Above: RSD 2013 Ambassador Jack White doth proclaimeth it still rocks, dude.
BY JHONI JACKSON
[Ed. Note: the story below was originally published at BLURT last year to mark the 5th annual – anniversary – of Record Store Day. It happens this year tomorrow, April 20, at indie shops all across the land, and if you don’t know about it already, well… you probably aren’t even reading this right now. We will be participating in RSD with our sister business, Schoolkids Records of Raleigh, NC, for the usual dash-for-swag routine, not to mention co-hosting an afternoon’s worth of live performances, including mighty Sub Pop punks Metz, (read our interview with the band here), erstwhile Hobex/Dillon Fence mainman Greg Humphreys, and singer/songwriters Aoife O’Donovan, Caroline Mamoulides and Laura Cortese. At any rate, the sentiments expressed in our 2012 tribute still hold, so, without further adieu… watch RSD Ambassador Jack White’s testimonial, and then go out and support your local record store! –Fred Mills]
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 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. [Ed note: this year, 2013, the Lips are releasing a limited 4-LP colored vinyl box of their notorious album Zaireeka.]
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. [Ed. note: in 2013, some are questioning the wisdom of a super-limited Dave Matthews vinyl box and a reissue of, uh, Blind Melon’s debut album… this is the “cool” issue that may be eternal, of course.] 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 –
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. [Ed. note: this year, 2013, you can score Upstairs at United titles from the Smoke Fairies and Willy Mason/Brendan Benson.]
“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 for 2012 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.”