It would appear that this year’s record store day has ignited a few concerns from labels, distributors and shops alike.
Mostly, record shops are of the mind that, although Record Store Day is a great idea and is indeed raising the awareness and support of independent music retail, however labels and bands should be trying to keep this going through out the year. I’ll come back to this later, however it is a valid point. Record Store Day as a concept has grown legs and is coaxing record collectors away from the Internet and into the real world.
There are stories of record collectors rediscovering life and human interaction after venturing out to a record shop after almost a decade of online only shopping. Revelations of meat bag to meat bag interaction, recommendations of further listening coming from an actual homosapien, not some egomaniac’s blog. Tactile purchasing of aural treasures, fresh air. You see that woman over there browsing the second hand 45s? If you go over and speak to her there is a high chance you can cancel your adult friend finder account and re-enter society.
[It should be noted that live music could also be witnessed in real life, see your local venue for details]
So Record Store Day has had its benefits. The major retailers are in their final death throws with HMV floundering around the high street with the grace of an elephant using chopsticks. The independent shops are once again rising, not only the existing established ones, but NEW shops are opening. There are people who are closing shop unfortunately; whether things are just getting harder or failure to adapt has finally stricken the final nail remains to be seen.
It would be great to think that the independents are adapting, indeed, some visibly are. Others remain stuck in old ways, lamenting change and the advent of the big game changer, Ms Internet, longing for the old days. The Internet has changed the way we shop for everything, embrace it and prosper, or ignore it and perish.
Record labels and distributors are having their own trials and tribulations in the wake of Record Store Day’s popularity. The collectable element of one day only releases has raised interest in bands, shops and labels as well as pulling smaller artists and labels from relative obscurity.
The downside? The big boys have cottoned onto the annual event and are exerting their strength on a manufacturing industry that was on the decline until around 2006.
The major labels, still trying to claw their way out of the hole they dug during the inception of MP3s in the late 1990’s/2000’s, have been handed another way to increase revenues through sale of physical media. Record Store Day has given the majors an opening to release ‘limited’ runs on a scale that dwarfs an independent labels ‘normal’ run. While this is great for the artists connected with the majors (the revenues from these ‘limited’ release will offset any artist advance, or some one would assume), it has a knock on effect on smaller labels with less buying power.
During the rise of the CD in the late 80s/ early 90s, (vinyl) pressing plants the world over started to scrap or sell their pressing machinery. A bulk of the UK pressing infrastructure was sold to Eastern Europe, which is where most record pressing is done today. Due to the reduced number of plants pressing vinyl and the higher demand following the major labels’ recent bandwagon joining, pressing times have almost tripled for smaller runs.
This has affected Wasted State Records two years in a row now. Last year the Paper Beats Rock 7” was fraught with problems due to high pressing demands and incompetent middlemen. This year, despite master recordings and artworks being sent away at the end of January, Dune’s 12” has been delayed ‘until further notice’ due to the large quantities major labels are pressing. 20 years ago you couldn’t get a CD pressed in the run up to Christmas because the majors were busy making Christmas Compilations, ‘Best Of’ albums and ‘That’s what I call dad rock 1995’.
We’ve come full circle again.
There have also been murmurings from (independent) shops recently about labels and bands selling directly to fans through the internet. While this is becoming more popular it, I admit, is detrimental to independent retail. A Scottish independent recently (temporarily, so I hear) closed it’s doors for this, and similar reasons.
While I concede that selling direct to customers is hurting bricks and mortar shops, the extra revenue from sales that don’t have distribution fees and markups attached is helping some labels grow. The retailers could negate this if there was a little more support pushing products from smaller labels, which would in turn lead to a better retail presence for both smaller bands and labels, although this could stem an entirely different avenue of musing, best kept aside for another time.
All in all, Record Store Day has been great for an industry that was one flush away from relegation to a niche market, restricted to the 1s and 0s of the World Wide Web. How it will continue remains to be seen, however the great up shot of it all is vinyl is coming back as a medium to challenge digital downloads, and for a change, the larger labels are lending a hand to help support the smaller shops.
What does the future of music hold? Will vinyl continue to grow? Will it ever out strip digital music? Will Dune’s record arrive before I go on holiday next week?
Only time will tell.