“Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package! Re-evaluate the songs. Double-pack with a photograph, Extra Track (and a tacky badge).”
Tomorrow is Record Store Day and I could not be less excited. Before you participate in Record Store Day, consider the following:
While Record Store Day’s mission statement emphasizes the day’s intention to support independent retail, I’d like to suggest that we consider the event’s very DE-pendent nature, and its major label sponsorship. A quick look at Record Store Day’s website will reveal familiar logos from Warner Brothers, Sony, and Universal, as well as their distributors (ADA, WEA, and RED), not to mention Red Bull. Why would any of these corporations care about independent retail, unless it’s going to make them more money?
It’s also worth considering a bit of history here: this particular group of labels worked with big box stores and large chain retailers in the 1980s and 1990s with the active intent to price out independent music retail where majors had less control. Major labels should have no part in the so-called celebration of independent record stores, and yet, the absurd truth is that they sponsor and control this entire event. Are you interested in releasing a small run of 7” or 12”s on Record Store Day? Better check with the boss. These labels and their funding ultimately decide which projects are ‘approved’ or ‘not approved’ as Record Store Day releases. This isn’t some kind of participatory, inclusive event for just anyone who wants it. All RSD releases must be approved and for some reason, November’s event saw plenty of U2 and Soundgarden limited-run picture discs while plenty of DIY and independent labels and bands were informed that their releases simply didn’t make the cut.
So no, “Record Store Day” and its major-label owners don’t care about independence in the music industry at all. Why would they? The only reason Record Store Day is “celebrated” in independent record shops is simple: these are the only outlets that carry substantial quantities of vinyl anymore. Back to these U2 picture discs and Genesis reissues:
I wonder how many of these major label artists with releases for Record Store Day have been featured by these punk and independent record shops in the past? I wonder how many of these shops have ever featured new records from these artists before? I have a feeling the answer would be depressing. Record Store Day removes anything that is actually special about local independent record stores and works to homogenize these shops with the same records that are guaranteed to sit there until the store closes or they decide to fire-sale them. In other words:
As Record Store Day grows in the amount of releases, it seems to shrink in the amount of releases people actually want. A quick Ebay search will show you how many of these titles are in the hands of re-sellers rather than fans, which as we know from the history of any other collectable means they will eventually become mostly worthless and will end up in landfills (but at least comic books and baseball cards are more recyclable and lighter to ship). I do, however, think a light at the end of the tunnel is worth mentioning:
Record Store Day could be better. We don’t need to burn it all down. But in order for things to change the event needs to first distance itself from the major labels it is currently associated with. It is unclear to me why the event needs any sponsorship in the first place. It is also unclear why this celebration needs so many (or any?) reissues and limited edition releases from major label bands when there is a true plethora of great and exciting independent music being made right now. A day focused on driving people to independent records stores could simply involve bands playing in local stores and other fun ways to encourage people into the shop, to buy up current stock that might have otherwise gone overlooked. This kind of thing would, in the long run, likely help record stores a lot more. Most of these stores might also benefit from a day pushing DVD and CD sales more than record sales at this point if the goal is to truly to help support independent music retail.
I am writing this as a lifelong supporter of independent record stores and independent music. I understand that for some people this day is fun, and in a lot of cases, very lucrative for business owners. But it also seems like a wasteful headache. I urge record and music fans and storeowners to consider that there are a lot of things that are fun and profitable, especially in the short-term, and many of these things have serious long-term negative consequences. I believe Record Store Day is one of those things and will not be participating this year as a fan or as a record label owner.