Before you go all middle-finger-in-the-air thinking that a day celebrating the tactile medium of vinyl recordings is a way to stick it to digital music, remember that the companies that make records are the same ones that churn out digital downloads to iTunes.
Since its inaugural celebration in 2008, the third Saturday in April—known as National Record Store Day—is more a way to keep vinyl relevant rather than storm the bastille that protects digital music. It accomplishes this important goal with coordinated releases of limited edition packaging, first-issue and reissue vinyl, and any number of store-specific events like live performances and record signings. This year's event promises to be the biggest yet—and not a moment too soon.
Twenty years ago, when the compact disc came out, music manufacturers largely abandoned those black, round, grooved things that needed to be flipped roughly every 15 to 20 minutes, no matter how great they sounded.
But today, vinyl is back. Record stores are expanding, turntable manufactures are on the rise, and furniture for record players and record storage is sold at places like Urban Outfitters. Further proof that when kids grow up and start running companies, designing products and becoming consumers, there's one thing that always comes with them—nostalgia. Well, that and spending power.
"It was started six years ago by three coalitions and a couple other people who ran small chains," explained Michael Bunnell, owner of The Record Exchange in Boise, Idaho, and executive director of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores. "At the time there was a lot of bad press about record stores closing because of all the digital music. So we thought we should have a day where we celebrate record store culture and maybe we could get record labels to produce special vinyl to support us."
Bunnell explained that the resulting Record Store Day has been a coordinated effort, with a centralized marketing hub for the different record labels, bringing together stores, labels and consumers (recordstoreday.com). It also has inspired music labels to bring back music.
"Each label goes into their vaults or tries to get new releases," said Bunnell. "We don't control it, but we try to give them advice on what we think will succeed."
But, despite Metallica playing at Rasputin Music in San Francisco for the first Record Store Day, the "holiday" was not an instant success. "The first year we had 17 releases, or something like that, and just 100 to 200 stores were involved," said Bunnell. "This year, there are 420 releases and 1,000 stores participating internationally," he continued. "It's a big, big deal, celebrated all through Europe, Japan and Australia. The event has grown so much that the labels don't quite understand. They're still making 500 copies of something, but getting 3,000 orders."
The event has even expanded to a second Black Friday Record Store Day after Thanksgiving. According to Bunnell, expanding Record Store Day helps ensure that record store culture will stick around for a long time to come.
"These places in each of these communities are cultural touchstones where people can share a passion for the art form," said Bunnell. "They've been an important thing in our country for years. If people love these special places, then we need to support them, and not just one day a year. Then [record stores] can supply not only these goods but the atmosphere."