If you’re a vinyl fan or collector and haven’t been living under a rock, you probably know that this past Saturday was Record Store Day 2021.
If you have been living under a rock, were abducted for a long spell by aliens, or for some other reason don’t know about this day, here’s what the Record Store Day site has to say about the annual event:
“Record Store Day was conceived in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners and employees as a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1,400 independently owned record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally.
Special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products are made exclusively for the day. In 2008 a small list of titles was released on Record Store Day and that list has grown to include artists and labels both large and small, in every genre and price point. For several years, 60% or more of the Record Store Day Official Release List came from independent labels and distributors. The list continues to include a wide range of artists, covering the diverse taste of record stores and their customers.”
In 2020, the global pandemic resulted in Record Store Day morphing into three “RSD Drops” dates, and in 2021 it’s again split, this time into two days (June 12th – now done – and July 17th).
Much like the 1966 Spaghetti Western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Record Store Day 2021 was somewhat of a standoff between those three qualities. And much like the movie, there was treasure to be had.
Ecoustics Editor-in-Chief, Ian White, is probably laughing at that reference.
With memories of the first part of Record Store Day 2021 still fresh in my mind, I thought I’d revisit how the day progressed for me in Calgary, Alberta, and some of the thoughts I had along the way.
I got to Melodiya Records at about 10:20 a.m. for their 11:00 opening. I was the fifth person in the line. Passed the time Instagramming, messaging with the ecoustics team, and watching the line grow.
Word from the team (all in the US) was that their lines were made up of primarily older white men.
Ian White sent a text to the group while standing in line in New Jersey — “A lot of white males with no hair, bad haircuts and beards. Average person is 50 or older. Very few women. Not one African-American, Hispanic, Asian. Zero. And I’ve been here for over 2 hours. It’s the Simpsons’ comic book store owner x 100.”
In stark contrast, my line was young and relatively diverse. By opening time, we were up to 25-30 in the line, mostly folks in their 20s and 30s, with perhaps two in their 50s, three women, and several non-whites. Calgary’s a pretty young city, so I wasn’t too surprised at the demographics represented here. Nice to see young people and women excited about growing their record collections.
Doors opened and in we went. There didn’t appear to be any limits on occupancy, and pretty quickly the store was packed and choice titles were being snapped up.
My main goal for the day was the Craft Recordings reissue of Kenny Dorham’s Quiet Kenny. Considering my place in the line, I was hopeful I’d get it, but on entering it was apparent Melodiya hadn’t received any copies. Disappointing (more about that later). I had some secondary goals, and was able to pick up a couple: Tears For Fears’ Live at Massey Hall, and the Colemine Records compilation, Soul Slabs Vol. 3. I also, for some reason, picked up the Thelonious Monk live Palo Alto: The Custodian’s Mix; why I’m not sure as I’m not a huge Monk fan, but curiosity got me and in the stack it went.
One of the things I love about Record Store Day is that non-RSD titles are on sale at most stores. This is more of a draw for me than the RSD drops, and I managed to find a few things I’d been eying at 20% off. Walked out with six albums and off I went to do the rounds at some of my other favorite stores.
I realized pretty soon that I had organized my “tour” somewhat backwards as most stores had opened at 9:00 or 10:00, so by the time I got to them they were picked over; on the positive side, they were no longer packed, so no waiting.
At Blackbyrd Myoozik I purchased a couple of Blue Note Tone Poets I had on hold – Katanga and The Witch Doctor – with the RSD discount, and got intel from a fellow customer that there was a copy of the Canada-only Barenaked Ladies cassette single, New Disaster, at Recordland (ecoustics contributor Jeremy, aka @budget_audiophiler, had dialed in a request from south of the border).
Off to Inglewood I went, stopping off at Recordland where the BNL cassette sat, still tucked away behind the 7” singles rack as described. Grabbed that for Jeremy, and Cesaria Evora’s Miss Perfumado, a long-time wish list title.
After that I hit That Old Retro Store (picked over, but nice to chat with the friendly staff), Heritage Music (Steely Dan’s RSD drop, Everything Must Go left with me) and Hot Wax in Kensington (also picked over, but I found the Tone Poet release of Dexter Gordon’s One Flight Up, which I’d missed out on when it was first released).
