Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of physical mediums past, vinyl has seen a strong resurgence in the 21st century. Billboard reports that in 2013, as digital music sales fell for the first time since iTunes launched in 2003, vinyl sales grew by an impressive 32 percent to 6 million units. For the people of Record Store Day (RSD), the record revival is not enough. Since a significant chunk of those LP sales occur online, Record Store Day looks to get music fans off their computers and into the brick-and-mortar stores that carry the inky black LPs. On Saturday, April 19, RSD and participating stores (or for SA, store) deliver with a vibe and exclusive releases that can’t be found with the click of a mouse.
According to their mission statement, RSD “is a day for the people who make up the world of the record store—the staff, the customers and the artists—to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities.”
To hone in on their target goal, Record Store Day commissioned 436 reissues, rare pressings and collectible grooves that will only be sold in-store by independent sellers. Offerings range wildly in year and genre, from David Bowie picture discs of “1984” to the reissue of Public Enemy’s vicious 1988 It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and unreleased, live cuts from psych-poppers Tame Impala.
Founded in 2007 by a collective of Baltimore storeowners looking to emulate the successes of the like-minded Free Comic Book Day, RSD takes place every year on the third Saturday of April. And like the burgeoning sales of their chosen medium, each year RSD’s selection of releases grows in both size and quality.
The folks at Record Store Day are impeccably in touch with their audience, a key to their growing success. Vinyl purchasers are natural collectors, fans who yearn to see their libraries grow. Like those who prefer the weight and curl of a paperback to the Kindle, vinyl is the physical medium of choice for musical aesthetes. With an avalanche of picture discs, colored and glow-in-the-dark LPs in limited edition pressings, RSD has pulled the oldest of economic tricks, creating scarcity and demand with a single day’s supply.
Like the oxygen necessary to spark a fire, vinyl’s recent economic boom owes itself to a few recent technological and cultural factors. As part of the retro cycle, described by author Simon Reynolds in Retromania as “pop culture’s addiction to its own past,” vinyl has become a touchstone for older generations, a hallmark of cool for the younger and a commitment to audio fidelity for all.
As digital music and streaming services cement their status as the primary means for listening to recorded music, transitionary technologies like the CD—physical, but with digital potential via the rip—have begun to fall in popularity, with sales dropping 14.5 percent in 2013. For those looking to hold an album in their hand, as a piece of art rather than as information to be shared, it might as well be all-out analog.
Though record culture is an emerging niche market in a larger music economy of rapid change and looming decline, it’s a small commercial force. LP sales made up a paltry 2 percent of 289.4 million units sold in 2013. Still, events like Record Store Day seriously fatten the wallets of independent sellers. According to Rolling Stone, 244,000 vinyls were sold during the week of RSD in 2013, accounting for 37 percent of all sales, regardless of format. If you’re counting, that’s a 31 percent increase from an average week.
Though you can celebrate the spirit of Record Store Day at a few SA spots on Saturday, only Hogwild Records (1824 N Main, (210) 733-5354) will officially carry RSD titles.
“It’s satisfying financially and it’s satisfying philosophically,” said Steve Alejandro of Hogwild. “It’s like an anti-domino effect where instead of things falling, they’re getting put back up. People who would not normally shop here or shop for vinyl are starting to shop here for vinyl. We’re human beings interacting with you in a way an algorithm on iTunes can’t.”
Because of the high demand for the limited RSD pressings, Hogwild couldn’t verify exactly which of the 436 titles they will be carrying on Saturday. But they confirmed the presence of the following on their shelves: R.E.M.’s Unplugged: The complete 1991 and 2001 sessions, the reissue of Outkast’s 1994 debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Public Enemy’s Nation of Millions and an awesome 10” glow-in-the-dark vinyl of Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters.”
For the full lineup of Record Store Day issues, you’ll just have to pour through Hogwild’s stacks bright and early.