What’s The Spin With Record Store Day?

If you’re a collector, you’ve probably heard it before. Record Store Day is problematic, a despicable event standing in mockery of all things good in the world of record collecting. The trivial releases, many of which have little need to be repressed, stuff the shelves of your record stores for months after. The rampant speculation on the limited-edition releases represents much of what’s wrong with vinyl record collecting. And the little guys, the up-and-coming musicians who must wait months at the back of the record pressing plant queue full of said needless releases, just to get their first EP pressed.

Many of these negative sentiments have some truth to them, though when looking at the semiannual event more closely, there appears to be more to it. When you start talking to the record store owners, pressing plants and labels involved, a different picture begins to emerge, one in which RSD is a catalyst to the vinyl resurgence. One that helps businesses in the industry bring in a consistent stream of revenue to help keep them afloat. Is Record Store Day, then, a necessary evil? One that we should appreciate in some ways, despite the aforementioned grievances?

I spoke to record store owners, collectors, a pressing plant and label owner, and the foremost cataloger of music in the world Diognes_The_Fox to get a better picture on the good and bad of Record Store Day.

Record Shops

There is little question amongst owners that RSD provides guaranteed foot traffic. All also agreed on one thing. Shops have to take advantage of this traffic by making RSD their own.

Line outside of Jackpot Records on Record Store Day April 2018

Line outside of Jackpot Records, RSD 2018

606 Records, a Chicago record shop focused on underground music, smaller independent labels, local talent and rare vinyl, hosted an all-day party with giveaways and free beer along with a day-long DJ set by Chicago record label heads in April 2018. They collaborated with neighbors Thalia Hall and the Tack Room to promote an RSD beer provided by Dogfish Head. Sweat Records in Miami will be running sales on all used vinyl for Record Store Day’s Black Friday this week. Jackpot Records in Portland provides coffee and doughnuts in line and has local DJs spinning vinyl all day. Most shops have lines that snake through their shelves, so eager buyers have a chance to look at non-RSD inventory as well. This is all designed to showcase local flavor and convert casual RSD customers into loyal collectors.

Record Store Day 2018 at 606 Records in Chicago

606 Records, RSD 2018

All in all, combining smart promotional strategies with foot traffic can lead to impressive results. The former owner of TKO Records spoke of a cash injection that allowed him to move his shop from Fountain Valley to Huntington Beach, CA in 2013. This wouldn’t have been possible without a loan or other means of funding, had RSD not buoyed his finances.

With the good, there is some bad. There were rumblings of caution regarding the event. Though improving, uneven distribution of releases has been a thorn in the side of many shops in recent years. A niche shop that seems perfect for a certain release may receive none, with bigger more general shops getting many. When the general shop struggles to bring in the niche clientele for those releases, they may sit on shelves for longer than necessary. It’s most often the smaller shops that struggle with this. With a limited number of releases, one can assume the shops placing bigger orders often get preference. It’s a small complaint, but does point to an opportunity for improvement.

Most shops I spoke to talked of being cautious with what releases to order. Drew, the co-owner of 606 Records, talked about the sheer number of releases available for order. There are 157 for the 2018 Record Store Day Black Friday alone. It can be overwhelming, and savvy shop owners must cut through the noise and balance that with what they think will sell. This can be challenging to say the least.

Taylor Swift Red

RSD always brings out people that differ from the typical record shop clientele. For instance, the crystal-clear 2 x LP of Taylor Swift’s Red, despite not being pressed on red vinyl, is a release of 4,000 and will likely provide significant pull.

The former owner of TKO said he asked his staff which release most people requested at the end of each Record Store Day. They would have a good laugh, because it was never something they could have expected.

For local shops that are the vinyl industry’s backbone, Record Store Day is a strong promotional tool. However, there’s a need to balance what is ordered and make the event unique. Record shops are gems because they aren’t a big-box retailer – each and every one has character. Making this character shine during RSD by showcasing local character undoubtedly wins over local collectors.

Pressing Plants

cascade record pressing plant in Portland, OR

Cascade Record Pressing Plant

I was able to get in touch with Cascade Record Pressing owner Mark Rainey, located just outside of Portland, OR. We’ve visited them before to see how vinyl records are made and know their dedication to quality and guiding principles put them a level above most pressing plants. But how do they feel about Record Store Day?