I thought about visiting the three other records stores in Calgary, but the day was warm, I was feeling a bit tuckered, and my wallet was empty, so home I went to listen to my booty and commiserate about Quiet Kenny.
Would you like a little yang with your ying? No — but I’ll take some whine.
From reading “The Good” you might be thinking I had a great day. Lots of scores. A haul, so to speak. But in any good there’s some bad, and in any bad some good.
I have bones to pick with the RSD concept.
First, the day (or collection of days) has gotten too big. Too many records. Too many dubious records. Too many records where you think, “Would this even sell if it didn’t have an ‘RSD Exclusive’ sticker on it?”
Over and over in the past week or two – In Instagram comments and messages, chats with friends, and other interactions – I heard the same complaint: “There’s nothing I really want from the drop list.”
I’ll be interested to check out the “RSD leftovers” bins the next time I’m in a record store; I’m sure there’ll be plenty of second-grade dross there.
Second, the limited releases are too limited and third, fairness of distribution questionable. Yes, I realize that limited editions are part of the hype for Record Store Day; they bring in the crowds, and particularly the fanatics who line up hours before opening to be first-in-store (or at least close-to-first) and get a coveted title they’ve been salivating over for weeks.
Case in point: Quiet Kenny. 2,500 copies released around the world. For 1,400 participating US stores, plus those in Canada, Europe, Asia and elsewhere. Of the six stores I visited, one got one copy. I know now of two other copies that made it to Calgary. Meanwhile, I was pointed to a store in the US that received 16 copies (all gone by the time I contacted them).
In cases like this, RSD feels like an impossible-odds lottery, and at some point record fans are going to say, “Enough!” and stop coming out. I’ve seen comments on several Facebook groups from diehard music fans saying they can’t be bothered with Record Store Day anymore for precisely that reason.
I know that Ian White was part of the second group to make it inside his local record store in Red Bank, New Jersey, and that the 3 copies they received were sold to the first 10 people allowed inside.
Part of my ire here is reserved not just for Record Store Day, but Craft as well; they’re gaining a reputation for some fantastic reissues, but also for über-limited releases that leave most fans out in the cold (like the 1,000-copy “small batch” release of John Coltrane’s Lush Life back in January that sold out faster than most buyers could enter their credit details).
At least Analogue Productions is doing 25,000 copies of the Miles Davis Kind Of Blue UHQR release; this also sold out quickly, but at least music fans had a fair shot at the title.
But I digress. What to do about Record Store Day? Not sure anyone has the answer, but perhaps if we really want to support our local independent stores, doing something like “Bandcamp Fridays” would help generate more regular customer traffic and take some of the stress off the limited RSD day(s) we have now.
Maybe set a limit for how “limited” a release can be, and ensure that distribution is a bit fairer so customers everywhere feel they have a fair shot at getting what they want.
Yes, the ugly. A corollary of “The Bad,” and particularly the very limited limited releases, is the flippers. Pure evil.
If you think I sound bitter about Quiet Kenny, I can tell you I was feeling very bitter when I got home Saturday afternoon. Come Sunday morning, when I checked eBay and Discogs, that bitterness was ugly.
On eBay there were 8 copies: 3 listed as auctions and 5 “Buy It Now.” Of the five available for immediate shipping to Canada, the cheapest was $125 including shipping (so close to five times retail). The priciest? $182 all in.
On Discogs there appeared 12 copies, with lowest prices in the $120 region, including shipping, and going up from there.
By comparison, Discogs showed 96 copies of the 4,400-run Monk Palo Alto album; however, these were almost all within a few dollars of the retail price, showing that a not-so-limited limited edition can control the
scalpers (oops) flippers and make more music fans happy.
By Sunday lunch time I thought Episode 1 of my Record Store Day 2021 story was over. But there was more to come.
I got a message on Instagram.
Someone – @sukotto29 – had found a second copy of Quiet Kenny at one of the three Calgary stores I didn’t visit on Saturday. An outlet not known for jazz, hence my failure to visit. Not next time!
Scott dropped in Sunday morning on a whim and there it was. Bought it, remembering someone (me) on Instagram was heartbroken to miss out. Did I want it? Yes.
It was mine.
And he even delivered it to me.
In spite of the bad and the ugly, good won the day and the treasure was found. Faith in mankind restored, dark mood lifted, and my heart did cartwheels. I got very lucky.
And now I look forward to Round 2 of Record Store Day 2021 in July.