(The fourth annual Record Store Day will take place April 16. For a list of participating record stores, click here, and for a list of exclusive Record Store Day releases, click here. To preview a sampling of exclusive releases, view the video below.)
Record Store Day is a worldwide party that real music stores throw on the third Saturday of every April. What do we have to celebrate? We celebrate sharing the joy of music. We have a party to thank our loyal customers and let them know that we will always be here for them. We celebrate the bright spots in the music business.
What's that? Did I just write "bright spots in the music business"? Yes, I did. Music sales (both CD and vinyl) at U.S. independent record stores have increased lately. Visit any good music store if you don't believe me. Notice the big crowds. Notice that you can't leave without spending money and feeling good about it. According to Nielsen SoundScan, sales at indie retail were up 10.6 percent in 2010, compared to an overall 12.8 percent industry decline, and approximately 8 percent of all albums bought last year were bought in independently owned stores.
On July 27, 2007, I sent the email that led to Record Store Day, but there are many heroes in the Record Store Day story. A small group of people — including Carrie Colliton, Amy Dorfman, Michael Kurtz, Eric Levin, and Melanie Nipper — championed the idea and spread it throughout the industry, first to the stores and then to the record labels, distributors, and artists and their managers.
Within six weeks, roughly 200 U.S. and Canadian stores had signed on, including the Bull Moose stores where I work in Maine and New Hampshire. We didn't think it would get much bigger than that, so it was a great surprise when 300 stores, including several outside North America, celebrated the first Record Store Day in 2008.
It just exploded after that. More than 1,500 stores in 21 countries will celebrate this coming Saturday. More than 250 limited-edition CDs, vinyl, and yes, cassettes with a total retail value of more than $2.5 million were created especially for RSD 2011. Thousands of bands will perform or sign autographs at stores all over the world.
Record Store Day was the first really good retail news to come along for the music industry in a while. People had been saying, "Somebody should do something," for years and many were thrilled that it was we indies who finally did it. We proved that people are truly eager to spend money on music if stores offer good stuff and treat them well. Some labels were very enthusiastic from the get-go. The rest of the industry got right behind us after seeing the success of RSD 2008.
Artist support has been incredible and continues to grow. Metallica and Billy Bragg were two of the first major artists to appear at Record Store Day. Word has spread that it's incredible to play a concert in a store on Record Store Day. Artists, both mainstream and indie, actually come to us now. I am particularly proud that two Maine artists, Skyler and the Sophomore Beat, created their own EPs for this year's Record Store Day. Another local band, Marie Stella, has a track on the Guided By Voices tribute album. Ray LaMontagne, a GRAMMY-winning Mainer, is releasing a live EP and, of course, the Decemberists' CD Live At Bull Moose was recorded here.
Record Store Day reinforces the strong bonds between music fans and independent stores. Record labels regularly come to us now with ideas outside of RSD, evidenced by the number of cool Record Store Day-style releases that came out last Black Friday. Most stores have a handful of cool things to give out every week, and some bands even try to do little concert tours of Record Store Day stores.
While it is impossible to name the thousands of people who have made Record Store Day possible, let's be grateful to everyone who realized its potential and said, "This is cool. We should do this," over and over, until it happened.
I would love to get some African stores involved next year. So much of the world's best and most popular music has African roots. Then we need to get RSD into Antarctica. Does anybody know Henry Kaiser? He's the man to do it.
One of my original goals for Record Store Day was to remind people how great it is to shop in real music stores. It's fantastic that nearly every newspaper in the world is writing about great music stores in their area. Many of those stories focus so much on vinyl that I worry the 99 percent of people who don't own turntables think that all these awesome CD stores only sell records.
We should broaden our focus next year and release more of these goodies on CD. We got this right with the Decemberists' CD and the Guided By Voices tribute (available on CD or LP) this year and the Metallica, Ani DiFranco, and Grace Potter And The Nocturnals CDs last year. More CDs would make a great addition to the incredible array of vinyl-only releases.
I can't wait to see what Record Store Day will be like in 2020.
Some people say, "Make every day Record Store Day." There's no need. It already is.
(Chris Brown, who conceived Record Store Day, is head of marketing at Bull Moose, an independent music/movie/video game/book chain based in Portland, Maine. He drinks eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day.)