Damn the Man, Save Your Local Record Store

Why You Should Care About Record Store Day

Damn the Man, Save Your Local Record Store

Kelly O

JON MCCUBBIN Employee, Sonic Boom.

The American record store is in critical condition. In January, Nielsen SoundScan reported that U.S. CD sales dropped 20 percent in 2008—the seventh year of decline since 2000—and despite an 89 percent increase in vinyl sales in 2008, vinyl remains a tiny percentage of the retail music market. Last month, Virgin Megastores announced that it'll be closing all six of its locations this spring, including the branch in Times Square, which is the highest-volume music store in America. Tower Records went bankrupt in 2006.

Smaller independent record stores aren't safe either. Dozens of indie locations across the country were forced to close shop last year, a trend that hit locally when Sonic Boom closed its Fremont location.

Blame technology, blame the people who use the technology, or blame the industry for not adapting quickly enough, but the sad truth is that America's brick-and-mortar music stores are struggling to survive.

But as easy as it is to buy or otherwise procure music online (and I'm as guilty as anyone), it's hard to accept that record stores might be going extinct. Sure, almost any song or album you're looking for is instantly available in digital format, often at less cost than as a physical product (or even free). Unless you're an avid collector of vinyl or like stacking up easy-to-break jewel cases, you don't really need a physical copy of music anymore, so you don't really need a physical building to stock it and sell it to you either.

But the most well-written recommendation algorithms can't match the service provided by local record stores staffed by friendly, knowledgeable people—they're part of the same music scene as you are, they can give you personally tailored and trustworthy suggestions, they care.

Death Cab for Cutie bassist Nick Harmer spent years working in record stores in both Bellingham and Seattle before Death Cab blew up, and he believes that record stores will survive, even if they might become more niche-based businesses.

"I really believe people like to be sold things," he says. "I know I do. Every time I buy a record online, I buy exactly what I was looking for. But every time I walk into a record store, I walk out with five things I didn't even know I wanted. There's a lot in our world that I feel like computers are making more efficient, but there's one thing I don't think they can improve, and that's conversation."

All of which is why Chris Brown of New England chain Bull Moose decided to do something about the threat to record stores by conceiving Record Store Day, a day where "independently owned record stores come together with artists to celebrate the art of music."

The first Record Store Day became reality last year on April 19, with over 700 independent stores participating, hosting big sales and free in-stores—even Metallica got in on it, performing at Rasputin Music in San Francisco.

"I was actually not a big proponent of it at first," says Matt Vaughan, owner of local Easy Street Records. "I looked at it as an attempt to emotionally tug at the public. The state of the record industry and the decimation of music retail has become well-known, but I didn't want my stores to be a part of that sob story."

But for local retailers, Record Store Day turned out to be a huge success, a celebration rather than a pity party. Vaughan says it was "the single busiest day of the year" for his stores.

But even with last year's success under their belts and the promise that this year's will be even better, one day of great sales at local stores won't reverse the sad national trend. The Ballard Sonic Boom continues to at least maintain its sales, but the Capitol Hill location has been on the decline for a few years now, according to co-owner Jason Hughes. Easy Street's Vaughan says both West Seattle's and Queen Anne's numbers are also decreasing—in fact, they're at a seven-year low.

"We had pretty steady increases all these years, but we finally took a few shots to the gut, and it has certainly woken me up," says Vaughan. "We didn't see it coming to this degree."

This year's Record Store Day is April 18 (it's the third Saturday of April each year), and more than 1,000 stores in over 17 countries are participating. Labels, bands, and retailers have booked impressive live in-store performances and created dozens of sonic treats to be sold exclusively in stores that day, including new or rare items from Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse, Slayer, Cursive, and a 7-inch containing the Flaming Lips' version of Madonna's "Borderline." And you won't be able to download any of it.

Record Store Day may not be able to single-handedly save the indie-record-store empire, but it's a good start. recommended


Comments (29) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
20% off at Silver Platters and Everyday Music on Record Store Day. I couldn't find discounts on Sonic Boom's page or everyday music.

In terms of how I consume music, I download everything free/illegally to my 1TB hard drive and buy lots of vinyl. The majority of my downloading leads to me purchasing a vinyl copy of a record. I mostly listen to 60s/70s funk, soul, rock, and all the contemporary artists I like tend to have vinyl releases.

The physical medium will remain, even if it won't thrive. There is such a stark contrast to owning a digital copy of The Beatles' White Album, and owning #65357 of the original pressing (bitches), even if the contrast is pride and ego.
Posted by hahnsolo on April 15, 2009 at 1:51 PM · Report this
record store day is a good way to draw attention to the problem. I'll check out the 20% off at those places, thanks hahnsolo. the world has changed, the way we consume music has changed, labels and musicians are delivering music straight to their audience, and people will not stop sharing files via Internet. the record stores have not kept up with the changes.
Posted by on April 15, 2009 at 3:01 PM · Report this
Barsuk branded Jones Soda will be available with purchase of Barsuk album at the following stores:

