Music Industry

The Record Store Day Revolution

[Today is the 11th annual Record Store Day. Contributor Chris Donaghue has some thoughts about it all. – AC]

As music mediums went from vinyl, to CD, to mp3, to ringtones, some of us noticed this was a race to the bottom of crappiness. And what happened in music during this time? It became less profitable, less diverse, and less inspiring.

But if you listen to David Byrne, he has pointed out that digital sales allow record companies to make MORE money per unit. They don’t need to design, manufacture, or distribute physical copies anymore. So, just like with CD’s, record companies get to make money per unit while pushing a crappier product. But vinyl fans are demanding a return to quality. Maybe it’ll spill over into the quality of popular music improving?

The inevitability argument of techno-illogical-creep, is like illegal downloading. It couldn’t be stopped, the anarchists won for once. But then downloading changed the economics of songcraft, and turned popular songs into jingles for signing shows. So you can think of all tech advancement as being in a forward direction, or you can see how technological mediums affect the messages sent by them in unintendedly good & bad ways. It wasn’t downloading that wrecked the recording industry, it was CDs.

When CD’s first appeared in the mid ’80s, they were unbelievably shitty. They sounded much worse than vinyl. They cost less to make than tapes but sold for more. Didn’t have liner notes usually, and did I mention they sounded like crap? But they were marketed as indestructible, supposedly you’d never need to replace them. So music fans dumped their records at the used shops, and re-bought a bazillion copies of Phil Collins, & The Eagles Greatest Hits. Whereas I was buying used vinyl and finding that there was a lot more available in 1990, then there was in 1989. So the record companies re-sold you a crappier version, for more money, and they wonder where the rug went from underneath them. But vinyl fans are fans. And we can demand quality. And yes, there is Pono, but I dunno about Pono. I love Neil, but I dunno about Pono.

Vinyl is Evolving

In Hull, where I live, a new, new & used vinyl shop opened, called Vinyl Scene, In 2018! (Great bilingual name). Aside from coffee & drinks, they only have vinyl. They have great space-age listening booths (Vinyl Age maybe?), but should expand their niche, into music books at least. And now Chapters has a ‘Record Shop’, (which is just a box of records). This might be because 2018 was the 11th year of double-digit vinyl sales growth, 12% in 2018.  Records accounted for nearly 14% of physical album sales, up from 8% in 2016. And the thing is, digital can’t sound better, the ear is an analog receiver. If you don’t believe that, I invite you to open a CD store. They still have Tower Records in Japan.

Vinyl is set to overtake CD sales in 2019, that’s up above 50% from 14 % in 2018. Who saw that coming? But more importantly, who will capitalize on it? And according to Alan Cross, host of The Ongoing History of New Music, it may have already happened. It’s hard to say because vinyl isn’t tracked the way digital sales are, like the vinyl sold at merch-tables at shows – the little collector’s shops every act sets up. The last year vinyl outsold CD’s? 1986.

Tower Records, HMV, Sam the Record Man, they’re all gone, but sales are up. The vinyl renaissance is a real opportunity for new & used independent shops. Now, if we could just have a musical renaissance to go with the sales renaissance. Maybe another Nevermind, or Are You Experienced?, or Sgt. Peppers? Another Stones/Beatles, or Nirvana/Pearl Jam rivalry could really shift some units. But bands and working with your friends have become passé. With anti-social media, it is so much easier to try and take a shortcut to stardom. But do you think any of today’s YouTube stars will be listened to in 20 years? Or still selling vinyl copies in 20 years?

Vinyl can never really go out of style again. It will always be the medium of the audiophile. It can only go out of style if music goes out of style. But that could never happen. Music just adapts.

Even though good music has dwindled due to digital devaluing, there is also John Zorn & Godspeed You! Black Emperor, around today. And they are about as underground as any artists have ever been. Along with Banksy, who is supposedly in Massive Attack. That would make sense. Mezzanine is monstrously good. Although, all these counter-culture vultures are older than me. Where are the kids dissing the mouth of May? And jingling ‘Dump Trump?’ The predicted wave of protest songs against Trump hasn’t become the panic songs we need. At least Nixon & Thatcher caused good protest songs, (Ohio, I’ll Melt With You, etc. etc.). The minds of today got lulled by blinking lights and Netflix rights.

And the reason vinyl is resurging is not new music, almost all the top sellers are decades old, like Abbey Road, It’s not due to artists, or modern mp3 compatible record players,  it’s due to fans who want to go back to quality instead of drinking the watered down Kool-Aid. Digital music is like drinking weak poison,- it won’t trip you out, or kill you, you’ll just feel like the blood is slowly draining out of all of humanity at once.

The Vinyl Renaissance is also partly due to falling CD sales, that’s why it will overtake CD’s, but the real reason for any increase in Vinyl sales is actually due to shops inspiring each other.

Record Store Day

In 2002, comic book/shops came up with Free Comic Book Day, since they had oversaturated their market and needed to bring ‘em back in. It’s the first Saturday of every May, where there are lots of free special edition comics. So record stores were inspired to come up with Record Store Day in 2008. It’s always a Saturday in April, pre-empting the comic Book/Shops by a month or so. Every year since the first Record Store Day in 2008, vinyl has seen double-digit sales growth. My favourite record store day release? Feistodon.

Feist & Mastodon split a double A-side in 2012. They do her song, A Commotion. It’s mind blowing. The video is even better. Feist lip-synching her own song while smashing guitars, (which I feel very conflicted about, but it’s OK if it’s her). Mastodon also get sampled on the Feist song, A Man is Not His Song. I also sang on that song with Choir! Choir! Choir! It’s my major label debut. Perhaps we could come up with a Book/Shop day? I suggest Oct 17th.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38569 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “The Record Store Day Revolution

  • But a bit more about Pono. If the digital world causes us to turn into the Borg, at least there is a better digital format than mp3. Pono might have a bright future if people can be convinced to buy good speakers for their computers.


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