Record Store Day 2017–has it outlived its usefulness?

Record Store Day started as a special day for people to visit their record stores and celebrate the independents who rely on our business.  It provides a good boost in revenue to the stores, and a boost in morale to those who have participated.

It is the Black Friday/feeding frenzy mentality that has ruined it.

The last time I participated was two years ago.  The “experience” dealt with standing in line before we were even allowed into the store.  (Really?)  Then, being directed single-file through the store, past all of the bins containing the Record Store Day exclusive titles.  (Seriously?)  You dare not step out of line, for fear of losing out on some rarity.  The checkout line started right at the cash register…then snaked its way towards the rear of the store, then returned to the front.  And of course, absolutely no returns, once you’ve checked out.

Forget browsing the used bins, or the bins of non-RSD releases.  Packed like sardines in the store, there was no way to easily browse without getting bumped into or dirty looks thrown your way.  I quit after one row of bins.

I can’t blame the stores.  Who I do blame are the record companies.  Having a dozen or so exclusive titles made it fun.  This year’s list shows nearly five hundred titles.  And those titles underscore the massive problem that RSD has become.  Take a look.  Demonstrate to me where most of these are not “bottom scrapings.”  Find a way to throw a famous artist’s or band’s name onto a vinyl, and the labels will do it.  We have a few reissues of lesser titles or hits packages.  There are some live gigs, sourced from unknown places like radio broadcasts.  Outtakes and demos.  Even a frickin’ Africa-shaped picture disc from Toto.  Yes, seriously.

Translation?  Classic money grab.

And the genres on the list are not encouraging.  Disliking much (but not all) of the stale late 60s and 70s classic rock as I do, and not caring for a lot of the bitter alt-rock out there, that does not leave much at all for anyone else.  Not all record store fans buy such a narrow focus of music!  For jazz titles, we have some other long-lost Bill Evans title that, like the last “long-lost” Bill Evans release, could have remained unreleased.  (I bought the digital high-res version and rarely play it.)  And another Jaco LP of some kind…yeah, good, Jaco sells, he’s a tragic figure, whatever.  Classical?  Unless it’s buried in a soundtrack album, you won’t find a single title here.  The same with anything outside the narrow confines of what the labels seem to think a typical record store shopper is.  For someone without musical tunnelvision as myself, RSD really serves no purpose.

Pricing is another issue.  Sure, the store offered a nice discount for the titles, but the one 45 RPM single I was somewhat interested in was priced at nine dollars.  I don’t care how “limited edition” it is, nine bucks ain’t happening.   Shame on the label for gouging.  It is no secret that you can easily go online a few months later once the hype has died down, and find many of these titles at normal prices, and readily available.

What I also don’t understand is why we need 500 more titles on vinyl.  There are already hundreds on my want list in brand new 180 gram pressings that I will never have the money to afford, or time to listen to.  Why not just beef up stock on what is already in circulation, and offer a discount on it?  If I knew I could get 15-20% off on some well-made Mobile Fidelity or Analogue Productions titles, I would be there, picking up all I could.  And consider this–given the lack of pressing plant capacity at the present time, devoting all of these resources to 500 marginal titles just takes away resources from the titles we really are after.

I considered myself “done” after my last RSD experience.  Yet the onslaught continues.  Is there a solution?  What I believe will happen is that people are going to burn out from the barrage of truly marginal titles being released each year (I think this year’s list is the worst of any I have seen), and the price tag that goes with them.  It will all implode on itself as stores discover a lot of it doesn’t sell.  Shoppers are going to reach a breaking point.  Unsold inventory hurts the bottom line.

Record Store Day really needs to return to its roots–give people a day to support and celebrate these great independent dealers.  Only this time, don’t invite the record labels to participate.