On Saturday, 18th April 2015, a few local stores will take part in World Record Store Day. Originally started in America in 2007, and described by Universal Music Sales Manager, Marc Fayd’herbe, as “the single best thing that has ever happened for Independent record shops”, Record Store Day was devised to celebrate our very unique culture and to encourage the public to recognise, and support, an industry which was refusing to surrender to an indifferent, technology-obsessed world.
Some of the participating stores in the Northern Ireland are Cooldiscs in Derry, Armagh Music, and ourselves, Sick Records, Belfast. We will all have a selection of the new releases, exclusively available on the day, and we each plan a day of “live” in-store performances by local artists and DJs.
Traditionally, Record Store Day is marked with the issue of exclusive vinyl and CD releases, in-store performances and other promotional activities aimed at highlighting, not only, Independent stores but also Independent artists and Independent labels.
However, in 2015, some of those same smaller labels and artists have hit back at Record Store Day, accusing the major labels of hi-jacking the event for their own means and being the single reason for the back-log at vinyl pressing plants and the delays in the release of new material for the rest of the year.
So, is Record Store Day still a vital, cultural event, or has it ‘lost it’s way’ and been corrupted by commerce and the dominance of the major label distributors ?
It’s important to note some important facts before we jump in to this argument. In 1982 there were more than 5,500 Independent record shops in the UK. By 2009 that had shrunk to 268 and despite new ventures, such as Sick Records, the future remains uncertain, reflected in the closure of Acorn Music in Yeovil on the 4th April, 2015, after 41 years of trading.
Vinyl sales famously passed one million units in 2014 for the first time since 1996, but that still only represents less than 3% of total music sales in the UK (vinyl represents less than 4% total music sales in America). The biggest selling vinyl album in the UK in 2014 was The Endless River by Pink Floyd, selling just over 6,000 units. Ed Sheeran’s ‘X’ was downloaded 471,194 times in the same year. In 1983, Duran Duran went straight into the UK singles chart at number 1 with over 220,000 sales of “Is There Something I Should Know”.
Pulp achieved the same feat in 1995 with just 28,000 sales of “Common People”. These are all signs of a very obvious downturn in the sales of physical media in the digital age. So why, and how, do ‘physical’ stores continue to exist ?
In 2015, Independent record shops exist because of an owner’s enthusiasm for, and love of, music. That seems simplistic but the above facts show that we continue to work in a niche market. High Street rents are prohibitive and the mark-ups on products are low, meaning that owners have to be creative to ensure their store’s survival. One of the newest stores in the UK is Marrs Plectrum Records in Peterborough. It is run by Matthew Hawton from a shed in his back garden and it’s opening hours are determined by his family’s activities. Pie And Vinyl, in Southsea, opened in 2013 and combines new vinyl releases with quality ‘comfort food’ in a new model of ‘music café’, one venture supporting the other, successfully demonstrated in Mono Café Bar / Monorail Music in Glasgow.
Record Store Day,…. Is it important ?
As an event, I don’t think Record Store Day’s importance in the calendar of an Independent Record Store can be exaggerated. It was set up to provide a “shot in the arm” for stores who struggle through the leaner times of the year, and by ‘leaner times’, I mean January – February and the summer months. Like many I could take issue with the glut of ‘live’ recordings on this year’s list, the need for seven re-issues of Bruce Springsteen albums which can be sourced in good second-hand shops for less than a tenner or some of the ‘inventive’ prices, but each customer can make a choice to buy or not.
The most negative aspects of Record Store Day are the limited availability of some of the more desirable titles leading to an inevitable deluge of these appearing on E-bay, sometimes within a few minutes of the stores opening, for vastly inflated prices. I’ll be honest. I don’t know of any way to stop this other than to press more of each individual title.
Is Record Store Day killing small labels ?
I have to say that faced with the choice of seeing a re-mastered copy of Darkness On The Edge Of Town on the shelves on Record Store Day or knowing that the new Documenta Drone Pop album is already at the printers and will be for sale in Sick Records before the end of the summer,…. I’ll take the latter every time. This issue highlights two important points. First that we have too few good, affordable pressing plants in the UK and, second, that the larger labels are monopolising these facilities in the run up to Record Store Day. It’s safe to say that an increase in vinyl pressing plants would ease the congestion but start-up costs are astronomical and I don’t foresee much change in that situation anytime soon.
I think that a cap on the number of releases for next year would be a good idea. It might force the larger companies to prioritise their releases, weeding out those deemed needless.
So what are the most anticipated releases of 2015 ?
For me, the following are some of those releases which are either long overdue or particularly interesting because of the effort evident in the quality of the packaging.
Graeme Miller & Steve Shill – The Moomins Theme (comes in two different custom-made, hand-stitched, fuzzy felt sleeves)
The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan (first time ever on vinyl and comes with lenticular sleeve)
Amon Tobin – Dark Jovian (2 X 12” with etched vinyl housed in a white branded rubber wheel and presented in a clear Perspex box)
Red House Painters – 6 X LP Boxset (Long out of print albums on bronze vinyl in a presentation box)
Biffy Clyro – Puzzle (First time on vinyl)
Carcass /Entombed / Cathedral / Confessor – Gods Of Grind (Re-issued and expanded. Neon yellow vinyl)
Dr. Strangely Strange – Kip Of The Serenes (Long out of print late 60s gem from Dublin legends)
Brian Eno – My Squelchy Life (Legendary ‘lost’ album from 1991. First time ever on vinyl)
John Grant & The Philharmonic Orchestra – Live (Finally, a vinyl issue of one of the best albums of 2014)
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Midnight Moses / Jumpin’ Jack Flash (Re-issue of legendary 7” which changes hands for up to £200)
Happy Record Store Day, Everybody. And remember,…. Support your local Independent Record Store !
For a complete list of Record Store Day releases check here!