Monday, April 15, 2019

The Record Store Day Hangover

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.



Anything Should Happen said...

I'd made a vow to be positive and had a word with myself that cynicism is easy, positive is not. But............

I agree with every word you say about RSD, wholeheartedly. My local shop does exactly as you say, all behind the counter, unpriced and way above what the expected price was.

What started as a fine idea has been taken over by the Majors. Likewise Vinyl releases. Deadlines have got longer and longer, because the major labels have hijacked all the plants. What started as great with Indy labels reviving Vinyl for both reissues and primarily stuff that's never been on the format has turned into the ridiculous Super Deluxe Edition cash cow.

I didn't support RSD for the first time this year and to be honest, I feel much cleaner for it.

Shriner said...

But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the music?

Great rant, Sal. One of your best. :-)

Charlie Messing said...

Good piece, Sal. Tell it like it is. It has not gotten better through the years, like they wanted it to, or like they cared at all? It's gotten worse, and how do those scalpers not only Get the items early but Get Away with it? Thanks.

Moe said...

I didn't go this year. I would like to see less product but more rare, unreleased, etc. Not repackaged or gimmicky. I worked at a Record Store for over 10 years back in the 70's and 80's so i got to experience back in the golden years.

Troy said...

I have a love/hate relationship with RSD, but it really extends to the whole vinyl resurgence in general. I’m glad vinyl has made a bit of a comeback, but I hate that everything now is pressed on 180 gram, you only get 2-3 songs per side, most of the vinyl you see in stores consists of old radio broadcasts or other live/demo versions (seriously, if you’re going for the high quality platter, why fill it with inferior sounding source material??), and it costs an arm and a leg. Also, so many stores jack up their prices on used vinyl - - as if their VG+ copy of The Joshua Tree is worth $20-25 or more. U2 only sold like 20 million copies of that record in the late 80s, it’s not like it is a rarity or anything. I see that all the time and it drives me nuts. With all that, I seriously limit the amount of purchases I make now.

And as for RSD, you are right that it is mostly a bunch of repackaged stuff, sold at horribly overpriced levels by greedy music corporations. I saw someone on Saturday with a “new” 7 inch of The Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow”. Really? Who asked for that? You know that no one from the label ran it by Mick and Keith first, it’s just stupid product. As for most of this year’s RSD releases, I wouldn’t cross the road for them, let alone shell out a bunch of my hard earned money.

But there are parts of RSD that I do love: there is a pretty cool record store in our area, and I have become friends with the owners. They have been open for a couple of years now and are really making a go of it. They have a good to very good selection, and supplement their business by selling, renting, and refurbishing classic jukeboxes. Always gives the store a really cool vibe. I support them throughout the year, including RSD. This year, they had a live band, brought out a bunch of friends in the community, worked with the local liquor store to offer a beer tasting event showcasing a local brewer, and generally made it a daylong fest. They worked their butts off, and everyone had a good time. Sure, they didn’t get all of the titles they tried to order, and some sold out almost immediately. So some people were not able to get what they wanted. As for me, I kept the list short and simple - - I got an EP from Tedeschi Trucks Band featuring 3 alternative versions of tunes from ‘Signs’, backed with a live version of “Shame” from a show that I saw at the Chicago Theater. It was $15, which I don’t consider to be overly expensive. And it sounds abso-frickin-lutely fantastic.

I try to limit my expectations of RSD and simply go to hang out a bit. If I pick up something cool, that’s a bonus. For instance, I would have also been interested in the Grateful Dead acoustic live show release this year, as I really enjoy ‘Reckoning’. But it wasn’t to be, so no big deal. I’ll likely find some used vinyl treasure next time I’m in.

Sal Nunziato said...

Let me be clear--I'd love RSD if it was what it was originally intended to be. But it hasn't been that, possibly ever. If there are record store owners out there who do indeed love it and do make money, that's great news. Those that I know, work through the night before, and deal with insanity all day and have few nice things to say.

As for the music itself---I thought this year had some great pieces. The Elvis Costello in particular, is amazing. Four newly recorded songs, all co-written: Johnny Cash, Dylan, McCartney and Bacharach. $15. Amazing. But when this EP gets a commercial release down the road, it will sour the whole mess and THAT is one of the many issues.

