With yet another ‘Record Store Day’ behind us, Fiachra O’Maolcraoibhe looks at RSD and asks if it really is the independent-music-orientated celebration it’s marketed as.
This year marks the 9th year since the conception of Record Store Day. A day which aims to celebrate the cultural steadfastness of thousands of record stores throughout the world and the vital and unique roles they play within their own local communities. It is marked by a day of music and celebration, with artists and bands flocking to record stores across the world to promote their local stores, meet with fans and to promote special RSD releases.
As a concept, RSD isn’t disagreeable. It has the potential to be a catalyst for good; to be a positive influence and to allow independents to grow with proper support. The reality is far from this though.
In recent years, there has been a considerable back lash against RSD, with many seeing it as a surfeit for profiteering and crass PR cash-ins. It is seen by some as a cynical head nod to a medium and a patronising pat on the back for the many thousands of record store owners, staff and independent labels. Not to mention that it appears to have become yet another date in the music industry calendar which has been hi-jacked by major labels to boost their profit margins, while offering a chance for their artists to capitalise on what has become, for some, a marketing coup.
One notable figure head from the prominent distribution company All Ears Distribution distribution described RSD as a day, “When lovely record shop people have to briefly give a shit about Lynard Skynard & Cheap Trick reissues in order to fill the depleted coffers, as their stores are filled, much like pubs on Xmas eve, with tossers who they don’t see the other 363 days of the year”. Anyone who has worked in the hospitality industry can empathise with this sentiment. It goes without saying that stores are open all the time, they operate under no other guise other than being a purveyor of recorded music and can – for the most part – manage themselves and function within an ever fickle and forgetful musical world.
On the other side of the coin perhaps RSD serves as a reminder to us all that we simply can’t survive as being one dimensional any more. Perhaps the greatest lesson independent record stores can take from RSD is that there is a clear need to be able to market, develop and promote yourself more effectively and cost efficiently in a shrinking world dominated by social media and an over-abundance of choice. Perhaps it is up to independent stores to fill the gap and offer a service or services that no Spotify account will ever be able to do.
Belfast Underground Records is the best local example of independent success; they have bridged the gap between store and customer through the power of the internet as well as spending a considerable amount of time and effort into developing their store into a radio/TV station. As such it has evolved into much more than a record store and has allowed their own patrons to share their music across the airwaves while developing their own skills in the media. It’s a win win situation and one which is rivalled by only a few others in Ireland and the UK. As astounding as their success is, it simply can’t be sustainable for every independent in the business.
However cynical RSD may be, nothing can detract from the sheer love and passion that local record store owners put into running and maintaining their businesses. They stand at the forefront of the culture of music buying and selling, always teetering on the edge of cultural oblivion and flirting dangerously with drifting away into obscurity. Their resolve is more magnificent and exciting than a few limited releases, released for one special day in the year championed by a plethora of industry figures and capitalised on by shady money men in the background. Is RSD a good idea? Yes. Does it solve the problems faced by independent stores all around the globe? No. RSD needs to change its ways if it is to be embraced by all and understood as a power for good that can positively affect both independent stores and the people who shop in them.