There is something special about digging through the crates at an independent record store. Vinyl enthusiasts will ceaselessly argue that vinyl sounds better than streaming and mp3s (it does!), and that there is a more meaningful connection to the music when you physically drop the needle on a record (there is!).
Record Store Day was created in 2008 to celebrate independently owned record stores by offering hundreds of exclusive records pressed for distribution at small records stores around the world.
"It’s real important," said Rody’s Records’ manager Mark Vaquer of the annual event. "Traditionally we’ve done very well at our two locations on Records Store Day, but this year is going to be a toss up because we don’t know what to expect. Things are way different now."
Now in its 12th year, RSD is in a weird position because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was originally scheduled for April, but now has been split into three days over the coming months with the first occurring on August 29, followed by a second event in the Fall and then a Black Friday drop.
"I’m curious to see how that’s going to work out," Vaquer continued.
Other changes include the necessary precautions that are required to accommodate customers during the pandemic.
"When we reopened in June I started handling our Saturday drops, as I call them, differently," said Ryan Graveface, owner of Graveface Records & Curiosities.
Each Saturday, Graveface puts out a fresh box of awesome used records that always draws early birds and long lines. COVID-19 has forced Graveface to adjust the routine by requiring masks and only letting in a few people into the store at a time.
"We’re just applying that to the more traditional Record Store Day drop because it’s not going to be a ton of people anyways — people are largely freaked to leave their house," said Graveface. "The concept is combine what we used to do with this new thing"
As more record labels, big and small, get involved with RSD the list of exclusive releases gets bigger and bigger, with labels flooding this year’s crop with over 250 titles (of admittedly varying desirability).
"Some highly sought after, some stinkers," said Graveface.
Graveface also runs several records labels, so he will be releasing three RSD exclusives this year including the original soundtrack to the 1987 shot-on-video horror film, "Video Violence," a record from Moon Attendant, which features members of shoegaze legends Slowdive, and an exciting reissue of "And Also the Trees," an 80’s post-punk band produced by Robert Smith and Lol Tolhurst of The Cure.
"That one I could have made a thousand more copies and still sold out," said Graveface. "I’ve had a huge demand for it, but due to COVID, I under manufactured it because I had no clue...it’s a weird era, so my confidence isn’t what it used to be on the label side of things."
As Record Store Day has grown in popularity and led to an increase in record sales, big league record labels began to get involved with what started out as an indie event.
Naturally, this has led to a bit of a backlash over the last few years, but not everyone is bothered by the so-called corporate take over of the celebration.
"I think old timers (expletive) about it like its the worst thing ever, but they have to participate or else they’ll lose some bit of customer base on that day and yadda yadda," explained Graveface.
"Then there are young, young stores that have just opened that are like, ‘[Expletive] Record Store Day. We’re not going to participate. It’s [expletive].’ The way we do it is we pull our customer base and if we get three people that want the new whatever release, we’re going to order three copies. We’re not going to order 20 copies and sit on them forever. So, I think there is a really simple, smart way to do it and I think the problem is people historically order way too much and stores are left with a ton—believe me, I used to do that years ago, too. But then you just learn from your mistakes, right?"
On the flip-side is the way RSD benefits small, independent record labels.
"For the labels that are limping along all year, if you just put out at least one Record Store Day release a year, not only are you guaranteed to sell out of that, but the profit margin is really, really good, way better than a release date at any other point in the year," said Graveface. "I think that’s kind of the story that is never really spoken about with RSD is how much it helps incredibly small labels survive.
"People are so dramatic about how much it sucks and it’s really weird to me" Graveface continued. "If we’re all truly interested in this hobby — it’s not a hobby to me, it’s actually how I make a living—if we’re all in this hobby together, wouldn’t we like that there’s a day to celebrate the actual format itself?
"Overall, I think they’re doing a great job and any day a store can make five times the amount of money it normally does, isn’t that a good thing?"