Record Store Day: why vinyl gimmicks alone won't save local shops

Record Store Day’s confused ethos puts it at odds with the spirit of independent retailers serving communities, argues Rupert Morrison, owner of record shop the Drift in Totnes, Devon

With the announcement of this year’s list of exclusive limited-edition releases, Record Store Day is as divisive as ever: a heavily oversaturated and predominantly bland collection of kitsch, novelty and album campaign box-ticking. There are a few special and weird items buried among the 500 releases on offer, but not much worth writing home about, let alone worth queuing for at 6am. This year’s list will receive something between apathy, complete indifference and groans of despair at the roll call of Shaggy, Belinda Carlisle and Jake Bugg’s take on Wichita Lineman. It makes you wonder whether the whole thing needs a shot in the arm or to the back of the head.

The event was created in 2007 with the aim of celebrating the culture, enthusiasts and community behind record shops, and to drive people into stores during those fallow spring months. To be clear: Record Store Day is also about making money, and as a retailer it’d be pretty disingenuous to make out like I hate the event. It’s the one time of year where people queue up outside our premises and manically shop with seemingly little to no regard to the impending total cost.

So why, then, is there such a burgeoning rift between passionate music supporters like me, and this annual delivery of increasingly deranged fetish objects? The big problem with the vinyl resurgence is this bizarre effort to derail its legitimacy with gimmicky releases. It seems contradictory to present the day as your chance to go out and connect with a record shop, and to then release titles that are screamingly discordant with what the shops stock every other day of the year.

Local champion … The Drift in Totnes, Devon.
Local champion … The Drift in Totnes, Devon. Photograph: PR/Pr company handout

Record Store Day just needs a bit of courage and it needs to be properly curated. I’ll concede that one man’s Shakin’ Stevens is another man’s Snapped Ankles, but there are so many unnecessary and embarrassing songs being offered this year: hack that list in half and suddenly we’re starting to go back a few years to where the event was full of exciting and genuinely special releases.

One of the main reasons that chain record stores have failed is because they lack intimacy and any real character. They just don’t serve a purpose anymore. On any given Friday release day, my buddies at Resident at Brighton, Spillers in Cardiff, Forever in Nottingham and Monorail in Glasgow will, like me down in Devon, have a very similar set of new releases on the racks, but the difference is the subtle ways in which we articulate the releases, who we champion, why and how this makes connections with people. It’s hugely important: record shops aren’t just a vital part of a scene, they are often the centre of the local community. Record Store Day should simply be the big annual celebration of these organisations and what makes them so special.

One of Record Store Day’s greatest victories has been reigniting the conversation around what such shops mean to people – often the start of an evangelical journey. The annual event has categorically changed shopping habits, vinyl consumption and the scene’s ability to support itself for the better. The job now is to keep invigorating, and prove every day why it was so regressive to have ever contemplated abandoning them in the first place – something that won’t be achieved with translucent green Doctor Who soundtracks alone.

Rupert Morrison

The GuardianTramp

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