Record Store Day returns this April

Written By Rachel Ross, Co-Opinions Editor

I bought my very first record on Record Store Day in 2019. I was in 10th grade at the time and had a pretty meager physical music collection; it consisted of maybe 30 or 40 CDs. Although I didn’t have any previous interest in collecting vinyls, I jumped at the chance to participate in Record Store Day. That year, two of my favorite artists were releasing items. I was lucky enough to get my hands on the last copy of A-ha’s release at the store I visited. I was elated to have such an exclusive item in my possession, with only 6,000 units having been produced. Not too shady for my first record. But that in itself – the fact that it was my first – and especially the experience that came with acquiring it, was what really made it special. This is the opportunity that Record Store Day offers participants, and why I admire the concept behind it.

Record Store Day is a yearly event that started in 2008. Old and new established artists work in conjunction with the organization to release exclusive vinyl content on a specially coordinated day, where it’s sold almost solely at independent record stores worldwide. A list is released to the public a few months in advance with information on what artists are participating in a given year, and what they are releasing. Part of the fun of the event is that products are printed in limited supply and distributed around the world, and each store has its say in picking what they order, so there’s no telling if a particular location will have what you’re looking for or not. There’s no pre-ordering allowed for customers. Participating stores are not allowed to sell content online until the day after the event. In operating this way, the event encourages exploration and venturing out to support local record stores.

I really enjoy Record Store Day. I think it offers a genuinely fun and exciting opportunity for fans while simultaneously helping a struggling entity: the independent record store. I love my local record store; I go there all the time. I remember being so excited the first time I went there, to have found a place that sold and celebrated not just the music I was interested in, but music in general. It’s a great feeling to flip through stacks of tangible music – CDs or records or cassettes, not really being sure what you’re going to find. This unique experience is what has encouraged people to continue going to record stores even as digital media has taken top spot in the mainstream. I really appreciate that there’s something like Record Store Day out there that encourages the public to invest in and support these stores and what they have to offer.

Not only does the event help in maintaining the traditional experience, but it also offers a new one for new generations of music fans, like myself. Record Store Day presents our generation with a chance to experience a traditional music release, more akin to what they were like before YouTube and Spotify. You can’t download the content as soon as it comes out; you have to go to a store and buy a tangible copy. It creates something fun to anticipate and look forward to. It’s exciting to look through the list of anticipated releases and set your sights on something. It’s entertaining to watch your dad make a call to the record store and inquire about what they’re going to have, even though you know they’re not going to tell him. It’s fun to leave the house at 7 a.m. so that there’s time to stop at Tim Hortons and still get there early enough to grab a good spot in line. It’s not so great waiting in line, that’s probably the worst part. But it’s worth it when they open the door and you have to maneuver past randoms to get to the display first and grab what you want. Even if they don’t have what you want, it’s still fun to feel the electricity and energy in the air of those randoms you ran past getting what they wanted. Of course, it’s more fun if you care about music, but I think it’s something that can be enjoyed even if you don’t. I appreciate what the event has done for me, introducing me to records and offering a fun experience to share with my dad, and what it’s done for record stores and their communities.

As is the case with most anything, however, the event isn’t without critique or room for improvement. The pandemic has disrupted the usual flow of the proceedings, which has proven difficult not only in executing the actual event, but preparing for it. The last two years have seen several “drops” as opposed to just one; instead of having the usual single Record Store Day, it was split into multiple days spread out pretty widely. It is worth mentioning that there is annually a Black Friday drop in addition to the official “Record Store Day” drop, but it’s not really as significant comparatively. To my understanding, the multi-day spread was done due to COVID-19 concerns, as well as manufacturing delays on products, an issue that has continued to persist. As a participant, I haven’t personally liked the multi-day model as much as the singular day one; I think it takes some of the excitement and exclusivity out of the event. Part of what makes the event special, at least for me, is how infrequent it is; it’s a special thing that only comes around once a year, or twice if you regularly participate in the Black Friday drop as well. However, I understand why it needed to be done, considering COVID-19 and its effects. When announcing this year’s dates, the organization made it sound as though they are interested in returning to the traditional model, but are still at the mercy of production delays. This is where some record stores are finding a problem with the event.

An article was recently written for The Guardian by an independent record store owner who is criticizing the event for wreaking further havoc on the ongoing vinyl manufacturing crisis. The author argues that Record Store Day is actually making the situation more difficult for stores by having this magnitude of stock that needs to be produced, and putting regular releases that were already delayed further behind in production. While I can appreciate the author’s point and struggle with this issue, I can’t help but feel like the stance is a bit harsh on an event that they themself describe as having been “remarkable” and a “revolution.” I understand their suggestion that the event be postponed until the issue gets sorted out, I just don’t really like how it feels as though people – not just the author, but commenters on the article, are being quick to turn on the event for this potential misstep. People are hastily making this out to be an “us and them” thing, except the “them” is on the same side, so it doesn’t really make sense. It’s not like it’s corporate giants versus small independent record stores; it’s independent record stores and an event meant to promote them. I don’t think it’s fair that Record Store Day should be made out to be this villainous force, when really it’s also a victim of these delays. I understand that the biggest point of the event is to help and do what’s best for record stores, and with that in mind, I don’t think it would be unreasonable of them to accept feedback like this and adjust themselves accordingly, but at the same time, they have every right to do their best to deliver on fans’ expectations and try to get their vinyl produced, just like anyone else.

I really appreciate Record Store Day for what it strives to do for the community, not only in encouraging exploration of independent record stores, but also the experience it offers fans. It made a record fan out of me; it encouraged me to keep buying vinyls, as well as explore other physical media, like cassettes. A lot of times you’ll hear about that vinyl sound and how it’s so unparalleled to anything else. I remember sitting on the floor in my bedroom listening to that first A-ha record and feeling like I finally understood what people meant. To me, for Record Store Day to contribute to something like that is the mark of successfully achieving the desired outcome.