Friday, 20 April 2012

R is for Record Store Day

More than 3,000 independent record stores in America have closed over the last 10 years, while the UK has seen three quarters of its independents shut their doors. There were 700 independent record shops scattered around our fair isles in 2000, by 2009 figures had plummeted to just 296.

A while ago I watched the eye-opening I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store from US indie film-maker Brendan Toller, which documents the demise of every music fan's mecca - the local record shop. The place where first records/tapes/CDs were purchased, where friendships were sought, where gems were discovered by artwork alone and where advice was offered on why the product you held was shit and should be exchanged for *insert name of classic album here*.

Exploring all the avenues that have led to that sad, gaping hole in our town's High Street, this 2010 film looks at all the reasons behind the demise, starting with the impact of profit hungry, tasteless major conglomerates. With no interest in artists, artist development or innovation, of making the music industry a creatively diverse place or apparently, music itself, the major labels are slowly sucking the life out of what should be one of the most imaginative and visionary industries on the planet.

Surely in an era where technology allows a no-holes-barred approach to music, one which allows people to record their own music in their bedroom and where the internet should act as a level playing field for all artists, we should be pushing the boundaries of music, not producing as much middle-of-the-road, radio-friendly shit as can be churned out quick enough to make the fat cats an easy 'buck'. The music industry should be an inspiring place, not about making the most money in the shortest amount of time.

The reality is that the major's stranglehold on the music industry allows them to keep control by setting the prices of CDs and dominating the air waves - Toller states within the film that the biggest radio stations in the USA play the same songs 58% of the time. It is also claimed that the label behind punk-by-numbers pop outfit, Good Charlotte, reportedly paid around $17,000 to get one of their singles played on the radio 250 times. As a result of been spoon-fed what the majors want audiences to buy, people actually go out and buy this shit - does no-one want music with integrity anymore? Are there really people out there who struggle to make decisions on their own personal tastes?

The result is that independent record stores just cannot compete with the cut priced deals offered by supermarkets and brand names. See, the thing about the independent record shop is that it was never really designed for the chart hits. Yes, they have small sections catering to the Top 40, but the rest of the shop generally dedicated to timeless artists or genre-specific sections. The indies have always relied on the dedication of their customers, who are largely looking for an alternative to the latest big pop release, and just the passing trade of the chart-seekers. However, as supermarkets began stocking chart hits at bargain prices, this trade has been snatched away and of course, as the internet and MP3s arrived, the death toll for the local record shop sounded loud and clear.

Record Store Day - Saturday 21st April

Tomorrow marks Record Store Day, a global celebration of the independent record store in all of it's glory. While it's sad that these Aladdin's caves have to have a designated day to encourage people to visit them, I think it's a great way to get people talking about independents and talking about music, and perhaps even inspire some of the MP3 generation to show their support.

One of the great ways shops are encouraging people to make the effort is with some super sexy, limited edition, only-available-in-indies releases. This year's exclusives include one-offs from The Clash, Clutch, Crazy Arm, Metallica, Refused, Sex Pistols and Sugar, plus many, many, many more. Check out the full list HERE.

Record Store Pilgrimage

It's perhaps fitting that I actually picked up Toller's documentary whilst on a pilgrimage to the greatest independent record store on the planet - Los Angeles' Amoeba Music. For someone from a small market town in England, where record shops are small, compact treasure troves, seeing Amoeba in all of its glory was mind-blowing. The sheer size of the place was unbelievable...

Amoeba sells everything, from the most popular to the most underground. Every genre imaginable, CDs, tapes and vinyl, used and new, t-shirts, posters, box sets, books, fanzines and DVDs are packed in from wall to wall - and I barely scratched the surface of the gems that this place holds. Two and a half hours and $150 later I finally tore myself away from Amoeba's seductive interior.

The joy of Amoeba is that it doesn't just sell music, it also hosts in store performances and charity auctions, its website features free downloads and it's got its own record label. Amoeba is what every independent record shop deserves to be like and seeing, feeling and hearing the excitement and vibrancy of this mammoth store made me realise the sad state of independent record shops in the UK.

Within the last couple of years, all of my old stomping grounds have slipped away; in 2007 Loughborough's Left-Legged Pineapple closed its doors for the final time (but lives on in the virtual world), whilst 2009 saw Selectadisc in Nottingham (which heatbreakingly started life as a market stall way back in 1966) and Pendulum in Melton Mowbray say goodbye. The majority of the music that adorns my shelves came from these three places - I even bought both my first tapes and my first concert tickets from Pendulum - and it makes me sad to think there'll never be anything to replace them. 

Anyone with a true passion for music and record shops should check out I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store - it will certainly make you think about where to buy your music. I'd also really like to see a sequel to Toller's award-winning film, something titled along the lines of What The Fuck Happened To The Local Gig Venue?

Find out more about Toller's film and where to buy it HERE.

Interesting MP3 fact - within two years of their initial arrival, the number of internet searches for 'MP3' had surpassed that of 'sex'.


  1. I used to LOVE going to browse down at the record store.

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  3. I'm going to Amoeba! Browsing leads to $ale$
    Thanks for sharing

  4. CDs might be more convenient, but for artwork and sheer audio excellence nothing will ever come close to vinyl!!! Downloading has made today's youth lazy when it comes to searching out good music.

  5. this was a fantastic and informative post. i like mainstream as much as the next person (it's called 'pop' for a reason), but i do believe that people are willing to just have their taste handed to them and that makes me sad, as this doesn't just effect the record industry. am now going to look for that documentary. thanks!