Photo credit: Jim Bennett
Since 2008, the third Saturday of April has been named Record Store Day. It’s a unique combination of supporting your local record stores and having a chance to grab some rarities from your favorite artists. April 16, 2016 marks the ninth annual Record Store Day, with the first taking place on April 19, 2008. The concept started in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners and employees as a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1,400 independently owned record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally. Today there are Record Store Day participating stores on every continent except Antarctica. The organization is managed by the Department of Record Stores and is organized in partnership with the Alliance of Independent Media Stores (AIMS), the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS) and promotes independent record stores year-round with events and special releases.
One of the most renowned record stores in the country is Seattle’s Easy Street Records, located on California Avenue in West Seattle. Easy Street Records was started by, and is still run by Matt Vaughan, who opened the store in 1988. Vaughan would eventually add on a café in 1999. Thinking about what Record Store Day means to him now, Vaughan tells me, “It’s a celebration of the record nerd and the record store culture. It has a lot to do with the communities we live in and supporting your city and town in addition to celebrating the vinyl format of all music from all eras.”
The first Record Store Day in 2008 included a small list of titles that were released that day. Now that list has grown to include artists and labels both large and small and within every genre. Last year, 60% of the Record Store Day Official Release List came from independent labels and distributors. “There’s going to be about 4-500 titles released this year. The committee fishes for this stuff all year long. We’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of Record Store Day from the beginning and the seeds of the day came out of the coalition we’re a part of. It was through that coalition and other independents that this idea was even considered. Some of it is based off what Booksellers of America has been doing and Comic Book retailers. We just took it to another level,” Vaughan explains.
The Record Store Day website explains – a participating store is defined as a stand-alone brick and mortar retailer whose primary business focuses on a physical store location, whose product line consists of at least 50% music retail, whose company is not publicly traded and whose ownership is at least 70% located in the state of operation. Though you can now have songs in an instant, there will never be anything like going down to your local record store the day of your favorite artists release, finding that new record gleaming on the shelf, bringing it back to your car or record player, cracking it open, reading the liner notes and blasting it. That feeling still exists, it’s just taken on new forms; a lot having to do with the small business community, in-store performances and the access to vinyl. It’s fascinating how many of the big records chains have collapsed, yet many of the local heroes are still standing strong.
Record stores like Easy Street have high expectations for this year. “We think this will be one of our better sales days of all time,” Vaughan says. For this particular Record Store Day, it’s very Easy Street and Northwest centric for us. We’ve gotten pretty fortunate with that over the years. There’s been a handful of legacy artists from here; Jimi Hendrix, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Mudhoney that have continued to go into their vaults to look to see if there’s something worthwhile to release to their core fans. In the case of brand new artists, it’s an opportunity to put out that B-Side or live track.” Many independent stores had their highest sales days ever during last year’s event. Billboard reported, the independent sector counted for 532,000 album scans, or 21.5 percent of total physical album sales, and 11.9 percent of overall sales. In both instances, it represented the highest weekly sales percentages total for the indie sector since 2003, according to Nielsen Entertainment senior VP Dave Bakula. Denver’s Twist and Shout, had this to say about last year’s success, “RSD 2015 was certainly one for the books. It was our most successful Record Store Day. It was our most successful day period. It was the equivalent of doing between 12-15 regular days of business (including weekends) in a 12-hour day.” Waterloo Records in Austin, TX stated, “RSD ’15 was the best sales day ever in Waterloo’s 33+ year history, eclipsing the previous high water mark by 13 percent in sales, and 9 percent in units!” The surge in vinyl has certainly factored into the impact of Record Store Day. “It’s pretty much all vinyl for us,” says Vaughan. “I’d say about 99%, aside from a few big one-offs like the new Metallica’s live CD at Le Bataclan”
Each year, the Record Store Day committee names an ambassador. This year the honor goes to Metallica. Previous ambassadors have included; Jack White, Chuck D and Dave Grohl last year. The role of the ambassador is to exemplify the culture, be hands on in launching the day, promote the great releases and of course, put out a rarity of their own. Metallica has been supporters of Record Store Day since its inception when they hung out with fans at Rasputin Records in Mountain View, CA in 2008. They are certainly wearing their badge with pride this year with an abundance of contributions. Vaughan agrees saying, “I think it’s great that Metallica is doing this. They’ve been such huge supporters of independent retail. They’ve done a handful of in-stores and surprise fans on the street with shows. They’ve been more humble as the years go on and more appreciative of that culture, maybe thinking back to when they were kids.” They will be releasing a live album, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, Metallica! – Live at Le Bataclan, Paris, France – June 11th, 2003 (where all proceeds from the LP will go towards the Foundation de France’s Give For France charity) and CD, vinyl and box set reissues of their first two albums, 1983’s Kill ‘Em All and 1984’s Ride the Lightning. The reissues will include – four vinyl records, five CDs and one DVD comprising the remastered album, rough mixes of some of its songs, band member interviews and multiple complete live performances all dating from 1983 and 1984, as well as a patch and a hardcover book with never-before-seen photos for Kill ‘Em All. And period-specific material across four vinyl records, six CDs, one DVD, a hardcover book, a mini-book of handwritten lyrics and a set of three posters for Ride the Lightning.
