April 20 is Record Store Day, and it’s a sad reflection on our culture that we even need Record Store Day. Yes, I know that I’ll be called an old-school dinosaur and should accept that people are buying music online when they are not stealing it. Or they are streaming it where the subscription services feel that for $4.99 a month you can have a million songs, as someone has valued that your annual paid recorded music consumption should be between FREE and $60 a year, and that’s pathetic.
As a society that drifts further into less social skills, with activism sadly becoming “online petitions” and “pictures of a cause as a Facebook or Twitter avatar,” the indie record store has fallen victim to a potentially horrendous fate, and Record Store Day aims to stave that off.
It’s not the record stores’ fault that people stopped buying CDs. It’s the labels that caused that years back, they are the ones who made discs an $18.98 list price although it cost them half of what it cost to produce vinyl or cassette. And that price was even more than Hollywood was charging for movies on DVD!
It’s the labels who not only gave discounts to the big chains, but also gave them exclusive content to drive people away from the independent into the big box stores. I mean, why buy a CD at the little guy for $12 or $13 when you could go to the big box store and get that same album for $9.99 with added tracks?
But something happened along the way, as some of the big stores closed and those that didn’t would heavily promote and sell the gadgets that made their customers stop buying the physical music product there.
But miraculously, kids started to listen to vinyl again, and vinyl sales grew. Artists got on board and there’s been a resurgence. Record Store Day went from a few releases to hundreds, and the stores are packed. We can only hope that it conditions people to visit the stores more than just on this special day.
The beauty of record stores is that they are all different; different selection, different staff, different music playing in the store, with each experience being unique and diverse. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard something at a record store and bought it because of that, or been able to find a gem in a used bin that had been just placed.
There used to be a record store in every suburban downtown, where kids would hang after school and rummage through the bins while gazing up at the displays and posters. Some would form bands dreaming that someday their poster would hang on the wall. You couldn’t walk a block in Greenwich Village without seeing a record store, but sadly, like most of the suburban ones, the Village ones are closing one by one. It’s not all due to the decline in music sales, because even in record-buying heydays these places couldn’t support rents of $20,000 a month. So blame the landlords and the town planning boards, and hopefully you are enjoying yet another bank or chain drug store in your town or in the Village, as they are the only ones who can afford the rent there.
It’s not only good karma to support record shops, but it’s important culturally, socially and economically, too. Spend a few hours on April 20 visiting independent record stores and you will not be disappointed.
Rich Russo is host of the long-running freeform radio program Anything Anything that airs on 105.5 WDHA and 107.1 The Peak, as well as an avid record collector with over 100,000 pieces of music. He’ll be DJing at Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ, from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Record Store Day, April 20.