Record Store Day at Ten:
The Great Vinyl Debate
ON 22nd April, Record Store Day will celebrate…
its ten anniversary. I am always keen to celebrate important birthdays: they do not come much more impressive and celebration-needed than Record Store Day. There are about five-hundred different released planned for this year’s Record Store Day. Paul McCartney is reissuing his album, Flowers in the Dirt – it will be a chance for new generations to connect with a fantastic record. The 1989-album spawned tracks like My Brave Face and Figure of Eight – not one of the critics’ favourite but a great record from that period. Available, exclusively from independent record stores, will be releases from Real Estate (In My Mind) and The Jesus and Mary Chain (Damage and Joy). English Tapas (Sleaford Mods) and Soundgarden’s Ultramega OK will line up against Minus the Bear’s Voids. A couple of those albums have already come out but some are forthcoming. Some unreleased demos from The Smiths will arrive; some David Bowie L.P. sets and live albums from Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop and Grateful Dead. St. Vincent is the ambassador for this year’s Record Store Day and will bring some exclusive releases from Fleetwood Mac, Chemical Brothers and Ramones – Air, Neil Young and Pearl Jam, too. Throw in Cocteau Twins, Sex Pistols and U2 (plus many more) and you have a bumper selection. Each record store will have their own selection and celebrate the day in their own way – quizzes, events and live performances will be occurring across the country. Slaves, Anton Newcombe and Kate Tempest will help champion the tenth anniversary of a wonderful event.
Not only did I want to help celebrate the (forthcoming) tenth anniversary of Record Store Day but look back at vinyl and its importance in the modern era. The great thing about Record Store Day is how the smaller independent stores get a chance to shine. It is not a day for iTunes, mega labels and faceless corporations: the loyal and honest record stores have their moment in the spotlight. Modern music is as much about digitalisation and electronics as it is choice, variation and opportunity. Yes, there are some proper record shops and we can buy vinyl – it is a dying breed and seems music is evolving in the wrong direction. Whilst technology is making the process of making and sharing music easier – something that is a huge breakthrough – it seems to be taking the soul and physicality for music. A few weeks back, I wrote a piece about album covers and how they are less important in the current era – as most albums are on music-sharing sites and the humble C.D. seems to be taking a backseat. Even acts that release to C.D. are not really expending too much thought on the visual side of thing. You can dig out my piece if you wish but it is important to underline just how relevant and necessary Record Store Day. In a way, giving local stores and vinyl a single day a year seems to be doing it a disservice – why not have monthly events happening? I guess it would be too costly and time-consuming but I am glad we have a single day as it is. I am looking forward to the day and the rare releases we’ll see. We’ll see some unreleased live material and legendary artists putting out classic albums. It is a chance for music fans around the country to come together and scratch their musical itches – indulge that nerdy and wonderful part of the soul that goes unnoticed the remainder of the year. I know Record Store Day is not entirely vinyl-based – it does include non-vinyl releases – but it seems odd the format is being phased-out.
Technology is moving forward and helping musicians create music quicker and cheaper. iPads and other devices make composition and creation easier and more accessible than ever. You can put tracks on sites like SoundCloud and Spotify to get them out to the masses quickly and clearly. It is 2017, so there needs to be modern and slick ways of sharing music. I get that but can see no reason why new generations cannot mix electronic formats with vinyl and traditional values. It seems a lot of people my age (in their 30s) are keeping the flame alive but younger people are buying vinyl as an artistic purchase. They put the record on walls and shelves and admire it for its aesthetic values and sense of history – something quite old and odd in an ultra-modern society. It is good vinyl, in an odd way, is being admired but that is not the point: a record should be played. It is no good mounting something onto the bedroom wall and not having that vinyl under a needle, doing its thing. That would be like buying an instrument and never playing it! I feel certain people are buying vinyl as an investment or art rather than appreciating what it represents and how important it is. Record Store Day is not designed to appeal to those sorts: it is for the proper music lovers who admire records and days when music was as much about feel, soul and the experience – now it is about quick turnaround and social media. It may sound like I am a relic lusting after a long-gone time: I am merely voicing the opinions and sentiments of millions. The tenth anniversary of Record Store Day is a big birthday that will see more rare releases and cool vinyl come out than any other year. We have ambassadors and champions: big musicians throwing their weight behind the event and help push it out far and wide. That is important and will reflect on younger people – seeing their favourite artists celebrate record stores and vinyl records.
I know vinyl will not make this big comeback and vanquish digital music – that would be a cool concept for a music video! – but we cannot lose that link to music’s beginning. One of the biggest pleasures is buying a great vinyl record and taking it home to play. The best listening experience of my life was getting Graceland bought for me for my birthday. I was alone in the house and put the record on: lay on my back with eyes closed and let the music take over – under the watchful gaze of a small chicken (the family pet at the time!). It was a glorious and enriching occasion that I could not have got if I were listening to a C.D. or Internet stream. If we are to appreciate the full glory, potential and nuance of sound then the vinyl must remain and continue to inspire. I know so many music fans but few who actively purchase vinyl and prefer that method of listening. One of the biggest problems is the price of new vinyl. If you are buying a newly-released album, it can often cost over twenty quid at HMV. It is ridiculous you have to part with that much money for a ten-track album that you can get for half that on iTunes. I guess the cost of producing vinyl means those mark-ups are justified. Many people do not have that much money to impart on an album – they will always go for the quicker and cheaper alternative. It is worth spending that amount of cash on a classic album or double-vinyl release – the price discrepancy is not as large as it should be. If we are to encourage vinyl-buying and make it more prolific then the costing has to come under control. I would happily pay twenty-plus pounds for a good vinyl copy of Rubber Soul – I could get a lot of enjoyment and appreciate the years of pleasure that one record will provide. I would be keen to buy a record like Sleaford Mods’ English Tapas but would not pay that much for it. How many years of wonderment will that album produce?! Will it really be worth that amount of money?! I doubt it and worry most people are going to off-put by the high vinyl costs.
The good thing about Record Store Day is it puts the focus on the smaller independent shops where the prices are going to be more reasonable. Not only do the independent shops provide the latest releases but are stoked with second-hand records from all genres and years. In record shops local to me, I have seen albums like Abbey Road go for as low as a fiver – hardly any scratches or damage at all on the record. That is a bargain for a vinyl that shows its durability. Many of these records were pressed around the time of original release and have survived a battering on many record players. Digital music is necessary and wonderful but does not have the same feel and physicality as a record. Society wants things quickly – myself included – which have mean certain recording forms are being side-lined. I am pleased many people do choose to preserve vinyl music in its true form. So many are buying records for their looks and not what is in their soul. As time goes on, I worry the record will die a death and be something reserved to closets and attics. That is why Record Store Day is celebrated. It is not a publicity stunt or pandering celebration: it is a loveable and affectionate proffering of records and local record stores. I hope days like that will prick the ears of young music listeners and encourage them to go to their local record shop. Maybe a day will arrive when there are no music shops so we need to do what we can to delay that process. Make sure you participate on 22nd April and enjoy all the variegated, cool and one-off treats on offer. Get onto Record Store Day’s official website (http://recordstoreday.co.uk/home/) and keep abreast of all the developments and events. Once the celebration has ended, do not wait for next year and the next birthday. Get out there and buy your favourite records in their original, true form. Being among other music aficionados and rubbing shoulders with the music-buying public is a discipline that should not be forgotten: in the digital age, human connection is being lost. Go experience records and vinyl as much as you can. It is, in mine and many other people’s opinions, what music…
IS all about.