Song, by Toad: In defence of the ‘ludicrous circus’ that is Record Store Day
Vinyl record

The perception of annual vinyl celebration Record Store Day has changed in recent years. Once considered a breath of fresh air for an under-appreciated and dying music medium, many now condemn the worldwide event as just another excuse for rampant commercialism.

Here Matthew Young (owner of small, independent record label Song, by Toad) presents a – perhaps surprising – case in defence of Record Store Day.

Record Store Day has been much debated over the last couple of years, but it is, I think, much more controversial than it needs to be.

It started out as a small, cosy independent thing

It is true that it started out as a small, cosy independent thing, designed to support our few surviving independent record shops and to remind everyone of the importance of all parts of the musical food chain. A grass-roots movement designed to protect small local businesses which are a crucial part of the local musical ecosystem is unequivocally a good thing.

So unequivocally good that, of course, it went massively overground, and – at the same time – the major labels discovered they could gouge customers by re-pressing absolutely every last piece of shit in their back catalogue onto ‘heavyweight, audiophile vinyl’ and selling it for silly amounts.

They also discovered that people would play vast sums of money on Record Store Day for any remaining piece of rubbish at the back of their proverbial cupboard, if only they released it on super-limited edition coloured vinyl.

A ludicrous circus

The consequences were fairly inevitable, I suppose. Some Record Store Day releases are great, as are a lot of the major label back catalogue re-releases, but the overwhelming majority of it is now utterly unnecessary rubbish, often not good enough for a proper release, or just any old crap thrown at the event without any real sense of value or suitability.

And of course once the majors get involved, their avalanche of garbage utterly smothers everything else, basically drowning out all the independents who made the event good in the first place, and clogging up the few remaining vinyl pressing plants with sheer volume, hence completely disrupting every normal release for months before and after the event itself.

To make matters worse, distributors engage in some very, very dubious practices. Shops have to order and pay for what they want in advance, but they have no idea what they are going to actually get, because numbers are so limited. So a shop has to over-order, simply in order to have a hope of getting some of the stock they need to sell, but they might well suddenly get more than they expect and end up with a massive bill for records they can’t sell, before they’ve had the chance to even try.

The whole thing, frankly, is a ludicrous circus.

The mechanisms of the whole thing are a nightmare and the world of official limited run releases has been pretty much ruined by the majors, thundering into the party late, like Jeremy Clarkson desperately wondering why no-one really wants them there.

More hassle than it’s worth

But really, there is no need to care about any of the accompanying kerfuffle. You can entirely ignore all of it and still have an awesome time – still celebrate your local record shop, still generate a ton of revenue for them, and still come together as a local music community to have a brilliant time and reinforce all those important relationships between fans, bands, promoters, labels and shops which hold this industry together.

About the same time I was thinking ‘Bollocks, why am I going through all this rubbish?’ it seems Darren from VoxBox Music (a record shop here in Edinburgh) was thinking the same.

VoxBox Music Edinburgh
hoopygirl7 / Flickr / CC

Just as we at Song, by Toad decided not to bother with any more limited edition RSD releases, Darren also simply decided not to bother stocking them. It was just more hassle than it was worth and it wasn’t really helping his business enough to justify it, which was supposed to be the whole point of the day.

So none of us bother at all.

Darren and our friends from small label Gerry Loves Records traditionally organise a day of fantastic live music at VoxBox on RSD – some in-store, some in the pub over the road and occasionally some on the doorstep of the shop.

Everyone comes along, everyone has a ball, everyone loves it, and everyone buys a ton of records.

All you need is some beer and a stereo

I appreciate the complaints people have about the day – and as you can see I have a good few of my own – but no-one is forcing anyone to buy into any of this.

You’re celebrating your favourite local record shops, and the shops, the fans and the labels do still have the option to pick and choose which bits they want to participate in.

Think the distributors take the piss by imposing idiotic payment terms? Don’t stock the damn records.

Think it’s too much hassle trying to organise a release months and months in advance and still not really knowing if it’s going to be delivered in time because of a giant run of limited edition silver sparkly Justin Bieber 7″ singles? Just leave it.

Think the prices are ridiculous, or the queues are silly, or the awful bastard eBay scalpers are just vermin? Don’t buy it – any of it.

Use RSD as an excuse to stock up on some older releases for a change, or to take a chance on some stuff you think looks interesting.

It’s not like they’re going to call your mum and tell on you for not releasing, stocking or buying a triple album of picture discs stuffed full of demos which aren’t really that good, or else they’d have been released properly already.

So stop taking it all so seriously and just have a bit of a party. All you need is some beer and a stereo, it’s not that hard.

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Like this? Try these:

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Main image: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images