April 16 is Record Store Day, the day of the year when people are supposed to celebrate the culture surrounding independent record stores. According to the Record Store Day website, the idea was raised at a gathering of record store owners back in 2007, and ultimately turned into a real thing. The first event took place in 2008, and now it's grown to the point where there are record stores taking part on every continent with the exception of, naturally, Antarctica (but it's next).
Back in 2008, there was a need. The industry was in a serious transition period; Tower Records, one of the last chain record stores, had ceased to exist as a brick-and-mortar entity in the U.S. in 2006, and shoppers were still getting used to that idea. It was clear that the future was going to involve even more downloading and streaming, and a lot fewer physical discs. But while the chain stores were inevitably dying like half a worm in the sun, it still felt as though there was a chance for the indies. The advancing technology doesn't change the fact that music lovers still enjoy leafing and rummaging through box after box of old vinyl. The dollar bin, the local music section, the rare shit behind the counter — we love it all. Back in 2007/08, it felt like the general public needed a reminder or perhaps a wake-up call, and Record Store Day provided that.
Fast-forward to 2016, and it doesn't hold the same excitement. In fact, organizers have scaled it back from last year.
"There are approximately 350 releases this year," RSD co-founder Carrie Colliton said in an e-mail. "That's about 100 fewer than last year, which was intentional. We listened to feedback from stores and scaled appropriately. The list is still very diverse and covers many different genres, which is important because record stores cover many genres, and we think it's important for there to be something for everyone on the list. This year, as last year, nearly 60 percent of the titles on the list are from independent artists, labels and distributors."
Colliton is right about that: There are some great exclusive releases this year (too many to mention, but they can be found at the RSD website). For example, there's a rather tasty four-disc vinyl set of the Grateful Dead's 1977 show at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, that is sure to be popular in these parts.
Similarly, the list of participating stores can be found here, and can be filtered by state or even city. There are 34 stores taking part in Colorado, including six in Denver, three in Boulder, two in Fort Collins, one in Longmont, and so on.
Colliton said that there were over 868,000 individual pieces released on Record Store Day 2015, with an average price of $20. There are about 800,000 this year, and the stores wanted that scale-back.
"Every store decides which titles to order and brings them in from various distribution partners," Colliton said. "That is all done outside of Record Store Day, in the same way the stores buy new releases all year long."
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The scale-back has been necessary; there have been rumblings for a while that it's gotten too big and that substandard product was being pushed on the public, quickly leading to a vibe of apathy. With luck, the event will still thrive and help the indie stores as it originally intended to do. Colliton certainly thinks it will.
"There are about 1,300 participating stores in the U.S., and nearly every one of them says it's the most trafficked day of the year," she said.
Let's hope so. Because the complaints have been rolling in for some time — that the major labels have taken over the effort, that the vinyl pressing plants can't keep up and, perhaps most damning, that it doesn't prove profitable for some stores. You can be sure that there will be keen eyes on it this year, with a feeling that it needs to do well in 2016 in order to keep the stores on board going forward.
Record Store Day 2016 takes place at various locations on Saturday, April 16.