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Record Store Day 101

It's vinyl, and then some


Record Store Day 101

At about the same time that CDs first came on the scene in 1982, sales of vinyl albums and singles began a steep decline. Already struggling against competition from audio cassettes beginning in the early '70s, vinyl just couldn't compete with the durability and portability of the compact disc.

By the late '90s, vinyl was little more than an oddity to a new generation of music listeners. You couldn't listen to LPs in the car or when you jogged, they were easily scratched and hard to keep clean, and they took up a lot more storage space than CDs.

But along about the turn of the 21st century, things started turning around. Slowly at first, sales of vinyl records started inching back up, and near the end of the decade they were increasing at about the same rate that sales of CDs and MP3s were declining. Increasingly, record labels were remastering and reissuing albums originally released on vinyl, and including vinyl versions of new releases by newer artists.

The birth of Record Store Day

The decline and fall of vinyl brought about the demise of many smaller, independent record stores who simply couldn't survive up against the big box retailers and large chain record stores like Tower, Blockbuster and Best Buy. But as vinyl's resurgence picked up steam, so did the rebirth of those small, independent record stores.

For a generation brought up on "self service" music buying, indie record stores were a revelation. Not only did the people who worked there know a lot about music, they took the time to get to know their customers, and steer them toward catalog albums and new releases that fit their tastes. They never rushed you or pushed you to buy, but they didn't ignore you either. Whoulda thunk it?

In 2007 a few record store owners and employees banded together, rallied some of their colleagues, and conceived the idea of an annual event that reminded people what independent record stores still represent to music lovers. The result of that effort, Record Store Day, debuted in 2008, and has grown exponentially ever since.

From the beginning, classic rock has been a major player in Record Store Day. Some of the earliest and strongest proponents of the idea were people like Paul McCartney, Joan Jett, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Iggy & The Stooges (to name only a few.) As often as not, the honorary RSD "ambassador" is a classic rock artist.

From the beginning, one of RSD's trademarks has been the "RSD exclusive" releases used (quite successfully) to tantalize serious collectors. Over the past few years, classic rock artists have been featured on a big chunk of those releases.

Of course, classic rock is our primary interest here, but it should be noted that ours is not the only genre strongly associated with vinyl, and actively involved in Record Store Day.

The allure of vinyl

Although Record Store Day is not exclusively about vinyl, it's a huge part of it. It's what drew people to record stores back in the day, and it's what draws many today.

What is it about vinyl anyway? For some people, it's the full, rich sound that you can't get from your CDs and MP3s. For some, it's the album covers. For almost all, it is the tactile sensations, opening a new album, even breathing vinyl's unique smell. The reasons people collect vinyl are as varied as the collectors themselves.

For me (and, apparently, for quite a few of you, too) Record Store Day rekindles some fond memories of the record stores in which we spent much of our youth. I've been known to reminisce on these pages about some of my record store experiences, and so have quite a few of our readers.

RSD reference guide

Although most people who visit record stores on Record Store Day won't go away empty handed, it isn't just about buying stuff. It's about a bond with others who share your love of music. And even if you don't set foot in a record store on the third Saturday in April, you can still get pretty close to the experience using something record stores didn't have back when the world was young: the Internet.

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