies from shuttering. Many music fans still crave face-to-face interactions with like-minded music fans — that High Fidelity experience.
"(Record Store Day) celebrates the unique contribution record stores make to popular culture," says Greg Tonn, owner and manager of Into the Music. "We serve a different role and function than box stores. We come from a unique place of understanding of music."
Record Store Day rewards music fans with limited vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products that are made exclusively for the day. It’s an incentive that highlights a fundamental part of record store culture: the thrill of the hunt. "It’s so satisfying to find something you didn’t expect to find, whether it’s a great deal or something really rare," Tonn says. "There’s something really rewarding about that. There’s an emotional connection that non-collectors don’t understand."
Hundreds of titles are up for grabs this year, but not all releases are available at all stores, and not all stores will get all the titles they order. "Which is totally exciting," Tonn says. "A lot of it is very limited; some of it is exclusive to Canada. It’s really quite amazing. We’ve upped our order quotient this year; I think we ordered about 250 titles."
RSD operates on a first-come, first-served basis. And there are no holds. "We might order 10 copies of a title and get one," Tonn says.
Tonn, who has been running Into the Music for 26 years, has seen the positive effects of Record Store Day first-hand.
"I believe we have the biggest Record Store Day event in the city — albeit we’re the biggest, floor-wise, the biggest independent record store in Winnipeg, with the biggest emphasis on vinyl. (Record Store Day) is the biggest day of our year — bigger than Boxing Day."
To wit: last year, 104 people were lined up for the store’s opening. "We usually don’t get lineups. That was a real eye-opener."
In-store performances have become a big part of Record Store Day. DJs Birdapres and Steve St. Louis will be spinning all day at Into the Music, while local duo Ghost Twin will perform around 1 p.m.
The Winnipeg Folk Festival Music Store will also feature live music all day long, with Chez Willi, the Stiff Bishops, Jelly B & the Kmart Shoppers and Wreckin’ So all playing sets.
Still, not all local record store owners are enamoured with Record Store Day.
"Seven years in and Record Store Day has become a monster," says Charley Justice, who owns and operates War on Music, a record store specializing in punk/metal/hardcore and a vinyl-only record label. While Record Store Day only happens in April, officially, a second, similar event, Back To Black Friday, has been launched to coincide with Black Friday in the U.S.
"I have mixed feelings about it," Justice says. "There’s all these novelty releases that come out and it creates a demand that’s unrealistic. Manufacturing vinyl is already incredibly slow. It takes about three or four months to get a finished product, and that’s with regular demand due to the vinyl resurgence. Now, in April and November you have a couple hundred labels complaining about the same release-date deadline. From a label and manufacturing standpoint, it’s a headache." (To that end, War on Music does not stock RSD-exclusives. "But we have lots of great records," Justice says.)
Still, Justice can get behind the spirit of the "holiday."
"The intent is great. Yes, let’s generate recognition for independent record stores. And we sell a lot of records on Record Store Day. It generates new customers who come back. So, on the surface I love it, but in practice it’s been a hassle."
This year’s Record Store Day will be bittersweet for Justice. It’ll be two years to the day that War on Music’s former digs at 38 Albert St. went up in flames. He’s reflective about the past two years.
"The first few weeks after the fire, I had to make the decision to move forward or move nowhere. Once the decision was made to start a new store, it was a lot of work — but it’s been fulfilling."
War on Music relocated down the street to 91 Albert St. just six weeks after the blaze. Now, Justice says its operations are stronger than they’ve ever been. War on Music has gone more genre-specific — "and getting better at those genres" — which allows it to better serve its clients. The store/label is also a solo operation these days after operating as a co-op for a number of years.
Indeed, Justice is the type of resilient independent shop owner Record Store Day aims to recognize.
"People who run record stores do it because they love records," he says, and he’s no exception. "There are some days when I look at the numbers and think it would make more sense to do just the label — but there’s the subjective cultural value of having a physical store. Two years after the fire, I feel seriously optimistic. It was a harsh experience, but it made us stronger."
For the full list of Record Store Day titles, visit recordstoreday.com.