Record Store Day Australia (RSDA) takes place on April 16th this year and it is the third consecutive year that I’ve agreed to be an official ambassador. I’m very happy to join fellow RSD ambassador’s Ella Hooper and Adam Brand to support this wonderful day of music and fun. The purpose of RSD is to celebrate the culture and diversity of the independently owned record store. The Australian Music Retailers Association (AMRA) promotes RSDA and it has the unqualified support of record companies and Australian music icons that know the importance of supporting independent music stores. The day brings together fans, artists and thousands of independent record stores across the whole of Australia.
Chris Brown, who was an employee of independent CD, DVD, games and book retailer Bull Moose, originated Record Store Day in the USA. The concept was loosely based around the idea of the already successful Free Comic Book Day. Inspiration came from a brainstorming session held during a record storeowners’ meeting in Baltimore resulting in Record Store Day being officially founded in 2007. It is now celebrated at stores throughout the world, with hundreds of recording and performing artists participating in the day by making special appearances, performances, meeting and greeting their fans, the holding of art exhibits, and the issuing of special vinyl and CD releases along with other promotional products to mark the occasion. Each store holds their own party for the day, to celebrate the unique individuality of each store, and the place it holds within its community. Although Record Store Day, the actual day, only occurs once a year, AMRA (the organisation) provides promotions, marketing, and other opportunities for stores throughout the year, maintaining a website, social media and other means of promulgating its views about the value of independent record stores.
The key word here is ‘independent’. RSDA is about celebrating this word ‘independence’, as in freedom, liberty and self-governance. I am well aware of the advantages of a globalised world economy; indeed I am an English man who now lives in Melbourne, Australia who also lived and worked in the USA. For the whole of my working life I was involved, directly and indirectly, in producing and selling mass appeal contemporary popular music to a global audience. So it may sound contrary when I pontificate about the virtues of independent retailers. But I believe that it is possible for independent retailers to exist in a globalized economy, adding value and variety to our otherwise over standardized lives. I come from a family of independent retailers, my brother Nick and his wife Annie, are proprietors of the UK’s coolest bicycle shop, East Coast Bicycles, my father owned a number of different retail operations and my grandfather ran a shoe repair business all of his life. Our retail spaces are now almost exclusively the preserve of trans national global corporations who view the entire planet as one large connected market place. This can work in the consumer’s favor e.g. economies of scale resulting in lower prices and standardization of products across the globe; I’m not anti-globalization per-say. The globalized retailers take care of the generic, standardized, bulk of products but with little deviation resulting in limited choice. Take globalized furniture retailer Ikea, as an example, each store throughout the world carries exactly the same lines. The world’s biggest music retailer, iTunes, is a truly global phenomenon even though it only exists virtually.
This is where independent retailers come in, no matter what they are selling be it recorded music, groceries, shoes, clothing, wine or bicycles. The independent retailers are the purveyors of choice and are more often-than-not the local arbiters of style and taste. It’s the independents that seek out the bizarre, unusual, quirky, sexy, individual, niche, local and personal items that we desperately need in our lives. Granted these ‘desire’ or ‘life style statement’ items may cost a little more but they are the artifacts that become family heirlooms, the items that we cherish, the ones we love, the items with a narrative attached to them. I for one think that’s worth the cash premium.
Go into any independent retailer of whatever variety and you will invariably find the owner or his family serving you as opposed to some minimum wage earning, polo shirted/fleece wearing, badged, robo-drone who has no interest in the item that you wish to purchase. With an independent you are getting the attention of an expert/enthusiast, someone who has invested countless hours in researching their stock line, they can point out the almost indistinguishable differences on what appears to be similar products. At my favourite record store I spend many hours of my Saturday afternoons flicking through the racks. More often than not the owner, lets call him Buddy, comes over and strikes up a conversation with me and discusses music, records, artists and gigs. He’s not ‘upselling’ rather he is genuinely interested in my musical taste and me. Try this approach in a giant, on-line, globalised music retail environment it’s not the same. Reading the on-line ‘customer reviews’ below a product on a web site is useful but its not like being there. My local store plays loud music on a great sounding system with the cover of the album that they are playing highlighted on a plinth with “Currently Playing” written on it. OK, this is upselling but its upselling of the kind caring type, the type I like. You can buy wine at the supermarket but isn’t it much better to chat with the independent retailer who can describe the characteristics of that particular wine and what dish it is best served with? It’s the same with recorded music.
RSDA is motived around a single day, 16th April this year. This is the day when we celebrate the independent music retailers. Bands, acts and artists release special limited runs of ‘product’ and often perform in store with a real party atmosphere. There is a misconception that RSDA is solely about vinyl sales, its not. RSDA is format agnostic, buy whatever you like on whatever format you like, but make sure that you buy it from an independent retailer. This is a use it or loose it deal. If people don’t support local independent retailers they will disappear. Indeed with the ‘long tail’ online globalised retailers increasingly colonising our leisure space it’s becoming even harder for independents to keep the lights on. At the most basic level, when you buy local more money stays in the community.
The New Economics Foundation (NEF), a UK based independent economic think tank who’s aim is to transform the economy so that it works for people and the planet rather than profits, recently compared what happens when people buy produce at a supermarket vs. a local farmer’s market or community supported agriculture (CSA) program. This research found that twice the money stayed in the community when customers bought locally. “That means those purchases are twice as efficient in terms of keeping the local economy alive,” says author and NEF researcher David Boyle. The local producer/retailer also adds creative elements that make either the product or materials used more appropriate to the location. For example in my adopted home city of Melbourne, RSDA will see local stores offering up some superb one off recordings of local bands. Check the lists of releases on the RSDA web site for what’s available in your city.
Another argument for buying locally and independently is that it enhances the ‘velocity’ of money, or circulation speed, in the area. The idea is that if currency circulates more quickly, the money passes through more hands, a greater number of people benefit from the money and what it has purchased for them. “If you’re buying local and not at a chain or branch store, chances are that store is not making a huge profit,” says David Morris, Vice President of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit economic research and development organisation based in the USA capital Washington, D.C. “That means more goes into input costs such as supplies and upkeep, printing, advertising, paying employees, which puts that money right back into the local community.”
By shopping at the independent record store, instead of the global online retailer, you can stop your community from becoming a ‘clone town’, where the Main Street now looks like every other Main Street in the world with the same fast-food and retail chains. This is a compelling argument for supporting RSDA and its fun too. Save some cash and get into those independent record stores on 16th April and spend, spend, spend. Not only will it give you a smug good all over glow feeling but you will also come away with some music in a tactile format that will stay with you for the rest of your life. That’s why I support Record Store Day Australia; I’ll see you in-store on 16th April?