Celebrating record stores
In the week leading up to the second annual Record Store Day, a worldwide celebration of the independent record store that falls on April 18 of this year, Luna Music owner Todd Robinson emphasizes that stores like his are staying put.
"This isn't a wake; it's a celebration," says Robinson, who, when reached about week before the big day, was in the midst of planning a party for Saturday with live music, liquor, grilled foodstuffs and free gift bags. "While there's been a huge trimming of the tree industry-wise, we're still a very viable cultural destination, and we don't plan on going any place, any time soon."
April 18, record stores around the state, country and world are taking a day to celebrate their contributions to the community, to recognize those customers who still think there's a need for human interaction in a post-Amazon and -Napster world and to generally carve out a day for consciousness-raising and a little musical solidarity.
In Indianapolis, three record stores - Luna Music, Indy CD & Vinyl and Vibes Music - are celebrating Saturday by hosting live music, selling merchandise that's exclusively available at participating stores and generally bringing attention to the role that they play in the community just about every day of the year.
As Robinson puts it, "The value of having an independent music store in your town, I think, is immeasurable, not only from the artistic standpoint for people to still sell their music, but as a place for people to come and interact, swap and exchange ideas."
Of course, local music stores not only offer local musicians a place to play and sell their stuff, they also sometimes direct support them.
"Pretty much everyone that works here is in a band, or a sound man or has something to do with the local music scene," says Vibes Music owner John Zeps. "And I think that's really important."
The death knell sounded for the independent record store sometime around the time when Starbucks was expected to kill off every local coffee shop. And while it's certainly true that plenty of independent media stores have suffered or closed in the wake of chain stores and convenient online options, local store owners note that they've made it this long, and that those stores with a connection to the community have survived.
Indy CD & Vinyl owner Rick Ziegler: "To me, the importance of Record Store Day is to try to counter incessant writings about the Death of the Record Store, which are written usually by techies who care more about technology than music to begin with. I opened my store in Salt Lake City in 1993, and the first announcement I saw was in 1995 - 'In five years, no CDs, no record stores.'"
Local record store owners emphasize the advantages of the record store experience, particularly as an adjunct or improvement upon an online experience that can offer a wealth of options but a shortage of critical guidance.
Robinson: "It's great to say, 'Wow! I've got endless possibilities. Maybe I'll go to the record store and have some human contact and see how to narrow the field, or talk with somebody and maybe they can triangulate something to my taste that an Amazon formula or iTunes recommendation can't necessarily kick out.'"
It might take a Marxist dialectician to figure out how, in an era that has seen the development of compressed computer-based digital music formats like the mp3, the namesake of Record Store Day - the vinyl album - has come back in style. Not that local stores ever stopped carrying vinyl - it's always been the choice of some audiophiles and labels and musicians releasing limited-run or boutique recordings - but both Robinson and Ziegler say they've seen a marked recent increase in vinyl sales, particularly new vinyl.
"Vinyl has taken off so much, starting with - seemingly the tipping point was last October," Robinson explains. "I see a whole younger generation going right over to the vinyl, and buying stuff like Nirvana, Nevermind
, on red wax. I think slowly people are turning back to saying, 'I want the artifact; I want to have something to hold in my hand that's part of the artistic experience.'"
Ziegler dates the trend a little earlier - "Within the last 18 months, there's been a strong resurgence in vinyl sales, not just used stuff" - and he says that he emphasizes to customers that both vinyl and CDs have greater sound quality than digital formats. Record labels have also been making vinyl easier to buy and more widely available, offering digital downloads and CDs with records, and re-pressing (and keeping in print) much more of their catalog.
Ziegler says that, as a person and owner, he loves the physical store, but he's also making online options available to customers. Indy CD & Vinyl will soon open an online store for both downloads and physical goods at www.indycdandvinyl.com.
Changes are in store for Vibes Music as well: Zeps is closing down the store's Castleton location June 1 and moving the inventory to Vibes Too in South Broad Ripple. He plans a grand reopening ceremony, and hopes to use a performance space in the back that was previously used only for in-stores as an all-ages venue.
Free record day?
In 2002, a smattering of comic stores across the states tried out a gimmick of sorts to draw in customers new and old: Free Comic Book Day. And it was good: Independent stores could pool together resources to promote what became an annual event, with the only requirement being that the store at least try to amass resources sufficient to give away a comic book to each customer.
