Long before the Internet, downloading and online shopping, music fans frequented record stores on a regular basis to seek out the music they loved. Long Island used to have a ton of them – from big chains such as Tower, Sam Goody and Record World, to independent shops like Agents of Fortune, Titus Oaks and Slipped Disc - many of which are sadly no longer with us. It was the latter which die-hard fans, such as me, were introduced to the hobby-turned-obsession called record collecting. I not only bought all my favorite artists’ albums, I needed everything associated with them including books, posters, and singles, especially if the latter featured a track not on an album or had a cool picture sleeve. If a member was in another band before the one I liked, I wanted that album too, despite the fact it was long out of print. I drove my parents nuts making them take me to rare record shops and record fairs to find obscure pressings and imports. Fortunately for them, I was old enough to drive when I got into metal; a market where non-album b-sides, 12” singles and picture discs reigned supreme.
Back then independent record stores were more than just a place to buy the rarities I desired; it was more like a community. Avid fans could hang out and talk about music for hours and employees knew about the music they were selling. Even when the popularity of the CD took over and squashed vinyl sales, fans would seek out rare tracks on singles and imports. The industry was thriving.
At the same time downloading became the norm young music fans started ‘discovering’ classic rock and indulged into their parents' record collections. Vinyl albums soon became ‘cool’ again and in demand. The aforementioned ‘big-box’ stores would not carry much vinyl, if at all, and independent shops resurged in popularity again. Not only for finding hard to find items, but for what they always stood for; a place where music is appreciated, and owning an album is more than just a file on a device that can fit in your pocket.
This was refreshing news to us ‘old school’ music fans, who refuse to ‘rip’ their collections to digital and toss out their discs. It also made the music industry and its artists take note on just who is supporting and selling their music.
As a way of recognizing local independent shops, the three major coalitions - the Department of Record Stores, the Alliance of Independent Media Stores and the Coalition of Independent Music Stores - banded together and founded Record Store Day in 2008. Each year the event gets bigger, with stores offering exclusive releases in addition to festivities around the event. It is held annually on the third Saturday in April and involves 1,400 independently owned record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally.
The vast releases for the day come from major artists to indie labels, special re-issues of previously released material and picture discs and colored vinyl. Many artists also release music exclusive to these particular collectables, adding to the demand. One of the few CDs to be released for the day is a live album from Metallica titled “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, Metallica! - Live at Le Bataclan.” It was recorded in June 2003 at the same venue in Paris which fell to a terrorist attack in November 2015 and proceeds will be donated to charity. The band will also re-issue re-mastered editions of their first two albums, “Kill Em All” and “Ride The Lightning” with deluxe packaging.
Looney Tunes of West Babylon, one of the longest running independent record stores on Long Island, is preparing for its biggest sale day. Their customers line-up several hours before the doors open as items are strictly limited and sell out fast. Store owner Karl Groeger Jr. does not see Record Store Day as the music industry’s way of bouncing back; it is more as a means of taking advantage of an active market. “The music industry was never dying, it is changing as it has in the last 50 years,” he says. “At one point physical was losing to digital but now vinyl has pushed back and is now beating digital growth.”
Indeed. Nielsen reports that vinyl sales are up 30% from 2014, with a staggering 12 million LPs sold in 2015 and 45 percent of the sales coming from independent shops. MusicWatch, a consumer research and analyst service, states on their website that half of vinyl buyers are younger than 26 years old – a pleasant surprise considering they were likely introduced to music either digitally or by streaming.
“It’s beautiful to see 16-year-old girls shopping right next to guys who guys in their 40s and beyond on Record Store Day,” adds Karl. “It’s definitely shined a light on vinyl again. It reminds people that vinyl is the true way to experience music as an art form on that configuration.”
Watch for more posts about record collecting and the return of vinyl in future posts.
For more information and a complete list of all the stores and releases, go to recordstoreday.com