It seems that my reputation precedes me. I've been a cynic long before I knew the meaning of the word. But I don't believe that should disqualify me from voicing my displeasure over genuinely awful things. Sometimes, things are truly awful, even if some fail to see it as soon as I do.
Record Store Day is truly awful. What began as a celebration of the mom and pop record shop, with special releases created to bring people back to the disappearing record store, ten years on has become a manipulative and insulting day of greed, chaos and what can only be described as a sodomizing of the poor, genuine soul who really is only in it for the music.
If you are not familiar with the process, I'll explain.
Record labels, both major and indie, create product, usually from already existing product, that will be pressed in limited quantities, some of the time in gimmicky packaging or colored vinyl, that will be released to brick and mortar only. There is a suggested retail price (if you can find that information anywhere online) that is rarely adhered to and never policed by the clowns who run this horrible event.
So for example, Craft Recordings released Albert King's 1967 Stax classic, "Born Under A Bad Sign," newly mastered from original analogue MONO tapes, in a run of 2250 copies. Suggested list: $24.99-$27.99. About a day or two before RSD, copies began appearing on eBay for $69.99 to $99.99. It's very easy to find these rule-breakers. All you need to do is look. But no one in charge of RSD ever does. On RSD itself, this Albert King piece was nearly impossible to find, at least in the stores I checked in with. I spoke to a few dealers, as well as some record store owners in the tri-state area, all of whom said they couldn't get any. Now, RSD is over and copies are back online for $69.99- $88.99. Has there been a resurgence of Albert King records that I didn't know about? You can still find basic, solid sounding reissues of "Born Under A Bad Sign" for about $25. I can tell a similar story about another hundred pieces.
Creating mania over picture discs, repackaged bonus tracks, live albums and god help us, 3" records that need a special player, is not celebrating the mom and pop. It's mocking the record buying public, who sadly, get mocked enough. It's bad enough to want a vinyl copy of Pink Floyd's "A Saucerful Of Secrets" in MONO, that you line up at 4AM in the pouring rain and stand around waiting for your shop to open, only to be told, "We got fucked. We didn't get any Floyd." (That's the story I heard from at least a half dozen people.) But then, after the initial humiliation, you find multiple copies on line for close to $100. This PF record had a run of 6500. Really? 6500 and records stores got "fucked?" "A Saucerful Of Secrets" is 50 years old and I don't think it has yet sold 6500 copies. As of this writing, I see over 150 available on line. Lord knows how many more were hoarded, leaving all the innocent Record Store Day visitors empty-handed.
One friend suggested this: "Maybe if this many people shopped at record stores every weekend, we wouldn't need RSD." I wonder how many people would show up in the early hours of RSD if only 10 releases had been announced instead of 500. Of course there are throngs of people. 500 new records came out on one day. People love music.
And did you know, nothing is returnable. I bought a few records, hassle free, thanks to knowing some good people. But two of my records are defective. TOO BAD! No exchanges on RSD. And let's say a record store ordered ten copies of Sly & the Family Stone's Complete Woodstock Performance, but only moved four. TOO BAD! No returns. Now what? A three-sided album, of an oft-bootlegged show, with audio easily available with a few keystrokes, priced at the suggested list of $32.99 sits in a bin, to eventually get reduced to $24.99, just to both, add insult to injury to those who waited on line, and to help the retailer get his money back. (The Sly Woodstock performance, by the way, runs 44 minutes and could have easily been released on a single LP for $19.99. And if you come back at me with the "sound quality" argument, I'll tell you that no one gave a shit about releasing Robert Plant's 64 minute album, "Fate Of Nations" on one LP.)
Another friend pointed out: "It's a futile argument. RSD and the RnRHoF. Take the good with the hosing." I'll agree that arguing about the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is futile. Public Enemy, yes! Def Leppard, no! Def Leppard, yes! Roxy Music, no! We can do that all day. But shouldn't it be pretty easy to get on board with RSD overpricing and scalping? Even the execution is ham-fisted. $45 for Badfinger Warner Brothers outtakes on limited vinyl, which is already available for $20 or less on CD? There's no work involved here, other than hastily pressing and printing the product, which probably accounts for so many bad pressings and chintzy packages, all wanting for at least a proper printed inner sleeve. I can do this all day, too. The labels are preying on the fans and obsessives and record store owners roll the dice. Many, still stuck with product from RSD 2016 and 2017. Seems like a lot more bad than good.
Full disclosure, I bought the Albert King piece because Kevin Gray did the mastering and it's fantastic. I bought the Sly "Woodstock" piece because I love Sly. I bought the Badfinger piece because I think the alternate mixes are terrific. But I would have bought them all anyway. I just would have preferred doing it on my own time and having the ability to exchange them, if they were defective. I don't appreciate the dog and pony show. I can't see how anyone does.
When all is said and done, you can either participate or not. No one is forced out into the early morning, money and list in hand. But there needs to be a better way. And please, if you're answer is, "Download free MP3s," you're missing both the point of Record Store Day and the heart of this blog.
Finally, a friend and record store owner challenged me with this:
"How about the fact that the customers REALLY REALLY LOVE IT? Everybody gets some stuff that they like. Some love the adventure, lining up, getting up early. It's not about money really, at least not around my shop. Why can't people just have some fun? I really enjoy the whole experience, including the records that I get for myself. People were happy today, and that's brings me pleasure. Why not?"
I guess that's one man's experience. It wasn't mine. I saw kid after kid after kid, come out of my local shop, whining about not getting the Pearl Jam, or the Mastodon, or The Crow soundtrack, and at least 5 people got shut out of the Pink Floyd. No one looked like they were having fun. Many sitting alone, on the wet pavement, relentlessly checking their phones. And no one could have been happy spending $38 for seven different remixes of one Roxy Music song. Try finding list prices and track listings for all of the RSD releases once they are announced. Not even the official RSD website is thorough. Everything is a mystery until you take out your wallet in the shop. I wonder how much excitement would be drummed up if you knew "Roxy Music Remixed" was not the first album remixed, but mostly just "Ladytron." Would you still be excited about dropping $38?
Another interesting point about my local shop---there is no browsing. I'm not sure how other shops run things, but here, all the product is behind the counter and NONE of it is priced. Fun? Think about this. You wait in a line for upwards of two hours, it's your turn, and you've got 50 impatient people behind you grunting while you stutter through your want list, only to be handed half of it if you're lucky, shoved off to a register, where it is all scanned and rung up. It's only then that you find out, you were charged $5-$15 over the suggested list. I observed this for over an hour and NO ONE spoke up inside the store, only when they got outside and looked at the receipt.
It might be easy for those who don't care about any of this to simply respond with, "Just don't do it." Or, "I would have spoken up about the pricing." I won't argue with you. You're right. But remember, it's a lot easier when you're not in the thick of it.
This is what two more record store owner friends had to say about RSD:
"I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!"
"I fucking hate it!"
I've never tried to hide my love for my records or the fact that, if you put me in a warehouse filled with thousands of record bins, you would find me dead, weeks later, with my fingers stiff over the "M" section. It is without question, my favorite thing to do. Flipping through records is my yoga. But Record Store Day is not fun. It's an unpleasant, hot Vicks vinyl enema and it takes advantage of every single soul who loves buying records, and who, by the way, never needed a "day" to go to a record store. They were always going. They only stopped because the majors fucked that up too.