Support music, support Record Store Day

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.

Record_Store_Day_2013

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.

Browsing an online music store simply cannot replace the experience of flicking through stacks of records in a specialist music store and coming across an unexpected surprise. (© All Rights Reserved)
Browsing an online music store simply cannot replace the experience of flicking through stacks of records in a specialist music store and coming across an unexpected surprise.
(© All Rights Reserved)

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!

One-click shopping on Cyber Monday

A few days ago I chatted about the virtues of cutting back on buying and spending – an approach that was promoted on Buy Nothing Day, last Friday. The reason for Buy Nothing Day being celebrated this time of year is that we are in the middle of one of the craziest shopping periods of the year – in the US and Canada in particular, Thanksgiving weekend is a time that puts big smiles on retailers’ faces.

Today is no exception, as we celebrate a day of shopping frenzy that has come to be known as Cyber Monday – one of the top online shopping days in the US, and many other parts of the world.

Online shopping – makes parting with your money easier than ever before.
(© All Rights Reserved)

As reported in the New York Times in 2005, “The name Cyber Monday grew out of the observation that millions of otherwise productive working Americans, fresh off a Thanksgiving weekend of window shopping, were returning to high-speed Internet connections at work Monday and buying what they liked.” Besides the explanation given by the NYT, the fact is also that this is the time of year – one month before Christmas – when retailers seriously step up their relentless barrage of sales and promotions, reaching fever pitch towards the second half of December.

The term Cyber Monday was first coined in 2005 by online shopping community Shop.org, based on research from the previous year, during which they noticed that the period after Thanksgiving showed a clear spike in online shopping. Since 2010 the day has consistently counted as one of the $1+ billion online shopping days in the US. The day has become so popular with online shoppers the world over that many employers are actively curbing their employees’ non-work related online activities on this day.

What struck me when I read up about Cyber Monday, is how new online shopping really still is (less than 20 years ago, the concept was still largely non-existent) yet how entrenched it has become as part of our daily lives. It’s hard to imagine a world without amazon.com, without ebay, without itunes. It is estimated that by 2015 the online shopping industry will be worth a whopping $279 billion in the US and €134 billion in Europe.

If you’re into shopping, and looking for a bargain, today may be just the day for you to go trawling the online shopping sites. Just don’t complain when you end up buying a whole bunch of extra stuff you never planned on, pushing your budget into a state of emergency. Retailers are ruthless in their quest to make the poor consumer part with his money, and the online sector is, if possible, even more so. The most dangerous part of online shopping is that you never physically part with your money – its just a click here and a click there, and suddenly your bank balance looks a lot less healthy.

I still maintain that the best thing to do during the two months between mid-November and mid-January is to stay as far away from the shops as you can, and to rather spend time being creative – homemade gifts and goods are so much more special than yet another shop-bought special offer.

You may indeed get some real specials this time of year, but I can guarantee that you will also spend a lot more than you planned…