When Record Store Day first emerged in 2007, it was a collection of physical music retailers attempting to put their backs up against what had been one of the roughest years on record for physical music sales. Digital music was on the rise, but vinyl hadn’t yet experience the budding resurgence it’s now seeing; over in the UK, vinyl records accounted for just 0.1 percent of the country’s music sales that year.
As a result, Record Store Day seemed as much a desperate safeguard for the indie shops as anything else: releasing rare pressings, re-issues and special one-off releases to entice music fans into stores as a way of reminding people to support their brick-and-mortar shops before they vanished altogether—which, then, seemed like it might actually soon be the case.
It took a year or two for the idea to connect up in Canada; Rich Liukko, owner of Freecloud Records, recalls the first Record Store Day his shop participated in back in 2009. It was actually pretty normal, special releases aside.
“The amount of press for Record Store Day was minimal at the time,” he says. “And it was really tough to get a lot of the stock, at the time, because the [Canadian] distributors didn’t have access to everything. It was more educating people what Record Store Day was about. Every year since then, it’s just been growing exponentially.”
That growth hasn’t just been for his store, which turns 30 this year. Coupled with a renewed interest in vinyl by more than just the die-hard collectors, Record Store Day’s become a veritable Black Friday for music fans of every stripe: every third Saturday in April long lines snake out of record stores, customers eager to grip some special releases, some 400 of which will be part of Record Store Day 2015. (Though, that said, what’s available in town varies wildly; the store owners put in orders, and then, unfortunately, simply wait to see what actually shows up).
Still, in 2015, the climate of physical music sales remains set on a slippery slope. Vinyl’s one of the few areas of the music industry experiencing growth in sales. Which, Blackbyrd Myoozik’s Arthur Fafard notes, is partly thanks to a new generation discovering the physical medium.
“Now, young people that didn’t grow up with records are discovering it,” Farfard says. “I think that’s a reaction to MP3s or downloads. You have a couple thousand of them on your iPod, or whatever it might be, but if you really like that band, you want more of a connection to it, and the record provides that. Better-quality sound, and artwork, and just the tactile feeling. We’re getting people every day coming in, looking at starting their collections, or getting excited about it, looking for turntables.”
Aside from its day-of sales spike, has Record Store Day actually made it easier to be a physical music shop in 2015? There are presently five standalone independent record stores in Edmonton: Freecloud Records, Blackbyrd Myoozik, Sound Connection, Listen Records and Permanent Records. (There’s also the Edmonton Music Collector’s Show, happening the day after Record Store Day this year at the Central Lions Seniors Recration Centre, a long-running yearly event.) A couple of mall shops also sell records, but they do so among other goods; the aforementioned five are the dedicated indie purveyors of physical music in town. They all seem to have a bit of a niche, albeit with necessary overlap, and the ones spoken to for this article all highlight the necessity of all of them continuing to exist. Nobody’s gunning to be the last record shop in town.
Of those, Permanent Records is the newest to open, having arrived in its just-off-Whyte Avenue location in 2010 (in the wake of the beloved Megatunes shuttering). Its name is a cheeky nod to the difficulties of surviving as an indie shop in this time, and Mike McDonald, who co-owns Permanent alongside Clint Anderson, can certainly speak to some of the general difficulties of being a record store in 2015, including the lack of one defining method of musical intake.
“We’re up against some cultural shifts,” McDonald says. “People are uncertain what technology they want; nobody’s settled on one particular thing. There doesn’t seem to be a standard [format] anymore. It’s kind of like the Wild West—no rules. For a couple years, my partner Clint and I ran ourselves ragged trying to figure it out. At the end of the day, we finally realized nobody knows anything. There is no standard, so we can pretty much have our own rules. There’s no yardstick to go by anymore, so I think us small shops do what we can to attract our customers.”
McDonald is of two minds about Record Store Day: it certainly brings people into the store, and he agrees with its original sensibility of supporting the indie stores and honing that sense of community connected to the spaces. He’s less enthused by its more blandly commercial aspects.
“That whole Black Friday-type attitude turns us off completely,” he says. “But the pure idea—hey, independent record stores are being avalanched by technology and the values of the current society, the values of the young people and how they want to consume music, et cetera, et cetera—we just like to stick to the pure idea; that’s why we’re here.”
As a result, Permanent Records makes an event out of it; bands play throughout the day (this year the lineup’s the Fuzz Kings, Billie Zizi and Pal Joey) to highlight the more communal aspect of a record store: a place to buy and talk about music that isn’t the Internet. It’s a sentiment that Blackbyrd’s manager Jason Troock seems to echo.
“I do think that people come down to record stores to check out stuff, to learn about new releases,” Troock says. “I guess it’s probably happening in a lesser extent than the pre-Internet days. I think a lot of people are pretty aware of what they’re looking for by the time they come into the store, but I still think there’s that community aspect, of customers looking to come down and see what’s new, and wanting to talk the talk.”
So while Record Store Day certainly gets customers through the door—exclusive releases aside, most stores couple it with a general product sale—that intense focus on a single day sometimes means the rise in sales is often followed by a lull.
“I’ve heard from a couple stores from across the country who aren’t big fans of the way it happens,” Liukko says. “They have one great day, that does you two weeks’ worth of business, or a month of business, and then you have, ‘Well I spent all my money at Record Store Day, so it’ll be four-to-six weeks before I have any money to come back.'”
And so, in a Dickensian sort of way, there’s a sense that the sentiment of Record Store Day needs to stretch beyond the one day in April, if independent physical retailers are to continue to survive. Special releases are, well, special, but so are having places in the community where people can go buy and discuss music—that community is the reason, McDonald notes, he keeps going, in spite of the odds.
“To me, the record store is a bit of a temple, like church, perhaps,” he says. “It’s like going to see your favourite band; you’re in church. When I go to see the Who, nothing else exists for me. … That’s the attitude we have here at our record store: trying our best to have a cool record store.”
Sat, Apr 18
Record Store Day
(10442 – 82 Ave)
(10764 – 101 St)
(10443 – 124 St)
(8126 Gateway Blvd)
(10016 – 82 Ave)