Ray Gianchetti said...

Havi8ng seen it from both sides, I could probably write a book on RSD, but I'll, try to be as brief as possible: RSD is a great idea in theory - but very poorly executed in my opinion. As someone with an online presence as well as a "mobile" store that does corporate fund-raising events (I buy new releases and/or key catalog titles - mostly CDs - every week from the largest One Stop in the USA), I was able to get RSD releases for the first couple of years (I only ordered for myself - I've been collecting for over 50 years - and a few loyal customers - never got them to "flip" online or even advertised the titles to my customer list because I knew I wouldn't get what I ordered - thus disappointing more people than the number I would please. I had a conversation with a RSD honcho one time who was so impressed with himself that everything was cool and limited. My response to him was that I was in the business of pleasing people, not disappointing them. My ability to get RSD titles vanished when I was asked to provide photos of my "brick and mortar" location. When I explained the "mobile-ness" of my business, I was immediately removed from their mailing list to receive any further communications from them. Yet there are stores who participate who are primarily sellers of used product who order from a one stop a few times a year just so they can qualify to get RSD titles - hardly seems fair to me. I have a very simple solution: Let the stores order as many copies as they want of every RSD title by a hard cut-off date, and the record companies agree to produce that many. If a store wants to order 50, then so be it - the product in non-returnable, the record companies make more money, the real record buyers have a much better chance of getting what they want, and the "flippers" go away (or at least think twice before they buy anything they think they'll make big money on)'s the way the record companies treat their new releases every week (though other than vinyl, they are returnable). And yes, I still go and buy RSD releases for myself (at retail prices) when I can...and I won't even get into the constant re-hashing of previously released titles. Thank God I won't be around for the 75th Anniversary Editions….

MusicHoarder77 said...

Well put. I thought RSD was a good idea at first....until the flippers took over by selling the stuff immediately on the bay. Never been to a store on RSD (usually working)...but I don;t like crowds & fighting for stuff. Some of the releases are cool...eventually I shall come across them somewhere.

cmealha said...

The store I go to is actually very well organized. When they open they let in the first 10 people and as people come out they let more people in in a very orderly manner. All the records are out front in 10 separate bins. They’re alphabetized and there’s usually plenty of stock. The only thing I didn’t find this year was the Todd box and the Robert Plant album but there seemed to be enough stock by the time I got in to keep most people happy.

The bad thing about RSD is the speculation that goes on. Seeing a lot of the RSD items on Discogs at double the price is disheartening. I know the store I go to limits a single album per person but not sure if that’s an RSD or store rule.

Anonymous said...

Nice to hear from you Ray G. - I've bought some great powerpop from you over the years at Kool Kat.

Sal, after all these years, this post was absolutely my favorite and I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, as history dictates, once an event gets popular and the big business suits and ties get involved, it fucks it up for everyone.


dogbreath said...

A good sharp article, Mr N, and some of the reader comments very readable too. We don't have a RSD here - or a record store anymore - so I'm experiencing the experiences vicariously. It's good you guys can be peed off but still retain a sense of humour in there somewhere. Cheers!

bing stills said...

Read the NY times article linked to your post. Ironic that now, twelve years later, Best Buy no longer carries CDs in their stores after being catered to by the record companies with special tracks, etc. Shaking my head so much I get dizzy. I always enjoy your posts, Sal, you usually nail it.

Ken D said...

As someone who hasn't been in a record (or CD) store in years, (whenever NYCD closed) my reaction was: "Wait, a record store with no browsing?! So what is the point?"

And some of this reminds me of collecting comic books which was a passion of mine until the speculators—some of them preteens bankrolled by Dad—started buying everything up as an investment. Yeah, my collection is worth more now but it killed the hobby for me...

Anonymous said...

Same problem in the UK.
Queue for hours to get in the store to find they've already sold their one copy of the LP you want. To an ebay seller.
Want more people in record stores? Release interesting stuff every week.

M_Sharp said...

No browsing = no fun. Might as well shop online. Good piece.

Anonymous said...