Easy Street, Sonic Boom, Music Millenium, Aquarius, Amoeba, MORE…
Posted by Mike on April 15, 2009 at 5:02 PM · Report this
Such a sad thing... for decades, the record store in my downtown Omaha neighborhood (Homer's) was THE place to hang out, explore new music, meet cool people. It's still open but I will surely lament the day when the doors close.
Posted by alaimo on April 16, 2009 at 6:50 AM · Report this
HA, I remember a couple kickass Raw Power shows from the 80s in Indianapolis!
Posted by mike on April 16, 2009 at 10:25 AM · Report this
I love that Raw Power record.
Posted by Matt from Denver on April 16, 2009 at 10:47 AM · Report this
Where was this urgnecy to save record stores when the only record store that ever mattered in Seattle, Fallout Records, had to shut its doors? Oh, that's right, the Stranger never gave a shit.
Posted by Fallout Fan on April 16, 2009 at 1:01 PM · Report this
Posted by couldn't care less on April 16, 2009 at 1:32 PM · Report this
Posted by brian cook on April 16, 2009 at 1:42 PM · Report this
where did my original comment go? i guess this will probably show up as a double post. regardless....

here ya go, Fallout Fan.…
Posted by brian cook on April 16, 2009 at 2:03 PM · Report this
Rock on! Glad to read how much support RSD09 is getting!

Posted by Daniel Edlen on April 16, 2009 at 3:51 PM · Report this
Sonic Boom might not be offering 20 percent off, but it is donating 10% of their profits to Seattle city schools music programs. That's pretty cool. Also, I don't think that the Beattles "White Album" is available on Itunes. Raw Power is awesome. Records are cool.
Posted by Cheech Wizard on April 17, 2009 at 3:16 PM · Report this
oops. I meant 10% of gross, not profit. Sorry Sonic Boom.
Posted by Cheech Wizard on April 17, 2009 at 3:17 PM · Report this
I'm stoked about all the exclusive releases!!! Plus Rad free instores.…

Posted by Idaho on April 17, 2009 at 4:22 PM · Report this
I will be making some buys at the best store in Seattle, Easy Street on Queen Anne.
Posted by Sick of it on April 17, 2009 at 7:36 PM · Report this
" won't be able to download any of it."

I totally have digital copies of pretty much every "vinyl-only" release I've ever purchased, procured with ease online.
Posted by just sayin'.... on April 17, 2009 at 9:49 PM · Report this
Posted by yo ass got served on April 18, 2009 at 11:56 AM · Report this
i can never find an album i'm currently looking for in record stores. same thing goes for used book stores. when i want a specific book, i'll buy it used online. but i still frequent used book stores and used sections so to stumble upon books i wasn't looking for. i don't do this with record stores though. maybe i'm just a book snob and not a music snob?
Posted by charlie k on April 18, 2009 at 4:25 PM · Report this
Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Long Live Pirate Bay!!!
Posted by Chuck U. Farley on April 18, 2009 at 6:03 PM · Report this
The CD is dead, and downloading is strictly for sampling and Ipods. If you're serious about music, you're buying vinyl. Anything else sounds like something that dropped out of a tall cow's ass.
Posted by ohboy on April 19, 2009 at 1:03 AM · Report this
Record stores suck! The staff always sucks and so does their attitude. Shave your stupid beard, get a haircut and real job! It doesn't help that you are a bunch of Celebrity Sluts and the only product you sell is one good track and eleven crappy ones. Wake up, move on, and grow up.
Posted by effu on April 19, 2009 at 1:10 AM · Report this
Well I guess real opinions don't matter to the Stranger, or maybe the Stranger is just afraid of free speech?

Let me put it a little more "Stranger Correct", or rather "censor resistant".

Record stores can not compete with the non-judgemental, reasonably priced, and highly searchable online retailers who offer individual tracks and NO attitude.

Oddly, the same crowd that embraces the Internet for Obama (ehem, anyone on the democratic ticket) suddenly wants to save the over priced and antiquated record store?

Hypocrites, knuff said.

Posted by ssorry on April 19, 2009 at 1:24 AM · Report this
I'll support my local music stores when they stop acting like snobby, hipster, know-it-alls and treat their patrons with a little respect. It's called CUSTOMER SERVICE. Try it out sometime!
Posted by FishBassist on April 19, 2009 at 4:05 PM · Report this
wow. judging from how charming the last few commenters' posts were, it's no small wonder they receive lousy customer service. one would assume internet trolls don't opt to leave the house and interact with real human beings.

i was glad to see Sonic Boom packed to the gills at 10am!
Posted by not a shut-in on April 19, 2009 at 10:40 PM · Report this
Singles Going Steady. Chris is always available for lively conversation. Punk Rock to Politics.
Posted by punkheart on April 20, 2009 at 6:42 AM · Report this

say no more, mon amour.
Posted by paisami on April 20, 2009 at 3:49 PM · Report this
I bought the Moondoggies cd at Easy Street on Mercer, when I got home and opened up the case there was no cd in inside. The most shocking and lamest thing that has ever happened to me probably.
Posted by john on April 20, 2009 at 11:43 PM · Report this
John: My name is Matt, owner of Easy Street, come by the store or call me at the store, I'll take care of that for you. Sorry. The band dropped those off with us the same day of the instore. My understanding is that the band packaged and designed those themselves. Sorry about that, we do have a few left if anyone wants one, they are limited to 200, but ya might wanna check if there is a CD inside. Thanks for coming by the instore, was a good one.
Posted by Matt Vaughan on April 21, 2009 at 1:18 AM · Report this
There's some customer service for those early haters!
Posted by I'm 85 years old on April 24, 2009 at 5:39 AM · Report this

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