With the closure of numerous HMV stores up and down the country and the rise in downloading content amongst consumers, it is growing more and more important for independent businesses to offer unique experiences to their customers. This is so that they can tempt people away from their online competitors and back into stores. An example of a unique experience offered by record stores in this manner is Record Store Day, a hugely successful event spread globally amongst small independent stores.
Founded in 2007 as a way to celebrate music and record stores, it is an annual event, offering a wide range of activities and limited edition releases exclusive to participating stores. Within the event’s relatively short history, these exclusives have included those released by established artists such as David Bowie, Blur, and Arcade Fire to name but a few.
On top of this, the event has also been host to live performances by legendary bands and musicians, including Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and The Smashing Pumpkins. It is clear from this overwhelming support that Record Store Day is a privileged event, enjoyed by the musicians as much as by the fans that attend.
The event originally began as the brainchild of one man, Chris Brown, the head of Marketing at Bull Moose Records. Since its humble beginnings years ago in an independent record store in Maine, the event’s expanded significantly, eventually growing into the globally recognized celebration of both music and independent stores that we have today. In an interview with Amoeba back in 2011 Chris Brown expressed shock at this success, stating that he ‘never dreamed that [he] would end up with 1500 stores [participating] in 21 countries’.
This year, there are five independent record stores alone taking part in the Manchester area, including Eastern Bloc in the Northern Quarter, Kingbee Records in Chorlton, and Piccadilly Records positioned only a 2-minute walk away from Piccadilly Gardens. All of these are shining examples of independents that go the extra mile, with staff inside each being well informed as well as passionate in their work. Considering that many areas in the UK suffer from a lack of independent record stores, it would be foolish not to attend at least one of the above on the day of the event.
In previous years, all of the above have celebrated Record Store Day in their own unique ways, taking responsibility with others in trying to raise enthusiasm for the physical ownership of music. Bearing in mind that in 2012 record sales increased for the fifth consecutive year in the UK, it can be suggested that they have succeeded as well in this difficult task, these figures displaying the growing strength of a medium long thought to be in decline.
In order to elaborate on this statistical increase, I asked Martin Evans from Piccadilly Records what he believed caused the recent rise in record sales. This is what he had to say, ‘I think it is probably a reaction to the novelty of mp3s wearing off…the more people use them the more the shortcomings become known.’ He later went on to outline these shortcomings specifically, labelling the absence of lyric sheets, album artwork, as well as the corruptible nature of digital files as key factors in why people have reverted back to vinyl.
As stated above by Martin, this increase in record sales can largely be attributed to the preference of individuals’. Though the tireless work of independent stores like Piccadilly Records should also not go unnoticed in explaining the cause of this increase. This is because record stores are crucial in creating a sense of community surrounding the purchasing of music, and also in developing a real enthusiasm for physical content.
One of the ways that Piccadilly Records in particular has achieved this is by hosting other events. These events including signings by the likes of Smiths’ legend Johnny Marr and solo artist Richard Hawley, amongst others. Though, perhaps most significant of all, in their development of this community, is their use of Twitter and other social media, in order to keep a constant dialogue between them and their customers. This is demonstrated by their 2012 search for record of the year, as well by their hosting of an album listening party for Sigur Rós’s sixth studio album, ‘Valtari’, also on Twitter. Both of these events used social media in order to communicate with their followers and also to discuss the merits of specific albums, the former event in particular asking for the customer’s opinions on what releases they thought to be the best of 2012 and why. It is features like this that have put them a step ahead of competitors like HMV and Fopp in terms of customer service.
In the digital age many may consider it an affectation to go out of your way to a record store to buy music, especially when it is often easier to locate and purchase online; but why should this matter? Music taste is often used as an expression of who we are as individuals, whether we like it or not, so why shouldn’t the way we access music bear a similar importance to us? Though it may seem superficial to many this perhaps best explains why Record Store Day exists, in order to cater for those who still want to be a part of this community or experience the excitement of visiting a record store.
