Sunday, April 20, 2014

RSD 2014

I still love record stores and don't need the excuse of Record Store Day to visit them. However, RSD is a good opportunity to drop by a store and join the collective in showing some shopping love. I also like to take the pulse of the local shoppers and see how they're interacting with the experience. The last few years I've been going to out of the way stores, so for RSD 2014 I hit up Tune Street in Great Barrington, MA. This is a nice, well-kept store on the main drag that sells home theater and stereo equipment and DVD's in addition to CD's and vinyl. While it doesn't have an excess of personality, I get the idea that the people that run the place actually like music and have given some thought to curating their stock. I was in there a few months ago for some last minute holiday shopping and I was delighted to find an ace Barrington Levy collection as well as In Time by The Mavericks. My sister was thrilled with both.

When I shop for myself, however, I have some specific guidelines. I tend to either focus on independent labels and artists early in their careers (which usually go hand in hand) while also keeping an eye out for rare or out of print items. My budget is limited so I'm not above checking availability on Spotify or eMusic, both of which are pre-paid, or using All Music, Pitchfork, et al, to help prioritize a stack of potential purchases. This time around, for example, I reshelved The Rough Guide To Latin Rare Grooves on 180 gram vinyl and Inédito by Antonio Carlos Jobim because both are on Spotify. I will be listening to both very soon, however, which might not have happened without my visit to Tune Street.

Even though I'm not really into owning something just to own it, I did carefully examine the shelf of RSD exclusives. While I was amused to see a re-pressing of Little Games by The Yardbirds selling for far less than the original I bought back in high school, there's no reason for me to buy it. There was a pair of Wes Montgomery 10 inches that were beautifully packaged but I admit my knowledge of his work is far too shallow to indulge in rarities at this point. A double album of excerpts from the Allman Brothers Band's Play All Night: Live At The Beacon Theater 1992 was intriguing, but with the whole album on Spotify and the fact that they left off Nobody Knows, which was a real highlight of those shows, meant I couldn't justify the purchase. What would it take to get me to buy one of these pricy items? Simple: something I could hear nowhere else. And the Katy Perry picture disc? Please.

This left the rest of the store to explore. The used CD's were very well-priced at $3.76 but nothing struck my fancy. Most used vinyl was $5 a pop so I flicked through it all, hitting pay dirt at the end with an album of TV Themes by The Richard Gleason Orchestra. Yes, even this collection is on Spotify, eMusic and iTunes, but not on "pure golden vinyl," which is "the purest recording material and offers vibrant sound in its truest form." Beat that Katy! Can't wait to drop the needle on Peter Gunn and blast it.

I pored over all the new CD's, including classical, jazz and world, but it was probably 85% major label catalog releases. One thing they didn't seem to have were the big deluxe reissues and box sets. Since I was already feeling magnanimous, it might have been just the time to try to sell me the expanded version of Dylan's Another Self Portrait, or the latest Miles Davis "bootleg," or even the Richard Strauss Complete Operas doorstop, but I guess they only stock those during the holidays, if at all.

As I wandered about, the store began to fill up, which gladdened my heart. While I can't be sure if it was due to RSD or simply a spectacular day in the Berkshires, plenty of people were on the street and coming in to browse. I observed a guy whose gray beard and thinning thatch didn't necessarily mean he was older than me. He flicked through the used CD's and came across one of the best things in there, a copy of Wilco's Kicking Television (with the cardboard sleeve!) for about $8. "Great record," I said helpfully from across the display table, "If you don't have it and you like Wilco, you won't be disappointed." He looked at me blankly and slid the album back into the rack. Maybe this is what that Bowling Alone book was all about - here was someone who had forgotten how to convocate at the music store.

There was also a kid, around 16 and wearing a Tool shirt, flipping through the Tool CD's. "You have the shirt, now get the albums!" I joked. He already had them, of course, but at least he was friendly about it. Like the rest of us Tool fans he was probably looking on the off chance that they had ended their eight-year drought and dropped something new. I observed with amusement when an older couple came in with a younger woman (their daughter? It was hard to tell) looking for some "hip hop 101" to get her. They quickly focused on the Notorious B.I.G. and selected Life After Death - good listening ahead for the three of them.

By this point, my daughter was watching a cooking show on one of the big flat screens and I was getting hungry myself. I started to feel like I was failing Record Store Day. I took a last desperate glance at the new releases and spotted something I hadn't seen before. It was near the floor, it's dark cover making it hard to see: Slow Phaser by Nicole Atkins. After Holly Miranda had endorsed her on Instagram, I had listened and found it excellent. Perfect! A new album on an independent label by an artist whose career started this century. Sold.

There have been more negative stories about Record Store Day this year than in the past. Major labels have really horned in, dishing up stuff like that Katy Perry thing, which has made it harder for independent labels to get time at pressing plants. Also, junk like that dilutes the stock of items that will attract serious music lovers and is likely too expensive to develop the record buying habit among pop fans. If record stores really want to leverage RSD to its full advantage, I'd recommend they turn down the major label stuff and focus on music - not just packaging - that you can't hear anywhere else. Also, handing out coupons for 25% off - or even BOGO - that go into effect three months after RSD (and expire three months after that) would provide a real incentive for shoppers to return sooner than the next RSD.

And finally some advice to shoppers: when a guy in a Bon Iver t-shirt tells you to get the used Wilco album, just do it - whether or not it's Record Store Day. See you next year!
Dig the gold vinyl!
Want to read more about Record Store Day?
A Bronx Cheer For Record Store Day


  1. Anonymous7:56 PM

    I would have seconded your Kicking Television recommendation! That's one I did shell out the big bucks for, and it's filed with the other records I'd grab on the way out in the event of a fire.
    I'm so glad you mentioned that the Allman Brothers set is Spotifyable. I didn't end up picking it up, and I didn't think to check Spotify, so I thought that ship had sailed. (I did find a used copy of the Duane Allman anthology yesterday and am smitten.)

    1. One day we shall crate-dig side by side and the recommendations will fly in all directions. Thanks for reading!