Record Store Day

On Saturday 18th April thousands of independently owned music stores across the world will celebrate 'Record Store Day.’ Over 50 independent record shops across the UK will participate. Special events are being planned such as free in-store performances by some of the best live acts and DJs around, signing sessions, free label samplers and goodie bags as well as Record Store Day exclusive vinyl and CD releases. <b>Paul Mitchell</b> sounds out the initiative with Rough Trade founder <b>Geoff Travis</b> and Avalanche Records boss <b>Kevin Buckle</b>

Feature by Paul Mitchell | 30 Mar 2009

Saturday the 18th, make a note, it promises to be fun. But with the high street in disarray and record sales careering downhill anyway, is it all the equivalent of General Custer eyeballing Chief Sitting Bull whilst simultaneously pissing against a hurricane? Kevin Buckle, founder of Scotland’s largest indie record shop, Avalanche Records, thinks it's too early to consider the requiem for record stores, but does view the day as a timely nudge to show they're still around. “Record Store Day is a way of reminding people what independent shops have to offer that the internet and downloads and to some extent high street chains like HMV and Fopp don't. MySpace and iTunes have a use but what bands really want is to see their CD in their local record shop (preferably with its own header) and possibly get the chance to do an in-store.”

So what is it the independents do better than the larger chains? Geoff Travis, founder of the Rough Trade chain of record stores and the Rough Trade record label, takes the perspective that the reason these stores must survive is the sense of community they engender. “A record store is a meeting place for the exchange of music, fanzines, ideas and culture. I believe that people like to leave the house and have somewhere convivial to go where they meet kindred spirits and share some music and some life. As record stores fall under threat, these values become all the rarer and therefore more precious than ever.”

It remains to be seen if these admirably romantic notions will be enough to save the shops in the long-term, but the feeling is that inaction is not an option. This defiance is mirrored in the fact that this has been a collaborative effort across many disparate entities, across countries even. Will it help the independent stores compete better against the larger chains, or are they all in the same boat together? “We are in a better and a worse position depending on the situation,” says Kevin. “Independents are still far more on the ball when it comes to differentiating between what is good and what is hype. We'll always be ahead of the game compared to say, HMV who are the "last man standing" on the high street as far as chains go. But these chains have the power to come in with a big order and get discounts or credit not available to the smaller shops.”

Factor in the big, internet-shaped elephant in the room and it is clear that the indies have their work cut out. Buckle remains defiant though. “Nobody doubts how hugely influential our shops can be on breaking an artist. Fopp may have just reduced the Bon Iver album to a fiver this week but we were selling it in a special deal ahead of its release date exactly a year ago.”

Casually relaying the kind of experiences he has most days at work, Buckle references a quote attributed to Rebus author Ian Rankin on the significance of the indie retailer. "No internet shopping site can ever hope to equal the experience of browsing your favourite high street store, especially one where you've become a regular customer. The staff will have recommendations for you, you can chat about gigs you've been to or are hoping to go to, and you'll learn all the latest gossip. All of which means it becomes about more than the shopping."

While the sale of new CDs is a tough way to make a living as an indie, covering all bases such as second hand, vinyl, rarities and interesting merchandise should ensure that the small guys do have a viable economic future. Buckle sums it up succinctly: "There may also be other ways of discovering music but none are as effective as getting a good recommendation from a shop. We sell albums just by playing them to customers we think will like them. If the Withered Hand album is as good as it looks like it will be we may insist customers have to buy a copy before they can leave the shop."

Amongst the bounty of vinyl swag being released especially on the day are exclusive 7 inch singles from Beck and Sonic Youth (covering each other), Tom Waits, Jay Reatard and Booker T, as well as a singles collection from The Jesus Lizard.

Rough Trade Records are releasing a compilation cassette (yes, cassette) called CO9 including tracks from Micachu, SFA, the Veils and a special secret track to be annnounced (odds are against an appearance from Duffy).

Avalanche Records will feature live in-store performances from Broken Records (Edinburgh) and The Virgins (Glasgow) plus many others.