At a time when a large number of people have become dependent on downloads, it is reassuring that events like this still exist in order to raise excitement for physical releases. This is because downloading, in general, can often be guilty of taking away from the overall experience of shopping for music, primarily due to its impersonal nature. Let’s face it; the clinical succession of button clicks and pearl-white web displays that are associated with the process of downloading will never be as memorable, or half as attractive, as hours spent in a record store surrounded by album artwork and posters of your favourite musicians.
In order to expand on this point one only has to ask people as to their experiences of buying music and it’s impact on them as individuals. Whereas many will still be able tell you their experiences of buying an album many years ago in a store, even the best storyteller might struggle or misremember an experience of downloading a new album onto their iTunes library; it’s often that forgettable. This inconsequence can be best explained by a shortage of emotional investment on the behalf of the customer in the latter method, the process of obtaining downloads void of that untraceable feeling present when perusing stacks of vinyl.
To get a better understanding of this, I also asked a handful of music fans attending this year’s event for their thoughts on what they believe makes a record store so alluring. This is what they had to say; Jess, 19 from Greater Manchester, believes that record stores are superior due to their unique aesthetic, ‘I prefer shopping for music in shops, because you actually get a feel for what you’re buying, you have a physical copy in your hands and are surrounded by album artwork.’ Many of the other individuals I spoke to echoed this point, highlighting again the importance of aesthetic in choosing where to shop. One person, in particular, who believed this, was adamant in their response, stating that ‘digital files would never have the same appeal [to them] as records or physical releases.’
There was also another common explanation I received as to why people decided to shop in record stores however, as opposed to online. Speaking to a small group of students from Manchester Metropolitan University, they made it clear that the existence of a high standard of customer support was also a deciding factor in whether they chose to shop online or in stores; ‘I like going into a record store and coming out with albums recommended to me on the spot, by people who are obviously knowledgeable about what they’re selling’. This system of recommendations referenced is something inevitably tied into the experience of shopping at an independent store, the staff themselves putting a lot of time and effort into personalizing their service for the benefit of the customer.
From the above responses, we can surmise that many still prefer the traditional approach to obtaining music. But if you are in need of further convincing in order to attend your local store on the day of the event, here’s some of the activities taking place: there will be live music, DJs, a pop-up Tim Peaks diner in store at Piccadilly Records, and plenty of other significant surprises subject to the participating store. As if this was not reason enough to attend, as well as this, Record Store Day also offers plenty of desirable exclusives, labels issuing limited editions of classic LPs & singles not available through iTunes or other downloading sites. Details of events and a list of this year’s exclusive releases can be viewed in full online at RecordStoreDay.co.uk.
If you are planning on attending however, you should get there early. The event times vary between different stores and last year’s occasion drew record crowds, this year promising to be no different. In fact, when asked, Martin had this advice for those attending for the first time, ‘bring food and drink, because for the most part, there is a lot of waiting involved. On average last year, it was four to four and a half hours, and that was in spite of the fact we were serving at top speed and everyone was in.’
You should not let the prospect of this wait deter you however; he later went on to acknowledge the variety in the releases, and also suggested that there would be ‘something for everybody’. Whether it is one of this year’s high profile releases from David Bowie that you want or a release from GZA, or Grizzly Bear, this event has something for you. On Record Store Day stocks are limited however, and after they’re gone there will be no buying them except through eBay or other auction sites online. In other words, to ensure you get the release you want, you should try to beat the crowd and be ahead of schedule.
Record Store Day is a great event and the cause it represents is noble enough, protecting the tradition of vinyl and CD long upheld by DJs and avid music fans. If you too are concerned about supporting your local independent, I advise you attend. It is an amazing celebration of music, as well as of the passionate figures that make shopping offline so unique. With some releases having only 500 copies produced, you should act quickly on the day in order to avoid disappointment.