It's all about how the shop handles it. I own a record store and hear people (customers and other shop owners alike) bashing RSD for a lot of the same reasons. I don't really get it, because: (a) no one is forcing these stores to participate or carry the exclusive releases, (b) no one is telling the shop owners any specific way that they have to operate on this day, and (c) customers don't have to go to stores if they don't like the way they do it.

My shop is small, but every year RSD is consistently the best day of sales, and helps us keep the lights on throughout the slower summer months. Yes, we order the RSD releases, but only the ones we think are worthwhile. We pass on hundreds of titles, and simply let our customers know beforehand what type of stuff we have coming in. It's also the most fun day of every year, because we get some live music in the shop, get to thank our customers for another year, give out free coffee/pastrys and chat with people in line, and introduce new people to our shop.

I understand there are always going to be the shoppers with a Black Friday elbow-throwing mindset. Those people suck. But for everyone one customer we get like that on RSD, we get about 100 who are nice, music loving people who just want to come in and show us their support.

Anyways, my main point is to say that yes, RSD can be a miserable experience at some stores. Most stores, maybe. But it wasn't at our store, and the day really does help keep our doors open. We discourage rude shoppers, encourage people to shop the non-RSD titles by putting out a new collection of used LPs every year, and yes - we allow browsing by putting all the RSD titles out in the bins for you to see, hold, read, etc. The best feedback was people telling us that they had fun, and if they were lucky, found everything on their "list." It sounds like you need to find a new store that does it right!

Sal Nunziato said...

To Anon,
(b) no one is telling the shop owners any specific way that they have to operate on this day,

That's part of the problem, isn't it? Shop owners have to sign off, don't they? No early sales. No online sales. No price jacking. It's a free for all, which is why it isn't fun for everyone. And no one from the RSD camp does anything about it.

If on RSD eve, the RSD powers that be, did a sweep of eBay and penalized the shops owners tripling the price on a day the records shouldn't be for sale anyhow, wouldn't that be a start? If labels took returns, wouldn't that encourage store owners to keep the prices where they should be, instead of trying to recoup before they actually see a loss? If labels released affordable product once a month, wouldn't that potentially bring customers back a regular basis?

500 RSD releases in one day, times two RSDs. That's 1000 releases. How about 40 a month? How about allowing online sales and ONLY online can you charge a fixed, agreed upon premium? That'll get people to the stores to save money and help out those without participating stores. There are ways to help fans and store owners. But instead, crazed Badfinger fans get excited over two WB reissues, on CD ONLY...or so they think...they shell out money, only to see vinyl releases two months later on RSD for twice the price! I'm not convinced. I believe you and I'm happy you had a fun day. I'm sure many share your feelings. But to me, it's all very shady and unpleasant.

birt said...

Just to add fuel to the conflagration, I'm a former record store clerk, so former that we didn't have RSD, and I have tried to get to a new record store on each RSD of late, partly out of a sense of occasion, partly because I live in the sticks where there is no record store at all, and this is a good occasion to pile the family in the car and drive. I recognize all the reservations listed above, but as the record store owner a few posts above me pointed out, people have fun. And it is fun. We hit Cactus Records in Houston last week, and it was great. True, I only got one of the RSD releases that I had earmarked--no Lightnin' Hopkins, no Robert Johnson--but we trawled through the regular stock, and I got an armload of nice, reasonably priced used records -- Rockin' Sidney, Doug Sahm, Jimmy Yancey. I got a t-shirt, for Pete's sake. My wife got the Doors' 10", and my kid got stickers and a dinosaur pin. I can see why the purists would object to the gouging and duplicity, but in a good store with good people, you can still have a good time and talk to strangers and walk away with a bag of records and a nice little vibe, like the ghost of Doug Sahm just passed through you. I'll take that.

Anonymous said...

Response to Sal Nunziato:

No, see, you don't get it. If our shop decided one year that we didn't want to carry RSD releases, we simply wouldn't do it. What would we do? Put out a great new selection of used titles, or have a bunch of great local bands play in the store, or put a discount on all titles in the shop. Or all of the above. In fact, we do that every year in addition to carrying RSD titles, so anyone who thinks "Record Store Day is BS" don't have to buy that stuff. No one says that as a record store you have to carry RSD releases and open early.