To hear Robinson tell it, Eric Levin, who owns a record store that also sells comics, Criminal Records in Atlanta, got the idea that record stores should hold a similar event. (The official Record Store Day history, on www.recordstoreday.com, suggests that Chris Brown, a VP at Maine-based chain Bull Moose Music, first came up with the concept, but let's avoid too much intrigue in telling of this day of solidarity.)
Levin, the leader of the Alliance for Independent Media Stores, came together with the leaders of two other record store coalitions to lay the groundwork for the first Record Store Day. Robinson: "Clearly Eric thought that it was something that we all needed to partake in and maximize, especially because of the negative light that records stores sometimes are thrown in, in regards to either being aged or High Fidelity
Record Store Day was born in 2008 with a kickoff concert by Metallica at San Francisco's Rasputin Music. Some prominent musicians, including Sir Paul McCartney, voiced their support of the day from the beginning.
John Mellencamp weighed in early on (all of the following quotes are from a Record Store Day press kit): "Immersing yourself in the environment of a real record store where music is celebrated and cherished adds real value to the experience of buying music. In some ways, that retail experience is as important as the music." (13th Floor Music, an independent record store in Mellencamp's hometown, Seymour, will celebrate Saturday with music by five local bands.)
Jazz and classical composer David Amram called for a change to the calendar: "Record Store Day should be our new national holiday. Independent record stores, where you can absorb yourself in hearing music that many chain stores don't carry, are an oasis for all who spend time in them."
And the Boss confessed his record store habit: "I buy CDs all the time," Bruce Springsteen said. "I'll go into a record store and just buy $500 worth of CDs. I will! I am single-handedly supporting what's left of the record business."
Unlike with organic food or indie music, there are some requirements for participation in Record Store Day. Each participating store must be a retailer with a physical location "whose product line consists of at least 50 percent music retail, whose company is not publicly traded and whose ownership is at least 70 percent located in the state of operation." This means online-only stores are out, most chains are out (except locally-owned ones like Karma Records) and only stores that have a pretty convincing claim for being independent are in. Importantly, stores can carry any type of music in just about any format - a country music outlet carrying only CDs can celebrate on the same day as that used jazz vinyl hole in the wall, as long as they meet the requirements.
Record Store Day will be celebrated annually on the third Saturday of April, according to organizers.
Staying alive in Middletown
Anyone in the Broad Ripple area Saturday can take advantage of a glut of live, mostly local music, with lineups curated by record store owners who are engaged with local music, and invite both established artists and those finding their voice. At Luna and Vibes, relatively fresh-faced bands like Bloomington's Kentucky Nightmare and PONS will play on the same stage (or in the same makeshift corner) as an indie-rock legend like Jorma Whittaker. The same goes for Indy CD & Vinyl, where veteran soul singer Jennie DeVoe makes her first-ever appearance, playing in the middle of a lineup that includes some bands trying to make a splash with debut records: Wolfy, Tonos Triad, Thunders.
Even in a town that isn't on the map nationally in some ways (not a tour stop for buzz bands, no viable radio station for independent music), there's still several stores that function as loci for the independent music community, nodes where fans and musicians alike can share ideas and sounds.
By contrast, Travis Harvey of Village Green Records in Muncie thinks of his store (and sometimes himself) as the lone resource, the only functioning record store that can catalyze the growth of a music scene that's recently gone dormant.
"National Record Store Day turns out to be a day that we pay attention to a philosophy that the Village Green, in particular, holds to all the time," Harvey explains. "Since the Village Green opened four years ago, and since I've been running it in the past two years, the Village Green philosophy has been to provide a community service: to enable kids to do good stuff, to be turned on to something different. We're a platform for bands of all styles to come and play. We really strive to push a more artistic, progressive, challenging mentality from our audience, and also from the bands we ask to come."
Not only is Village Green Records the only independent record store in the city, it's also the only remaining all-ages venue in Muncie, which Harvey says makes the Village Green even more essential to the community.
For Record Store Day, Village Green is bringing in more bands and performers than any store in the state, including some Muncie acts (mostly hip-hop, where Harvey says the local scene is headed).