I admit I’m not a veteran of the vinyl scene. I wasn’t around when they were as cheap nor as disposable as CDs. I don’t have the money to invest in the high-end, thousand-pound turntables and top-of-the-range, Sony speakers. I don’t put all my records in their own, individual, satin-lined sleeves. I don’t have a 4×4 unit of record shelves, boasting a thousand titles from a hundred different artists.
I buy records when I can, I shop online to save money, I use the sleeves the records come to me in. And I apologise for that. I’m what you’d call a casual collector – somewhere between the Spotify-subscribing, common consumer of music and those with entire record stores tucked away in their bedrooms. Somewhere in that gulf lies me, and many like me. After all, serious record collecting is more than just a hobby: it’s an obsession, where the stakes quickly get higher and higher – where original pressings are gold dust, and price tags can easily reach the hundreds, if not thousands.
So, truth be told, I never really got all the hype around Record Store Day. RSD, for those who don’t know, is a bi-annual event (one Saturday in April and Black Friday of every year) in which hundreds of independent record stores participate; celebrating their place in the consumption of vinyl records. Many, many exclusive, limited runs of records are put out. The catch? You’ll only find them at those independent record stores. It incentivizes those who usually buy their vinyl online to take the trip out, to imbibe the independent culture and, most importantly, support them in a business climate which feels harder to cling onto every year.
I’ve known about Record Store Day for a long time now but, coming from a small town which doesn’t boast a single music shop, never cared much for it. 99% of the limited-edition records released for the event – which range from coloured vinyl to picture discs, exclusive singles and more – aren’t my kind of thing anyway, so I paid little attention.
But this year a mate of mine, Daniel Ash, was playing a set at one such independent record store – Vinilo Record Store in Southampton, funnily enough – under his one-man-band persona, Teenage Waitress. Armed with an acoustic guitar and a selection of material (from new songs to tracks from his debut, Love & Chemicals), he played for forty-five minutes. And it was a truly neat set – I already know I’m going to buy his second LP the day it’s released, and not just because he’s such a nice fella.
But he could have been playing anywhere, and it would have sounded great. What made it truly special was the setting. I’d never been to a local record store on RSD before – Hell, I’d barely visited many at all in the first place. Historically, hmv has been where I’ve done the bulk of my in-store record purchases.
So, to be standing there, on a sunny Spring’s day, in the open space of Vinilo Record Store, watching real, live music before my very eyes… it was special. It was something I’d never have gotten from a Facebook livestream, or commercialized, franchised event. It was someone real, playing in a place that celebrated real people. People on the small scale, who supported one store and one store only for a lot of their lives.
These are the record stores that are allowing vinyl to boom in the 2000s. In an age where LPs are set to overtake compact discs in revenue for the first time in years – according to the Entertainment Retailers’ Association – these are the shops that allow people to keep doing what makes them happy. Buying records, sliding them out of their sleeves and giving them a spin. At a time when even music giant hmv comes under threat of closure, independent record stores on the local level are crucial to the running of this titanic, infectious machine. They’ve never been more important.
To be in that store as customer after customer swept in, hurriedly ticking long-awaited goodies off shopping lists, or just browsing at the dozens of discs on offer, was a unique experience. It was a reminder of what makes vinyl collecting so great – its community. A crack team of devoted, phonograph fanatics, acolytes of the acetate disc, all-knowing and all-loving in their adoration for the cleanest sound. Whether they’re picking up Rumours for the first time in a charity shop, or lining up for Record Store Day exclusives at 7AM, they’re the reason why vinyl is so treasured, and so eternal.
And as someone who still occasionally leaves his record on the slipmat overnight – or keeps the discs in the supplied sleeves – I could not be happier to be among such fans, from casual collectors to the enamored elite. Record Store Day is a true celebration of all creeds in record collecting, a reminder that we are all shared in our common interests. Record Store Day may seem like one niche day in the calendar for many, but for the devout few, its Sunday mass. And all are welcome.