"Shop owners have to sign off, don't they? No early sales. No online sales. No price jacking."

Have you ever been to a local record store for a new release? No early sales is always part of it. Price jacking would instantly mean no one would come to your store for new releases. Online sales? No small locally owned shop relies on online sales for a new release - we leave that to the big online giants. Everything you are complaining about is just stuff that pertains to new releases, which is what RSD titles are; all I know is my shop doesn't pre-sell titles on eBay at high prices. The RSD folks are actually pretty on top of penalizing those stores that they catch; one shop in our town was banned from carrying RSD releases for life for doing that. Most of the people doing that are the people waiting first in line at Ameoba. If you think your local store does that, don't go there.

Also - no one is making you buy a Badfinger LP that you already own on CD. That sounds like a personal issue. If you want both, buy both. If you are fine with the CD, then you're set. If not, good for you because that album is selling for below MSRP on every resale site.

Anyways, it sounds like a lot of people have been jaded by bad experiences at their local record stores. All I can say is go to your favorite shop, voice your complaints, and if they don't care, screw 'em. If you find a shop that does it right, support them. Either way, I don't get people bashing RSD as though they're forced to participate. It really does keep local record stores alive. I hate Black Friday, and thus you will never see me at Target at 2 AM. But I'm not gonna take the time to complain about it, either.

David Handelman said...

Reminds me ever so much of the advent of Presales with concert ticketing. There are now a half dozen different presales -- artist presale, Amex Pressale, Chase Credit Card presale, etc, rendering the actual "onsale date" not just meaningless but insulting. What was developed as a way to get tickets to real fans has instead also been co-opted, it's clear that scalpers have scooped up much of the early going, as they immediately end up on Stubhub or Ticketmaster Resale.

Plus (perhaps trying to prevent hoarding) the presales don't allow you to buy all tickets, just certain ones, so you end up buying early and then finding there are better seats available later? How does that make sense?

Luckily (for the consumer) sometimes it can backfire When Jeff Tweedy's two Town Hall shows went on pre-sale, I could not even get in the queue and gave up. Months later, the night before the show, there were dozens of seats on sale at or below face value.

Sal Nunziato said...

Why not take the time to complain about something? Because it will do no good? Because I could just keep quiet and not participate? It's not as if I am the only one complaining about it. Writing about it isn't a terrible idea. I see we have comments regarding both sides here.

I'm happy that you find it all pleasant and terrific at your shop. Many retailers do indeed love the day. But it is only one day. Wouldn't solid business all year round be better? Is there no way to make that happen? Please don't insist that I don't get it. Sure, it may be a personal thing to complain about a $45 Badfinger title, but it is one example and a damn good one.

Maybe as a retailer you've become jaded regarding the music itself. I don't know you. You are anonymous. But I still get excited over music. I will never tire of the thrill of the hunt or the physical product and it sucks the big one to have to jump through hoops and pay mightily on a day that is advertised as a GOOD THING. There are some good things about RSD, sure, but just as many horrible things. Why is that so hard to accept?

"Have you ever been to a local record store for a new release? No early sales is always part of it."

As I said, I'm a former retailer. So, of course. The difference here is, if I sell out of the new Bob Dylan record on street date, I'll order more, and my customers, if they are loyal and patient, will come back the next day. If not, they can go elsewhere and expect to pay pretty much the same thing. There is no fear of being shut out, or getting charged three times the price if you are shut out. RSD may be new releases, theoretically, but its no different than UMG reissuing an umpteenth version of a Who collection, and baiting the poor fans with two new tracks. Eventually, the fans WILL be soured and stop buying altogether. It already happened. Read the article linked at the end of the post.

I find RSD and it's lame guise as a day for music fans and retailers, worth my time to complain. No one has to listen to me or comment, but I know I haven't made any of this up. If you have a heart and soul, it would be hard not being offended by the whole process, even if you came out of it with some of the records you wanted or a big day day at the cash register. But not participating seems like a crappy way out for everyone and it makes for a boring blog post.

Farquhar Throckmorton III said...

Go on. Have a look.