Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images
Record Store Day 2018: The Needle Drops In NYC
Record store culture and the physical music product experience it revolves around are alive and well in 2018. The proof is everywhere: vinyl sales are still surging, cassettes are cool again, HD vinyl is on the near horizon, and record stores continue to matter — just ask Record Store Day 2018 ambassadors Run The Jewels.
No day of the year celebrates the vinyl-loving lifestyle more than Record Store Day (on April 21 this year) and nowhere is the real-time churn of this phenomenon more vibrant or visible than in New York City.
New York's energy, density and diversity are conducive to vinyl culture. And Record Store Day's mixture of exclusive releases speaks to the city's storied musical history, and local events make it a fulcrum for the crossfade between hardcore enthusiasts and transient super-fans. All involved are looking for that vinyl vibe.
"People get a tactile experience and an auditory experience with records that they would never get with digital files," says Daniel Givens, store clerk at Good Records NYC in the East Village. "Even if they made virtual records, you wouldn't be able to touch the record and smell the cover and look at the big picture on the cover, that sort of thing."
Since 2008, Record Store Day has gathered independent record store owners and employees for a celebration of the unique culture surrounding the nearly 1,400 independently-owned record stores in the U. S. The resulting holiday accounts for a huge spike in business for most shops.
"It is definitely our biggest day of the year," says Dennis Manzanedo, head buyer at Rough Trade NYC in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which boasts an attached music venue. "We go full in and try to carry every title that we can. We have events all day long. People start lining up the night before. The whole staff is really into it … we build up to the day, and get the store ready."
Rough Trade is making the most of Record Store Day this year, hosting live bands in the attached music venue, a book signing, a listening party, beer tasting, and more.
"It's like a party atmosphere, you know, people are in a really good mood. We've got megaphones to announce to people outside and let them know when things are selling out." — Dennis Manzanedo, Rough Trade NYC
Each year, as the holiday's main event, there are dozens of Record Store Day special releases that get distributed throughout the country, creating a buzz among collectors and fans, and many record stores see the holiday as an opportunity to give their clientele a little something extra.
"It's our hands-down busiest day of the year," says Jeff Conklin, new music uyer at Academy Records, which has multiple locations in town. "We try to have a lot of fun with it. We arrange with Stumptown Coffee to give out free coffee. We get doughnuts from a local doughnut shop and give them out … we try to make it fun for anybody who comes in the store."
Many music lovers who come out on Record Store Day are in search of exclusives. At Rough Trade, for instance, the line stretches down the block and some customers wait over four hours to search through the special release section. But ultimately record store culture is about so much more. It's about a like-minded gathering. It's about music.
"You'll see all of our regulars will be here, too, amongst a lot of people we've never seen before of course," says Manzanedo. "It's just become more than a sales day, it's more like a celebration, and that's why we like having the bands all day. You don't have to buy anything, you can just walk in, walk through the door and go right into the venue and watch bands for free all day. But if you want to look at the exclusive stuff that’s where the long line might take a couple hours to get in and a lot of people wait all day long."
"We open two hours earlier, about 10 a.m.," adds Conklin. "I usually get to the shop about 9 o'clock and generally there's already a line of about 20 people. By the time we open there's usually 50–60 people waiting to get in. I'd say during the day we see probably around 1,200–1,500 people come through the store."
But not every person or store in the record store community share the exuberance for the holiday. For better or worse, Record Store Day can feel like an Irish Pub on St. Patrick's Day — full of transient partiers, so to speak — and sometimes the costs of doing business can put smaller stores at risk.
"Record stores spend a lot of money pouring into the inventory that's offered for Record Store Day, and none of that merchandise is returnable, so whatever that store doesn't sell, they're stuck with," explains Givens, noting that his personal opinion on the matter comes from working at several different record stores throughout New York since Record Store Day launched. "I've seen it put a pinch in record stores' wallets because they want to support Record Store Day and they want to offer these exclusive titles to the customers, but it's always such a crapshoot of what people are actually looking for and what the stores actually are allotted based on their orders."
"Record Store Day should be every day, generally. It should be something that is celebrated not necessarily once a year where it's like a Black Friday thing where there's masses of people looking for the same thing like an Easter egg hunt." — Daniel Givens, Good Records NYC
Givens admits the special releases are not only a good selling point, but they have also gotten qualitatively better over the years. He also points out that many of the special titles are geared toward an older audience, or offer up repackagings of records that are already available.
"[A record] that you would generally be able to find in the record store for $10 or less," says Givens, "is reissued for Record Store Day on colored vinyl, or it has one bonus track, or it has a little bit of incentive for someone to buy it. But generally, it's the same record that people grew up listening to. For us, we deal mostly in second-hand records. …We will have some [special releases] but we're not carrying every title that's released by any means. That's not what our clientele is about."
Still, the spirit of Record Store Day goes beyond the economics to celebrate the special role record stores play as the de facto headquarters for local music fans who crave something physical.
"Record stores still operate, not only obviously as a place to support music and musicians, but as a community space, where bands are still able to hang their fliers and people hang out and talk to each other and learn about music," "says Conklin.
"It's a real tactile, non-algorithm way to learn about new music and discover things that you might not find anywhere else." — Jeff Conklin, Academy Records
"I think it's important, just like a bookstore, that these sort of analog spaces exist so people don't lose touch with reality as they might in a digital world or with a digital experience," adds Givens.
With so many changes over the past few decades in the way fans consume music, the future of record stores has been uncertain for some time. But the oral tradition of word-of-mouth remains a big part of the discovery process for devoted music fans.
"I wasn't really sure when we opened up if people were still going to want to come in and treat it like a traditional store and talk to the employees and physically interact with the product and have conversations," says Manzanedo. "But it's become a place where people hang out. We have free wi-fi so you can hang out, sit on a couch, and read a magazine. But people also come in with lists and they're looking for recommendations."