HAPPY FIFTH ANNIVERSARY, RECORD STORE DAY! (Pt. 2)

What’s changed is much the same, and passion
remains the name of the game. Above: RSD 2012 Ambassador Iggy Pop doth
proclaimeth it still rocks, dude.

 

BY JHONI JACKSON

 

It’s a
day-to-day outlook for the organizers of Record Store Day, the annual celebration
of independent media stores through exclusive releases and in-store shindigs.
Considering neighborhood shops are still as susceptible
to shuttering as ever, the parallel is appropriate. Keeping the long-term in
mind is a must for survival, of course. But RSD, now in its fifth year, has
expanded from 200 stores to a staggering 1700 worldwide. That kind of workload
demands a one-thing-at-a-time approach.

 

“We all
have more than full-time regular jobs in the world of indie retail,” explains
cofounder Carrie Colliton. “Mine happens to be the marketing director for a
coalition of 72 stores. As you know, releases happen all the time. Things don’t
stop so that I can run RSD. [The event] itself is a full-time job. It’s
definitely a labor of love.”

 

Colliton’s
role in RSD is not unlike her daytime gig, and it’s in no way constrained to
the rigid bullet points of a job description.
She’s in charge of answering emails, monitoring social media, gathering
information about releases and disseminating it to stores, answering questions
from shop owners, coordinating events, updating the website and whatever else
she’s tasked. (Or takes up on her own.)  

 

Sales
certainly catapult when a slew of special edition, highly collectible items are
available on one particular day. This year, Wayne Coyne upped the ante when he
publicly claimed to be collecting the blood of his collaborators on The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends. When
the vital fluids of Nick
Cave, Yoko Ono, Chris
Martin and Ke$ha are for sale in limited quantities, there’s sure to be some
thick-pocketed buyers.

 

But
besides the benefits of spreading the word about alternatives to major
retailers, arduous work doesn’t earn Colliton and company any pay. It’s an
entirely pro-bono operation – they don’t even get first dibs on releases.

 

“[My
store] is the same as every other record store in the world. There’s no extra
bonus I get as a volunteer,” notes cofounder Eric Levin, who owns Criminal
Records in Atlanta, Ga. “We all order 30 of something that they made 500 of. We
each might get one…I think it’s cool that we’re screwed on titles just as much
as any other store.”

 

Record
Store Day has grown so much, Levin says, it’s become a “tent pole” in the music
industry.

 

“If you’re
a label, what do you do the week before, the week after? What do you do with
your release schedule? It’s starting to change the way labels think about this
time period,” he says.

 

With RSD’s
increased influence comes more involvement from major labels, which for some is
a point of contention. A focal point of that criticism is Bruce Springsteen’s Rocky Ground 7-inch. In addition to the Wrecking Ball track is the much beloved
Boss outtake “The Promise.” The live take is ripped from the 2010 DVD The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the
Edge of Town,
and it’s got plenty of critics questioning Columbia Records’
intentions – as well as RSD’s oversight.

 

“Somebody
out there really wants that Springsteen 7-inch,” Levin notes. “There is a different
piece of something for everybody… I don’t think there’s any love or special
care that’s gone into some of those pieces. But at the same time, look at Light
in the Attic’s Lee Hazelwood box set. It’s amazing. It’s just going to be a
beautiful piece. There are so many wonderful things down there that were made
with love. It’s up to the stores to buy accordingly and the customers to buy
accordingly.”

 

A
collection of remixed 311 songs and a one-side-exclusive Katy Perry album don’t
seem to be getting much love from traditionalists either. Colliton, however,
disagrees.

 

“There is
no record release that shouldn’t be available to someone who chooses to buy it
at an independently owned store,” she says firmly. “We’ve gotten just as many
people excited about Katy Perry, Coldplay and Disturbed as we have about some
of the smaller independent label releases. There is no one indie record store.
There are urban oriented, country oriented, jazz oriented, Latin oriented. Any
genre you can think of, there’s an independently owned business that
specializes in it. I get a little worked up when people say something is not
cool enough to be part of RSD. That’s my take on it. I think our list is really
diverse and it covers a lot of areas and a lot of fans. I think that’s great
and that’s the way it should be.”

 

There’s
some dispute about “RSD First” items too. Those are the releases that debut on
RSD but will available two weeks later with no restrictions regarding where
they’re sold, whether it be Amoeba Music or Best Buy or iTunes.

 

“That’s
where the industry started to take a little advantage,” Levin says.

 

What
hasn’t changed for Record Store Day, however, is where labels and shareholders
can’t interfere: Inside the shop. A
benefit of shopping local is personalized service, and there aren’t any rules
against pointing out exclusives or even seizing the opportunity to showcase
their used LPs or new DVDs or extensive comic book section. Record Store Day
does serve as a reminder of the importance of small businesses and the sense of
community they create but, essentially, the point is to generate business –
period.

 

There’s
still a slew of items in keeping with the original romance of RSD. One such
release is JEFF the Brotherhood’s contribution to the Upstairs at United
series. The band and a few friends recorded extended versions of Wicked Lady’s
“I’m a Freak,” Hawkwind’s “Master of the Universe” and S.P.O.C.K.’s “In Space
No One Can Hear You Scream.” Like its counterparts, this third installment in
the series is analog-recorded then cut to 45 RPM at the storied United Record
Pressing plant.

 

“It
was really fun, we just got a bunch of beer and whiskey,” says Jake Orrall, one
half of the brotherly duo.

 

Major
label intrusion aside, the amplified attention on RSD has gained the event more
allies. Co-founder Michael Kurtz counts Regina Spektor and the Foo Fighters, in
addition to better-known participants like the Flaming Lips and Metallica, as
substantial supporters.

 

The
Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood originally planned an online release for
“After it’s Gone,” a song written to raise awareness about a proposed
development close to downtown Athens,
Ga.,
which includes a Wal-Mart. But he and the other musicians involved, like Mike
Mills of R.E.M. and Widespread Panic and fellow Truckers members, seized the
opportunity to simultaneously raise awareness about independent record stores.

 

“Since RSD
was coming up and we wanted to participate and do something, it just kind of
made sense to do a limited edition 45 of that song,” Hood says.

 

At this
stage in RSD, a move like that isn’t uncommon. Kurtz says “90 percent” of
events and releases are initiated by the artists.

 

Among the
more ardent backers this year are Mastodon and Feist, whose exchanges of cover
songs, dubbed “Feistodon,” has fans of both parties buzzing. 

 

“That’s
one of the best examples of how RSD has grown,” says Colliton. “That piece was
put together entirely by the artists. It had nothing to do with us – we didn’t
even know about it until the artists said, ‘We’ve done this piece, we put it
together and we want to release it for you on RSD.’ That, to me – I could tear
up! That’s so exciting to me.

 

“These
artists recognize how important indie record stores are to what they do. You
couldn’t be more different than Feist and Mastodon, yet they both feel the same
way about record stores and they both came together to release this special
piece which you can only get at a record store. It’s pretty much the embodiment
of RSD.”

 

 

***

 

Yesterday in Part 1: A list of all that RSD swag
you can’t live without, plus details of the BLURT-Schoolkids Records Record
Store Day party on Saturday, April 21, featuring 5 live bands. Go here as well
for a profile on Schoolkids (BLURT’s own Stephen Judge recently purchased the
business), or go here for a bird’s-eye view of life in the record bins as seen
by a record store employee.

 

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