Today, 20 April, is Record Store Day, a worldwide celebration of ‘real’, independent record stores – stores staffed by true music lovers, rather than clueless salespeople; stores that pride themselves in selling a wide and esoteric range of music, not just the top 40 bestsellers of the moment. Specialist, independent record stores, where the staff know the difference between Bryan Adams and Ryan Adams; between Judy Collins and Bootsy Collins; between Elvis Presley and Elvis Costello; where you’re not greeted by a blank (or worse, irritated) response when you ask for a record by the Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. Record Store Day brings together music lovers, artists and independent record stores around the world, and the official ambassador for the day in 2013 is Jack White, formerly of the White Stripes.
With the rise in digital downloads, mp3 players and virtual/online record stores, more and more traditional record stores are under thread, and where, not too long ago, almost every town had a few decent record stores, they are increasingly becoming a rare sight. Independent record stores are serving an increasingly specialist subset of the community, with the result that they are often only commercially viable in large cities.
Record Store Day has been created to remind people of the important role played by these stores, and many musicians support the initiative by releasing limited run, special edition records that are, at least for an initial period, only available in small quantities through record stores.
In the words of singer/songwriter/producer Damon Albarn, “My local independent record shop (Honest Jons) is a library, where you can go to listen to music, learn about it, exchange ideas about it and be inspired by it. I think independent record shops will outlive the music industry as we know it because long term their value to people is far greater, because even in our era of file-sharing and blogs, you can’t replace the actual look on someone’s face when they are playing something they really rate and think you should listen to it too. It’s special.”
Nick Hornby, author of cult record store novel ‘High Fidelity’, makes an even more eloquent argument: “Yes, yes, I know. It’s easier to download music, and probably cheaper. But what’s playing on your favourite download store when you walk into it? Nothing, that’s what. Who are you going to meet in there? Nobody. Where are the notice boards offering flatshares and vacant slots in bands destined for superstardom? Who’s going to tell you to stop listening to that and start listening to this? Go ahead and save yourself a couple of quid. The saving will cost you a career, a set of cool friends, musical taste and, eventually, your soul. Record stores can’t save your life. But they can give you a better one.”
If you are lucky enough to still have an independent record store in your town, pay it a visit. Buy some music – even if it may be a bit more expensive than the digital download. You’re supporting something special, something important. And besides, there’s nothing like holding & touching the real, physical, tangible artwork that belongs with your favourite music.
Happy browsing, happy shopping, happy listening!