Record Store Day is coming up next Saturday(I’ve got a special thing happening. See?), so expect extra ruminating about the format over the next week. Here’s something from TheMusic.com.au that seeks to explain why the vinyl thing keeps getting bigger.
Back in the dim, dark days before the juggernaut of technology stamped its presence upon many of the most enjoyable aspects of modern life, your local record stores used to do a lot more than just sell different types and styles of music. Staffed and run by people who’d more often than not dedicated their entire lives to either making or appreciating music, record shops represented a music hub for their respective community — a place where music lovers could congregate to meet like-minded souls who shared their passion for the most commonly appreciated but most often undervalued of our society’s major art forms. Lifelong relationships were formed while flicking through the racks, great bands formed from record store notice boards and a myriad of lives were changed for the better just by random meetings in these most unheralded of retail environments. The very act of searching for that mysterious musical treasure became an art form in and of itself: indeed questing for that furtive piece of music by a beloved act that had so far avoided your grasp — the title either specific or nebulous — was for many the most intoxicating (and least harmful) of all the potential addictions offered up by society.
Over time, sadly, this experience became diluted; first by the advent of the internet — which allowed not only basically unfettered access to downloaded and streamed music (free and otherwise) but also the ability to peruse physical music products from the vapid safety of one’s computer screen — and then also by the onset of corporate-driven chains who used economies of scale and arguably unscrupulous marketing practices (using recorded music as a loss leader, for instance, to get people into their stores with the hopes of upgrading their purchasing practices to whitegoods down the track) to take market share from the smaller music retailers who represented their competition. These changes provided greater and cheaper access to music, but also acted to devalue its acquisition as an experience. In terms of downloaded music it rendered redundant those magical elements of physical product such as artwork, liner notes and album credits — aspects which had long abetted the true music lovers’ appreciation and enjoyment of a particular release. Where the record store experience was communal, the digital experience was insular and individual. Yet economics prevailed and record stores started closing in insurmountable numbers early this millennium — it even seemed for a while that the entire record store experience would soon be relegated to nothing more than dusty memories, a relic of a bygone age.
But now the wheel has turned, and Record Store Day is a shining signifier of a most unexpected (but entirely welcome) resurgence by the physical medium of music and the accompanying rebirth of the humble record shop.