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Why Record Store Day Matters

Ben Patashnik
Ben Patashnik 8 April 2011 at 12.30

Next weekend is Record Store Day, and it's really important. Here's why.

My Twitter and Facebook feeds last night and this morning were taken up mainly by people slagging off this article by Rick Martin, published on NME.COM. I should say, straight out the gate, that Rick’s a friend of mine [if you’re reading this, Rick, how are you, mate?] so I’m not going to talk shit about anyone.

What I am going to do, however, is explain just why Record Store Day is more important now than ever. Granted, it’s become something of a bandwagon of sorts, with massive bands recording incredibly limited vinyl releases that are more about keeping eBay afloat than the low-level music retail industry, and you can’t deny that physical sales of music are dropping so fast that, on some level, RSD looks like a Custer-esque Last Stand, but on both the real and symbolic levels it’s a good thing.

Essentially, RSD is like Mother’s Day – it doesn’t hurt to show some appreciation once a year. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

It’s not about the argument regarding digital vs physical music, because most people will still be wavering between one or the other. I have a lot of CDs, a lot of LPs and a lot of music on my laptop – each has its place and it’d be ridiculous to suggest otherwise. Moreover, I’d bet most people have a similar setup; the trope of the ‘obsessive music geek who only listens to stuff on vinyl’ is as patronising as the ‘obsessive tech geek who only listens to stuff on subscription services’ because it’s like saying all Christians are fundamentalist pro-lifers – somewhere down the line there’s a nugget of truth but it’s been obscured by people foisting their own motives on an argument that, at this point, needs to be de-politicised.

So, back to RSD. On the most basic level, it increases footfall in music shops at a time when they need it most. And it does it in the best way possible – by offering something truly collectible and special; sure, as previously mentioned it’s gold for eBay hawks and scum-like touts but that doesn’t make when, say, New Found Glory play a tiny show in a pub any less special for those who did get through the door, does it? And getting more people to associate ‘new music’ with ‘paying for new music’ is increasingly important. Everyone knows music retailers are going through really, really tough times – but that’s just free market economics being helped by the illegal downloading lobby. The most basic rule of capitalism is that if you do a good job, you’ll get paid for it [of course this gets abused quite a lot, but the point stands] and the record shops that have survived this long must, must be doing something right.

The best music shops – actually, the best shops in general – are the ones staffed by helpful, underpaid and overabused people who know a lot about what they’re selling, and those are, by and large, the ones that have survived. And that’s a fact that needs celebrating. It’s partially about appreciating a sector of the music industry that has been taking shit for years [possibly down to High Fidelity] but it’s mainly about celebrating something far more important: people dedicating their lives to getting music out to more people. I can’t speak personally for every single staffer at a record shop in the UK but by sheer virtue of the fact they’re still alive [in terms of retail, not in terms of actual life] they must be as savvy, passionate and knowledgeable as anyone. I’ve been a music journalist for 10 years and still, when I send an email to Banquet Records in Kingston asking for recommendations, I get schooled. And it’s a joy.

A lot of people reading this will feel like they have no need for RSD or record shops in general because they’re more than able to find music on their own and make their own minds up, which is entirely fair enough. But there’s a reason the fucking X Factor dominates the country year on year, and that’s because the vast, vast majority of people like being told what to listen to and don’t give a shit about digging deeper. RSD is about awareness, it’s about getting the minority of people who love music in the physical form to stand up and shout about it so we might - might - not have to suffer the hegemony of shit pop dominating the airwaves.

There’s a palpable backlash not from the mainstream but from the underground, from people who buy direct from distros and labels, who invest large sums of money in physical product [music, T-shirts, all that stuff] and who don’t need Bruce Springsteen to tell them what a seven-inch is – but that’s missing the point, and is symptomatic of the elitism that has caused the DIY music industry to be so factionalised. If record shops – and by extension physical music, and the packaging that has, without any exaggeration, inspired people for nigh-on 70 years – are to survive then they need to expand their base.

It’s not as simple as ‘if you have a record player then congratulations, you are cool and are keeping your favourite bands alive’ vs ‘if you didn’t know who Biffy Clyro were before the Matt Cardle incident then fuck you, you are destroying art’ – it’s about gateways. And record shops, having them in town centres especially, are gateways. They are welcoming people into a wonderful, beautiful world – a world of gorgeous artwork that’s 144 square inches and gloriously colourful, a world of ‘if you like this, then try this!’ motivated by human contact and not by Amazon’s shitty algorithms, a world of music. Record shops are the exact equivalent of getting into The Offspring when you were 12 and then The Descendents when you hit 16 – these gateways are incredibly important, and the ‘general public’ – whatever that ridiculously nebulous phrase means – needs to see how good it is to not just dumbly consume what’s on tv.

Next week we’ll have some more stuff about Record Store Day on Stay tuned. And buy music.

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