I Love Records and I Love Record Stores, but…

Every year I become less a fan of Record Store Day. Every year the lines get longer and they seem to start earlier. As I walked out of the coffee shop on my way to get to Easy Street Records in West Seattle I noticed that the front page of the Seattle Times was dedicated to Record Store Day. Has Record Store Day hit the mainstream? Are record stores making a comeback? According to this article and most others I’ve read: hardly, but there are still a fair number of die hard patrons and apparently some fair weather ones. Easy Street opened at 7:00 am yesterday, and I heard that there were people in line to get in as early as 5:00 am.  This day has become like black Friday at Walmart. The doors open, there’s the mad rush to the one or two bins of Record Store Day records and the jockeying to get the records that are on your list.

Not one to wait hours in line, I arrived at the store just as the doors were opening. All of the RSD stuff was on the upper floor in two bins. I waited in line about 10 minutes to get upstairs and then pretty much just gave up when I saw that it was about five people deep to get the loot.  This brings up my first issue. I realize that record stores these days aren’t use to huge crowds (RSD excepted), but they could strategically place the the RSD stuff throughout the store so that more than just a handful of people at a time can get to them.  Why not put them in five or six places around the store so that it gives more people a chance at getting at least one or two of the records they want? While in Easy Street during the mad rush, a woman became visibly upset when she couldn’t get a copy of the Jamiroquai record (to each her own). She said that she had driven up all the way from Olympia for the record, which brings me to another issue I have with RSD. If you live somewhere without a bricks and mortar record store, you are left to Ebay price gougers for getting any of the releases. I saw that Norman Records in the UK, a mail order only record store was not allowed to participate in RSD because they are an online-only store and don’t have a physical store front. They’re a record store, they sell records, and probably to many people who don’t have access to bricks and mortar record store. Aren’t stores like these as vital and important as the ones (if you’re lucky enough to live near one) that you can walk into?

I left Easy Street in West Seattle without buying anything, annoyed by the crowd and bummed I couldn’t even get close to the records. I went home to get some more coffee and get my kid ready for his early baseball game. I dropped him off at the field and headed over to Sonic Boom in Ballard. It was 8:45 am. There was already a line around the block and the store didn’t open for another hour. I wasn’t in the mood to wait for over an hour in line, so I drove up to the Silver Platters in Northgate which opened at 9:00, figuring it was a much more spacious store and a little bit removed from the city so that there may be fewer people. My hunch was kind of right, there were quite a few  people there, but I was able to sneak in and grab the Lee Hazlewood record and the Trouble In Mind  and the Field Music 7-inch’s. I even inadvertently lucked out and got one of the 50 copies of the Hazelwood records that came with a  patch. Not sure what to do with the patch, but it’s cool I guess. Again though, all of the RSD records were in a single bin with people packed in like sardines to get a look at them.

By this time there were still a few records that I wanted to get, but I was resigned to give up. I went back to watch my kid’s baseball game (they lost). After the game I dropped my kid home and went over to Sonic Boom. They had been open for about an hour and a half, so I wasn’t expecting to find much. I guess liking marginally popular music has its benefits sometimes, because there were quite a few things left of interest. I picked up a second Trouble In Mind 7-inch for my friend Bill in NY who couldn’t find it there and got the Blouse/Craft Spells 7-inch, and the Cleaners From Venus box set. It wasn’t crowded by the time I got there, but Sonic Boom had the RSD releases more spread out around the store, so it was easier to browse around without looking over someone’s shoulder.

Truly, one of my favorite things in the world is walking into a record store and having a leisurely flip through their records. Record Store Day is anything but that. It is pressure packed competition, especially if there is something that is a limited edition that you really want.  I know they’re only records and so what if I didn’t get a copy of the Flaming Lips record, or the Domino Records/Ribbon Music FlexiZine. C’est la vie. I also realize that RSD has become the single biggest income day for most if not all record stores, so I’m totally stoked that it’s helping them to stay in business, but I hope that it would serve as an entry point to potential record geeks and get them into the habit of frequently visiting their local record store more than once or twice a year.  Cool limited edition marble colored vinyl is obviously enough to get people into the store, but if it’s only enough to get them there once a year, is it really going to sustain the brick and mortar record store for the long term? As it is, the other 51 Saturdays during the year, I walk into one of Seattle’s many record stores and have a leisurely browse in the company of only a few other customers. Even though I complain about the RSD crowds, I will continue to participate. I only hope that everyone else that goes to a record store on RSD, will start to participate the rest of the year.