By: George Sells
Record Store Day has become a highly lucrative national event since its inception in 2008. That’s a far cry from the small scale marketing ploy hatched by a few east coast shop owners back at the beginning. But in its growth, it has become a cultural event that spans nearly every independently owned record shop in the nation.
Of course, every day is a celebration of music at places like Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis’ Delmar Loop. It’s just “kicked up a notch” when April arrives, and Record Store Day arrives with it. It’s become a day they can hardly wait for at Vintage Vinyl.
“We call it, like Christmas for us technically,” Vintage Vinyl’s Orlandez Lewis said in an interview a few days before the event. “It’s a great day. First off, limited editions releases come out for that day that strictly come out just for that day. They’re limited. Things on colored vinyl, reissues, lost concerts and stuff like that, so for vinyl collectors all over the place, myself included of course, it’s just like, oh my God! Christmas came early this year!”
Lewis is a record store lifer, working in the business now, and coming around these places with his dad since he was in grade school.
“I started collecting records about twenty years or so,” he says. “That was in the late nineties when no one was listening to records, and they were like, ‘What do you do with these things? They don’t even make turntables anymore!’ And we still get those questions from time to time. People are like, ‘What do you play these things on?”
Those were the years when vinyl was essentially declared dead. The compact disc and then the MP-3 came along, seeming to push records into the same pile as eight track tapes. But there were holdouts. People like Chris Tucker, who refused to abandon the cumbersome black disk.
“I feel like I’m on the tail end of this generation, but the generation that grew up reading liner notes, and you would see, like, oh, they’re thanking this band and this band,” he recalled. “I’m gonna go check that band out now because that was how things worked before. It wasn’t like you were hearing buzz on the internet. It was more like, these are the bands I like, let me listen to the bands they like.”
Lewis shares the “old school” sentiment.
“I feel like it’s like books. There’s always gonna be a physical media that you’re always gonna want to hold and cherish. With records you don’t get the same thing as with something on your iPhone or on Spotify. You can hold it. You can see it. That’s what I always liked about it. You can watch something that is transforming and giving you sound.”
And Tucker points out a record is more than the sounds coming from it.
“If you’re like, somebody who likes music, you’re probably a fan of classic album art. There’s something about being able to see it blown up in your hand instead of a little picture on your screen, on your phone or your iPod or whatever.”
Both music lovers will argue there is a difference in the sound as well.
“It of course gives off that nice, deep kind of…for me it’s more like the bass, you get more of a textural feel with it,” Lewis says. “And it’s originally how it was intended to sound in my opinion. With things like iTunes and Spotify or Pandora, you’re gonna get a little bit of a muted connection if you will. It’s not gonna be the same.”
As people like these were holding on to their records for dear life, record stores were collapsing, thanks in large part to the internet. Powerhouse chains like Tower Records where shuttered, but many of the local shops held on. Record Store Day was established by a group of independent owners to try and drum up business. It worked. Vinyl started taking off again, with several of the Record Store Day events setting new records for vinyl album sales under the industry tracking system, in place since 1991.
“Over time I’ve just seen it spiral into greatness basically,” Lewis says. “To have some kind of event that celebrates independent music and record stores is just amazing.”
Now record companies are on board, offering special releases. Big-name bands are part of the hoopla, too. Live shows take place in seemingly every store around, promoting local music, and promoting a vibe of community. It’s a special “wink and a nod” among those whose passion for these relics of the past never waned.
“I wouldn’t say I’m the guy who’s lined up at seven am with his coffee and donuts and everything,” Tucker admits. “But I always love to come and just bask in festivities. Be around like-minded people. Everyone’s here for the same reason: to celebrate music. To celebrate vinyl. To celebrate record stores.”
Lewis agrees with the concept of celebrating.
“It’s a celebration of independent music. Of Independent record stores. The music community in St. Louis. It’s a celebration of music, community and art. There’s something for everybody on record store day, and if you come to it, you will not feel alone, that I can assure you.”