When visiting my neighborhood record store in recent years, I've breezed past the front of the shop — and most of the compact disc-browsing shoppers — to get where I wanted to be: the rows of vinyl in the back.
Whether it was the warm perfection of freshly pressed 180-gram vinyl or the charming imperfection of a 30-year-old record that passed through countless hands, vinyl has been my reason for visiting record stores for close to a decade. Since the dawn of the MP3, if I want digital music, I download it. CDs need not apply.
Then, about 18 months ago, an odd thing happened at that neighborhood record store. The vinyl moved to the front racks and CDs were pushed to the ignominy of the back. The clerk told me that the reason was simple: people were coming to the store for vinyl. And sales were healthy as ever.
Turns out that store is not alone. Carrie Colliton, one of the founders of the national Record Store Day celebration, said vinyl is surging across the nation, and therefore so are record stores.
It makes this year's Record Store Day, on April 21, something of a victory lap for an event that launched under duress.
When Record Store Day began, the most recognizable record store in the land, Tower, had recently closed its doors. Several smaller independents were following suit. And the world was enthralled with the novelty of MP3s that could be downloaded right to our homes (and soon, right to our hands).
Those events sparked Colliton and a group of music industry veterans trying to raise awareness with the first Record Store Day, in 2008. About 300 stores participated and artists and labels supplied two dozen releases — mostly on vinyl — to debut on that day, and only in the stores involved.
"It was about celebrating the culture of the record stores we knew existed and letting people know that they were still out there," said Colliton, based in Raleigh, N.C. "Once those big chains closed — Tower, Virgin and such — people assumed that's all there was, and that if you wanted music physically, you had to get it at Best Buy."
The event quickly took root among artists, fans and the media and grew rapidly. This year's Record Store Day will be among the largest yet, taking place at more than 1,000 stores internationally and featuring close to 300 new releases and reissues — from Metallica to Paul McCartney to M83 — that show how the event has traveled from raising awareness to a celebration. Stores will feature in-store concerts, contests, giveaways and whatever other fun they can hatch.
The fast success of Record Store Day surprised even organizers, Colliton said. But several forces coalesced to help the cause. With the MP3 now commonplace and a national movement toward shopping locally — food, drink and, yes, music — Record Store Day, which is observed the third Saturday of every April, has become a natural part of the landscape. (Participating stores must be non-publicly traded, 70 percent of ownership must live in-state and 50 percent of the sales must be music retail.)
The day was also aided by vinyl's return to glory (a great majority of this year's releases will be on vinyl), though Colliton said vinyl was also aided by Record Store Day.
"We had something to do with the resurgence of vinyl — there's no way around that," she said. "A lot of what the press hooked on to the first couple of years was the new releases and the vinyl releases."
These days, record labels and artists are taking the initiative to participate and come up with ever-elaborate offerings, like records on ruby red or green swirled vinyl and never-before released songs.
"Record Store Day has breathed a bit of creativity into the industry," said Brian Faber, general manager of Zia record stores in Arizona and Las Vegas who also had a hand in founding the event. "People are talking about Record Store Day six months out: 'Hey, what can you do for Record Store Day?' It's extremely positive and creative."
In a sense, Wayne Coyne, front man for alternative psychedelic rock band the Flaming Lips, has been carrying on his own personal record store day for a while. In the last year, his band has released new songs on limited edition vinyl, and Coyne has taken the records to independent record stores to sell and sign copies, meet fans and pose for photos.
"These things can go on for hours and hours — it's like doing a show or being at a party," Coyne said.
"You're with people who love what you do. It's an experience, a connection to the music."
He therefore gladly participated in Record Store Day, and for what the Flaming Lips would release that day, he thought big: a compilation of his one-off tracks from the last year, plus a handful of new songs, on a colorful swirl of vinyl. About 10,000 will be available across the country.
Coyne made clear he's not reflexively opposed to corporations — Warner Brothers has been his label for 20 years — and that he's a fan of downloads: "I love this idea that if you have a computer, you can have access to almost all the art and music that's ever been made."
But he also stands with an event that boosts independent record stores.
"I do these (appearances) all the time at record stores, and to me it's such a great environment for people who love music. It's not about computers or washing machines. It's about music."
Our Record Store Day picks
Do you know what special releases you'll be looking for on April 21? Find more information on what's slated to be released, and which stores are participating, at recordstoreday.com. Here's what's on our shopping list:
Mastodon/Feist (Mastodon and Feist): The gentle (Feist) and raucous (Mastodon) team up on a 7-inch single to cover each other's songs.
After It's Gone (Patterson Hood and the Downtown 13): Frontman for Drive-By Truckers and other Athens, Ga., musicians team for this 7-inch single to protest an 8-acre mixed-use development anchored by a Wal-Mart.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun