There are those who hate it, and most people are either unaware or somewhere south of ambivalent, but there are a few of us who can’t help but get a little excited for the day that seems to vinyl fans like a genuine national holiday.
This year, I ended up hitting a different spot for #recordstoreday. I grabbed my littlest guy, at his insistence, and headed out about 7:30am. I went by my usual haunt, @Schoolkids records. The line to get into the store, for the 8am opening, was literally around the block. There were all kinds of people in that line. Those hungry for new and exclusive vinyl spanned genders and generations. I quickly let go of thoughts of waiting in a horrendous line of slow-lane browsers with an impatient 3-yr.-old just to peruse the wares. I was doubtful they would have my most wanted item on the list this year, Richard Swift’s Ground Trouble Jaw EP, anyway. So, I drove a few streets up, through the vast, meandering campus outskirts of NC State University, to @NicePriceBooks. Nice Price doesn’t carry quite the vinyl selection of a dedicated record store (although the quantity is probably not that far off), but they have a well-curated selection that speaks well of the tastes of whoever does the purchasing.
We had arrived at our plan B destination a bit early, as it wasn’t opening for over an hour. Did I mention I had a 3-yr.-old with me? There were a scant few people in line at Nice Price. Mainly diehards that probably had some allegiance to that particular merchant. I decided it would be torturous for my little guy to wait in line until the store opened, with nothing but his dad and the cigarette smoke of strangers to entertain him, so we headed off down the street, without a goal in mind. My son ran as I snapped pictures of interesting signs and abandoned buildings. When walking Hillsborough Street, it seems almost as if the university on one side of the street had leached the energy that pulses through it from the businesses on the other side of the street, like a vampire sucks the lifeblood out of its victim. As NC State grows, the businesses around it seem to shrivel until they are nothing but husks.
After some time exploring and taking pictures, and being asked multiple times to “carry me,” we took our place back in line at Nice Price. The line had grown and my first thought after seeing the people queuing was that it was unfortunate that I had left my beard at home. The impatience of my young companion made the still half an hour wait a little more difficult, as he kept voicing his preference to go home. His enthusiasm (or lack thereof) could not match that of the others in line, but it could not dampen it, either. When the store employee came outside to lay out some ground rules for the crowd, he was clearly surprised at the turnout. Apparently, in previous years, there wasn’t much of a crowd at Nice Price, on Record Store Day. It seems the small phenomenon of a dedicated day for record shopping continues to grow.
Once the doors were opened, the line moved slowly as customers browsed over what was probably only about 5′ of shelf space dedicated to new Record Store Day merchandise. The guy behind me didn’t seem to be looking at anything, just watching me, as I browsed, adding to a sense that I needed to look quickly. When we reached the end of the goods, he hadn’t picked up a single item. Though I too had passed most of the merchandise by, I did, to my surprise and delight, find one copy of the Richard Swift EP. Once I had made my pass through the exclusives, I wandered around the rest of the store, picking out a few jazz and indie classics I should have bought on vinyl a long time ago. Here I was slightly rushed, as well, this time by my son. He was crying profusely, having been justifiably chastened by a store employee, after being caught messing around with one of the turntables.
A few people dislike Record Store Day, with very good reasons. It certainly presents a number of problems for artists, the music industry and even the independent music stores it is designed to benefit. At its foundation, it’s a celebration of consumerism, the kind of which I detest at other times of the year that have been co-opted for shopping. Having said that, it is also a show of support for art. As streaming services offer a yet a new layer of abstraction from the art itself, and make music seem so ephemeral, picking up a record adds a feeling that a collection of songs is something tangible. Somehow, the music seems less real when it has no physical element, with barely any effort needed to access it. Steve Albini speaks to enthusiasts who would rather buy vinyl, than have high-quality digital tracks from services like Pono or Tidal, in this interview with Vulture.
“It’s for the same reason,” he says, “that if you had a screen that displayed paintings in your living room, very few serious art enthusiasts would care for such a screen despite the fact that it might show you very high-resolution images of artworks. They want to own a piece of art that is a direct connection to the person who made it.
When I switched from primarily buying digital downloads to primarily streaming digital music, I found myself more drawn to spinning records. I don’t need to go into the satisfaction of physical media. Plenty of others have done that. @ashleyboyerrr put it well in her piece on vinyl vs. digital.
This is authenticity the same way real photos are authentic, making everything convenient and digital does not necessarily mean it’s “better”. Most things in life that are worth something come with effort.
Sometimes, it comes down to the fact that I’m staring at a computer screen all day at work, and I simply don’t want to have to use yet another screen to listen to music. I don’t want to be completely tethered to devices all day, and escaping from that, just for a bit, even though it can be hard, can also be very refreshing.
It may have its problems, but I don’t see Record Store Day going anywhere, anytime soon. The gimmicky nature of the event doesn’t detract from the fact that is getting people excited about interacting with music in a way that is in danger of dying out. With the increasing divide between the digital and analog world, people need respite from computers now more than ever. They need art to transcend beyond the confines of a tiny device you put in your pocket.