Record Store Day – clue is in the name

Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 13th April 2017

As a founder member of Record Store Day I remember well the initial hopes we all had for what it might achieve. It is important to remember exactly what the circumstances were ten years ago. Internet sales were really starting to kick in and it wasn’t just a case of dealing with the likes of Amazon who weren’t paying VAT but others had set up, some shops that had closed, and were selling from their living rooms, garages and for the bigger enterprises industrial units.

At that time artists and labels selling directly was not much of an issue and vinyl for many independent shops was still selling if not in the numbers it had done previously. Indie shops down south were not so keen on vinyl albums but there was still a market for limited edition 7”s.

In the US shops had come together in 2007 to try to highlight the great work independent record shops did on the high street, especially when it came to new artists. In the UK’s first year in 2008 there was no product but a few indie’s pulled together to put on in-stores and promotions. In the US there were 10 special releases!

By 2009 the UK finally had physical releases and a nice touch for Avalanche was a Tom Waits 7” whih included a performance  of “Bottom of the World” recorded at his Edinburgh Playhouse gig the previous year.

HMV and Amazon were all powerful and would tolerate indie shops being given limited vinyl, a format they no longer cared for or supported, but at the same time many indie shops wanted limited CDs and the more specialist dance and folk shops wanted releases more in keeping with their regular stock. With every shop entitled to at least one of every release it quickly ended up with specialist dance shops having a very limited Blur 7”. Not ideal!

At this point the emphasis was still on promoting indie shops on the high street selling mostly “indie” music. There was a criteria for shops being involved and they had to sell music as the majority of their business. Online businesses were not allowed and indeed it was an unhappy compromise that Record Store Day stock was sold at all online but very early on shops had complained that post Record Store Day stock they were left with was slow to sell in their shops.

Second hand shops which had often sold some new CDs, especially as reissues, showed no interest in participating as they rarely dealt with most of the record companies. To this day, while you will see many shops involved who are essentially second hand shops who sell some reissued vinyl and the odd “indies only” new release, Edinburgh’s long established shops Vinyl Villains, Record Shak, Hog’s Head, Backbeat, Elvis Shakespeare and Unknown Pleasures all leave the day to the shops it was intended for which is to their credit.

From now on though sadly the message would start to be lost. With more and more releases and a gullible public prepared to pay the prices involved, dictated I should say by labels and record companies not the shops, others started to jump on the bandwagon. Possibly even worse the core message that this was a day to celebrate independent high street record shops was lost to the “vinyl revival” and suporting vinyl.

At the same time the big independent labels became less and less supportive and in fact this year with a couple of exceptions twenty of the biggest indie labels contribute only a dozen releases between them.

So now Record Store Day is what it is. Around 500 releases of mostly old reissues, many at eye watering prices, and sold in industrial estates, coffee shops and in one case somebody’s garden shed! A week later online mayhem ensues as people who have not bothered to visit a nearby shop buy online when these days virtually everybody has a store not too far away.

Two things that really sum up where Record Store Day is pitched now are the announcement that Elton John is the first Record Store Day legend and the Star Wars Crosley record player. Elton may be a legend but that didn’t stop his reissued vinyl being sold on PledgeMusic which doesn’t do shops any favours. That the albums in question can be bought in any used store at a fraction of the new reissued vinyl price also raises the old argument about albums being needlessly reissued and clogging up the manfacturing cycle.

As for the Crosley record player I’ve never seen a good review from any serious publication and if it was just poor sound that would be one thing but it seems to be generally agreed that the player actually damages your records because of the weighting. Like so much vinyl these days the new  Star Wars version may never be used and simply kept on display but it really feels out of place when looking back at what Record Store Day was meant to be about.

Clearly it would be unrealistic to not have expected things to have gradually changed over the last ten years but truth is what was a very well intentioned idea has become commercialised and distorted to a point where it is unrecognisable fron those early years.

It is not about the major record companies taking over as some say. Universal Music, the biggest of them all, were suportive from the start and have always done their best to provide a selection of releases. Meanwhile some of the small indie labels just see it now as a chance to sell stuff they could not shift any other time. The shops too are a mixed bunch of the truly heroic battling against overwhelming odds and those who are just chancers happy to ride the bandwagon.

Support high street record shops, support new music and if possible support new music in high street record shops. So many of Avalanche’s old customers recall great memories of having been in the shop, sometimes decades later. I seriously doubt anybody will have fond memories of their internet buys.



Scotland’s thriving pop-punk scene

After previous pop-punk recommendations I again stumbled across another band simply because I saw they liked a tweet about Avalanche favourites Withered Hand. Paper Rifles “It Always Rains in Scotland” is a great song and by no means their only one.

You can listen to more on their bandcamp page  and all proceeds go to the Scottish Association for Mental Health. A much wiser investment than a dodgy Record Store Day single !

Leave a Reply