As you sweaty-palmed vinyl fetishists likely know, Record Store Day is happening again this year on April 21. Working at an independent record store for the past several years, I’ve noticed a distinct shift in what RSD seems to be about and, as such, have had a shifting relationship towards the day. Undeniably, the sales from RSD are an utter pleasure to see (last year, for example, the store I work at broke an all-time sales record within hours), yet the focus on so-called “exclusive” RSD releases has become disputable — if RSD was established to celebrate independent record stores and those who support them, I have one major question that, especially looking at this year’s smattering of exclusive titles, begs to be answered:
What the hell is with all of the nonsensical major releases that are clogging up the racks? I’m not just talking about pointless and expensive Fleetwood Mac reissues, Disturbed box sets, and expensive split singles that are utterly baffling to see in 2012 (Mastodon and Feist? Yeah, like you’re going to listen to that more than once), but also the throwaway nature of these tossed-off products — since people go bananas for limited edition records, we’ve seen gratuitous releases such as last year’s 78RPM Beach Boys single and the hilariously ironic “indie-store-only” release of a Lady Gaga picture disc! I’d like to say it’s just the store I work at, but as a regular patron of at least four record stores in Calgary for many years, I can assure you: record stores have not stayed afloat this past decade by stocking the overpriced detritus of Warner Bros.’ waste bin.
This year has shown major label involvement in RSD growing with further voracity, with even more arbitrarily low-substance, high-demand releases taking up space. I’d argue that it’s only been downhill since the introduction of a second “Black Friday” RSD a few years back, where Warner Bros. and co. released a glutton’s worth of “super limited and exclusive” releases that nobody really gave a shit about. I’m happy that customers were smart enough to not grab last year’s $40 Metallica live 10-inch, but I’m also disappointed that the intriguing potential of RSD has been so perverted by the corporate eye.
This becomes problematic in that it perpetuates the age-old cycle of interesting releases by indie labels being overshadowed by the almighty dollar — or: mall syndrome and the major music chain. There’s a reason the larger chain stores have gone under, and now it’s being repackaged for the public to lap up once again — only this time, it’s “exclusive.” The intentions may be good, but the independent record store is a different beast than HMV. The people who have always supported indie shops are generally smart, selective music enthusiasts who aren’t going to purchase garbage, even if it’s “limited” to a thousand copies. Issuing pointless and overpriced Flogging Molly and Bruno Mars singles isn’t a celebration of the record store: it’s marketing.
After working each RSD, the pessimist in me despairs at the massively inflated prices these exclusive releases go for on eBay, yet the oft-shrouded optimist pines for another release like Thrill Jockey’s Record Storeism, an RSD exclusive that came out three years ago featuring a handmade zine packed full of interviews with notable indie musicians/store clerks/etc. (essentially, a release that was fun and truly celebrated the independent record store, as opposed to being trivial eBay-bait). I won’t deny that Record Store Day brings out a lot of people, but I often wonder why I never see most of these people on any other day — a telling direction for this supposed day of celebration, which is increasingly just becoming another way to market subpar products into the hands of those who don’t want them.