With RSD celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2018, Mark believes the event is a strong influence for the vinyl industry that won’t be going away anytime soon. There’s a need to accept this and make the most out of RSD orders. However, part of why Mark decided to start a plant was to offer an option to bands and labels that felt displaced by big industry presences like RSD and major labels. They specialize in taking a hands-on approach with small, underground musicians. Because of this, no one in their queue is getting bumped for a big order with a hard deadline.

As an avid RSD consumer, he’s seen poor pressings that could’ve been caused by inattention to detail in the pressing stage. Sleeving hot records can result in warping. Not having adequate space to store records can result in compromised quality as well. These are the downsides of having tens of thousands of records released on the same day. Those that put in the orders late scramble to find a pressing plant that can get the job done, and quality may suffer as a result.

Vinyl Records cooling

Proper storing of vinyl records, Cascade

Mark also founded a label, TKO Records, but he’s sitting out of the RSD release lists this year. He had historically released limited-edition records that were not official RSD releases. He’d distribute them to shops he knew would have interested collectors, and they would always sell out. When he went official with a release and pressed more to meet speculative demand, he found that some were distributed to shops well outside their demographic. For the first time, not all of the copies sold. This is a limited view, and I’m sure other labels have different experiences, but it’s a cautionary tale nonetheless.

Cascade Pressing Plant typically presses RSD releases, though not as many as some of the bigger US plants. They refuse to bump anyone from the queue, and they won’t accept a job they don’t believe can be completed to their standards given the time constraints. I was surprised to learn that often Mark doesn’t know an order is connected to Record Store Day. Only when browsing the list of releases do they discover some of their work was connected to the event. That’s a good thing, since there is business being generated without causing an extra headache for their plant. They’ve also positioned themselves as a facility that isn’t going to prioritize these orders over smaller ones, which endears them to many underground musicians. It’s a win-win.

Collectors

I’m a record collector, and admittedly Record Store Day was one of the events that got me interested in the hobby. I remember standing in cold lines outside of Chicago record shops with my friends. I remember finding the white Ready To Die release at Saki Records. But I also now cherish The Dirty Projectors’ excellent Rise Above I found in the line that snaked through Saki’s shelves. It was an album I hadn’t even considered buying before, and it wasn’t an RSD release, but I fell in love with the record all over again on vinyl. I’ve listened to that record much more than the Ready To Die release I was searching for.

I also know what it’s like to search the list and see very little that interests me out of hundreds of album. It’s a feeling shared by fellow collectors. Diognes_The_Fox summed up this feeling perfectly, “As far as new titles go, it’s been more miss than hit for me, with a lot of releases seeming like they’re based on sheer speculation rather than actual quantifiable demand.” Many of the releases seem safe, even unnecessary.

Talking Heads - Remain In Light

Do collectors need Remain In Light repressed on vinyl for the 20th+ time? The most recent release, in 2013, has 97 copies for sale starting at under $20 on Discogs. It will be pressed in a release of 5,500 on Black Friday Record Store Day 2018.

I agree with him that “the focus should actually involve some risk on putting out genuinely interesting content…curating and marketing competitively interesting material rather than relying on existing franchised material to prop up a quick sale.” Seeing more daring releases, ones that feature new musicians or music that you can’t currently find on the shelf would, certainly increase the appeal for a lot of collectors. There’s so much good music out there just waiting to be released on vinyl.

All this considered, my humble opinion is that Record Store Day is a net-positive for the industry, albeit with room for improvement. RSD’s undeniable ability to keep pressing plants churning and get customers in record stores has helped vinyl culture rebound, despite the convenience of digital formats in the 21st century. Like any market, there is a necessary search for new customers. It’s no secret that vinyl collectors are an aging demographic, with youth interest in the format dangerously low.

Which brings me to an anecdote shared by Mark from his days owning the TKO record shop. He relayed a story about the 2014 RSD release of One Direction’s Midnight Memories. The day of the event he had, for the first time ever, teenage girls calling into the shop and waiting in line to get in.

You can see the 2018 Black Friday Record Store Day Releases here.

As they are added to the Database, the Black Friday Record Store Day releases can be viewed at a central location on Discogs. Add them to your Wantlist, Collection, Edit Submissions, and Shop for ones you might have missed all in one place.

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