Essays on Technology and Culture

The New Old-Fashioned Music Buying Experience

Saturday, April 19th, was Record Store Day, the annual celebration of all forms of audio pressed on to vinyl platters and sold in physical stores. It’s a day which sees the release of a metric crap-ton of limited edition vinyl releases and re-releases (along with some CDs and cassettes). The collectors, obsessives, and completists come out in droves on Record Store Day, and I’ve done my share of waiting in line to buy limited edition releases in years past. My Record Store Day experience has always been low-key: get up reasonably early, head to my reliable local indie record store (AKA Music on North 2nd Street in Philadelphia), get what I want, return home, give it a spin, and then relax.

This past Record Store Day wasn’t quite as simple. First, I now live in New York City, a town with a large population of music fans, and a large selection of indie record stores. Second, Record Store Day has become a huge thing, with way more limited releases, and way more people chasing after them. Also, way more people flipping their purchases on eBay. I was unprepared for just how insane it would be, but I knew it would be insane, and had built a plan of attack. First, I would hit Rough Trade NYC, in Brooklyn. I’d called ahead the day before to see if they had what I wanted, and figured if I got up at six, I could make it there by eight. My plan was stymied by a broken down E Train, but even if I’d made it there at eight, there were people waiting since 3:30 that morning. After waiting an hour, I got into the store to find my quarry sold out. I purchased a consolation split 7", and a couple regular CD releases I’d wanted, and made my way into the city in a frantic search.

Despite the difficulty and frantic nature of trying to find a limited edition needle in the haystack of New York City record stores, buying in person had the benefit of a social element that you don’t get with your Spotifys or your Last.fms. In fact, a chat in the (slow, almost stationary) line outside Other Music on 4th Street, a guy said he’d found a stack of one release I was searching for at Academy Records on 18th. I ran, and snagged a copy of DEVO – Live at Max’s Kansas City, November 15th, 1977 for $20 (after tax) and was content with that. [1]

There are plenty of reasons to hate on Record Store Day, and I experienced some of them directly. However, the fundamental principle of RSD is sound: it gets music fans out of the house, and into the stores. It gets us buying real, physical product with packaging, liner notes. It supports the artists we love, keeps music nerds employed, and has us interacting with our fellow fans. There’s ample opportunity to bond over our shared loves, the shared success of finding that one rare gem, or the used disc we need to complete our collection. It’s a chance to just to pick up a disc out of curiosity and give it a try. It’s how we used to buy music, pre-iTunes. Okay, yes, there’s also surly record store clerks judging your every purchase, but screw ’em. There’s gotta be someone else in line who shares your love.

As long as we can stop the bastards flipping the limited edition stuff on eBay, I’ll be happy. And if we can stop by the record stores more than one day a year, they’ll be happy.

  1. A friend in Seattle was able to secure two copies of the other limited release I couldn’t find, and is mailing it to me.  ↩