As for Easy Street, Vaughan could not be more thrilled with the exclusives they have available this year. “We have The Sonics, the legendary garage-rock band from the 60’s who performed at Easy Street at last year’s Record Store Day. It was an unannounced, last minute thing that we put together. We got lucky in that a couple of the guys in the band live in West Seattle. They had put out a come-back record that many were calling the come-back record of the year, maybe the greatest of all time. Many other local luminaries joined forces with us and we made it a fundraiser for KEXP radio. We recorded that performance and it’s coming out on Saturday. We ordered 500 copies of it and hope to sell all of them. I’d be surprised if it’s not a top five seller this year. The recording is phenomenal and the packaging is great” says Vaughan. “You add in the star power on the record and the buzz on the Sonics right now, opening for Robert Plant, and after all these years, they are still kicking it. Also specific to Seattle, we’ll have Raw Power, which is a tribute to The Stooges with Duff McKagen, Mike McCready, Barrett Martin and Mark Arm. It was a live show that happened last summer at Pike Place Market. That is being released on Saturday as well and we expect it to be a big one. Brandi Carlile is from Seattle and she did a Live at KCRW that was really stellar and that too is coming out,” said Vaughan. For the die-hard Pearl Jam fan, it’s a chance to grab some early grassroots material. “We’ll also have the 1984 original demos from Green River. It’s my understanding from a couple of the guys in the band who popped in last week, this is the best thing they ever recorded. We’re all really excited about that.”
There’s a great deal of work that goes into preparing for Record Store Day. Many within the committee work year-round to make it a special experience. As far as the stores preparing for the big day Vaughan explains, “There’s a ton of in-store prep with boxes everywhere and making sure you received everything you ordered. In a lot of cases, everything is allocated so you don’t really know what you are going to get until it arrives. We’ll open at 7am on Saturday. I think’s it’s the earliest opening on the west coast. We get hit pretty hard, but that’s what we want. We have a café next store where we give away coffee and bacon. We expect about 500 in line before 7am.”
The highlight of Records Store Day is the celebration of the record store vibe. There’s a unity between the stores and fans. It’s a spirit that’s exuded which is in-part that old record store feeling mixed with a sincere love of music. “I didn’t necessarily believe in the Record Store Day concept at first. I thought it was another white flag that we were all waving, looking for handouts,” said Vaughan. “Ten years ago it just didn’t look like record stores were going to make it. But it’s turned out to be more of a celebration and a party. We’ve really supported that nature and that culture. That’s why we had The Sonics playing last year and we have a new Seattle band, Acapulco Lips, playing this year. You never really know what’s going to happen. Last year, Eddie Vedder wasn’t even planning on performing with The Sonics. He just wanted to see the show. He had just flown in and came straight from the airport to the shop. I’m not sure if even told his family he was in town yet. (Laughs) He just got so excited that he talked with the guys about getting up there and doing “Leaving Here.” Those are the kind of things that can happen.”
Here’s a snapshot of a few other releases this year:
• Several artists, including Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle, Jason Molina, Brandi Carlile, Florence + The Machine, Regina Spektor, John Grant, New Barbarians, and over a hundred more will release exclusive tracks
• Twenty One Pilots, Anthrax, and The Doors will be releasing Disquaire Day 7” singles in a show of solidarity and to celebrate the relationship between Record Store Day and Disquaire Day, between French record stores and US record stores, and between American and French lovers of music, art and culture
• Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear, The Sonics (with special guests), Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind and Langhorne Slim & The Law all release live recordings made in record stores
• Special releases from French artists Air, Erik Satie and Metal Urbain, as well as a recording of Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers’ 1977 final gig, also at Le Bataclan in Paris
• Crosley Radio, an industry leader in the vinyl , joined forces with Disney to create the Mickey Mouse Crosley Cruiser turntable
• Brian Fallon from The Gaslight Anthem will be releasing a special EP entitled Georgia
Events to be aware of:
• Acapulco Lips performing at Easy Street Records in Seattle, WA
• Easy Street Records pop-up shop at the new KEXP headquarters in Seattle, WA (Sat 12-9, Sun 10-6)
• Metallica performing at Rasputin Music in Berkeley, CA
• Mumord and Sons live at Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis, MO
• Bonnie Raitt will be visiting Music Millennium in Portland, OR
• Kacey Musgraves will be at Lunchbox Records in Charlotte, NC
• The Mavericks will be performing at Vinyl Renaissance in Kansas City, MO
• Reverend Horton Heat will be at Homer’s in Omaha, signing records
• Florida record stores are having a day-long dance party with Shabazz Palaces at Miami’s Sweat Records
• Daniel Ash stopping in at Radio-active Records in Ft. Lauderdale
• Brooklyn’s Rough Trade will include live sets from Mr Lif, Jesca Hoop, Nothing and The Fleshtones
• Killswitch Engage will be at Newbury Comics in Leominster MA
• Jim Breuer will hold Q&A session at Looney Tunes in Long Island, NY
There was even a Record Store Day Official Film this year: The Smart Studios Story, Wendy Schneider’s documentary about the Madison, WI outpost, co-founded by producer Butch Vig, that closed its doors in 2010 due to financial difficulties after producing numerous epic recordings by such rock icons as Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Tad, L7, Killdozer and Garbage. The film features Vig himself along with a number of other well-known artists who have worked at the studio, including Dave Grohl, Billy Corgan and Shirley Manson
• The Smart Studios Story will be at Reckless Records at DRY HOP in Chicago, IL and Madcity Music in Madison, WI
For a full list of Record Store Day special releases, participating stores and events, visit www.recordstoreday.com
Get out and support your local record stores!
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