Friday, April 15, 2016

Why I'm Not Bothering with Record Store Day This Year

First of all, I want to make it clear that I'm not writing this because I want everyone to boycott Record Store Day. I'm all for supporting independent record shops, and queuing up for those special RSD releases is as good a way as any to do that; even if tomorrow morning is the only time you visit your local store all year, I guess it's better than nothing at all. Indeed, this quote from Ashli Todd (co-owner of Spillers Records, the shop where I buy most of my CDs) makes it clear that businesses like hers really need people to turn out for Record Store Day in particular:

"There are some great releases [on Record Store Day], but you have to sell everything, as the stock is non-returnable, and getting that right over 550 releases is a huge pressure. Some shops still haven't broken even from last year's event."
- From this Times article (you have to subscribe to read the whole thing, sadly)

So it certainly isn't my aim to persuade you to give Record Store Day a miss this year. By all means, get up at the crack of dawn and fill your boots with limited edition vinyl - just know that I'll be tucked up in bed, not caring that you beat me to a discful of Interpol remixes or a repressing of Regina Spektor's third album.

I've bought a fair few bits and pieces on Record Store Days past. There was the Leonard Cohen live EP; there was the limited edition Tindersticks single; there was the Mogwai / Fuck Buttons split 7". I could go on. But for all the money I've splurged on RSD releases, I could count the total number of times I've actually played those records on one pale hand. In fact, all of the discs mentioned above are currently in the possession of my ex-girlfriend; I didn't even bother to take them with me when I moved out.

Pictured above: The Crimea's Square Moon. This is the only piece of vinyl I actually bothered to keep in the wake of that break-up, largely because my name is among the thank-yous listed in the accompanying booklet.

So why did I bother to buy those records in the first place? I've never been a big vinyl advocate; I find it inconvenient, over-expensive, and irritatingly fragile. CDs have always been my format of choice, so why did I invest in all those records that - cards on the table - I probably knew I wouldn't play?

Two reasons. Firstly, I suppose I was lured in by the novelty of scarcity; it's always nice to own a special, rare piece of your favourite artist, and I supposed those limited pressings appealed to the same part of me that lurks around after gigs in the hope that he'll get his hands on one of the band's setlists. Secondly...well, I think I used to feel obliged, on that day of days, to prove that I was serious about supporting my local retailer and keeping the independent record store alive. Record Store Day bills itself as "a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture" of the indie record shop, but to the consumer, the event can seem almost like a challenge: 'If you care about real records in real record shops, then today's the day to put your money where your mouth is and show some solidarity!'

That's how it seemed when I was a little younger, anyway. One particularly cringeworthy Record Store Day - 2011, I think it was - found me entering Spillers quite late in the afternoon, not long before closing time. Though I had been out of town for most of the day, I still wanted to show my support, and so in I traipsed to find out what the morning's throng had left behind. After enquiring about several releases that had already sold out, I decided to purchase a copy of The Killing Moon by Echo & The Bunnymen  on 7" vinyl. There wasn't anything particularly special about that single - I suppose it must have a been a limited edition reissue or somesuch - but in spite of both this and the fact that I already had Ocean Rain on CD, meaning that I could listen to The Killing Moon whenever I pleased, I stumped up the cash and left the store with a record I neither needed nor particularly wanted. And why? Just so I could say that I'd taken part and done my bit for the cause.

Of course, I would have preferred to do my bit by buying CDs (like I normally do), but unfortunately for me, Record Store Day doesn't really seem recognise the robust, convenient compact disc as a legitimate musical format. I suppose they think that old-fashioned record stores should be about old-fashioned records. Luckily, though, Spillers - and many other excellent shops throughout the UK, including Love Music in Glasgow and Rise in Bristol - are more than happy to supply me with a steady stream of CDs, and I've never once felt judged by the people behind those counters for preferring CDs to vinyl.

And so, instead of joining the RSD queue tomorrow, I'll continue to support my local record store in the way I always do: by dropping in every two or three weeks and picking up some CDs that I actually want. I know that a lot of people buy vinyl for non-musical reasons, and that's fine: if you want to drop several tenners on one of those brightly-coloured records and get it framed or whatever, then you go nuts. You'll certainly be making better use of your Record Store Day purchase than I did of that Mogwai / Fuck Buttons split.

Personally, though, I don't want to spend money on music unless I'm going to listen to it, and I've outgrown the notion that I'm letting my local shop down by staying home on the third Saturday in April. I wish Spillers and all the other shops a very prosperous Record Store Day, and while I shan't be in the queue tomorrow, please rest assured that my next visit won't be far away. 

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