business, consumer experience, technologies

Ode to record store day

Celebrating old media
Celebrating old media

My love of music was, like many of my generation, largely down to Steve Lamacq’s Evening Session show on BBC Radio 1. Therefore I feel a debt to make a nod to this year’s Record Store Day.

While I hadn’t been aware of it before this year, 2013 is the sixth celebration of the UK’s unique independent sector. On Saturday 20th April “all independently owned record stores come together with artists to celebrate the art of music. Special vinyl and CD releases are made exclusively for the day and hundreds of artists across the globe make special appearances and performances.” –

As well as a debt, I also feel guilt, because I am exactly the sort of customer who has spurned the independents in favour of online sources. For me this is Spotify, to which there’s barely been a competitor for several years. I’ve played music out loud at home using an iPod speaker dock, through the Spotify app, or attached it to a car stereo for equally as long.

Record Store Habits

Today I go and stand outside the main independent of Spillers in Cardiff, apparently the oldest independent store in the world. Every week or so I’ll go to the small Arcade where it moved to a couple of years ago from its historic location. I’ll scan the new release list which is posted in the window, but I rarely enter the store. If I do, it’s only to grab a free music fanzine or magazine. After there I might pop to HMV to see the new releases in ‘the flesh’, out of curiosity to inspect the designs and images.

But I can’t remember the last time I bought any physical music.  It has to be around two to three years ago now.

I am a bad customer. It’s my fault. In the same way Jessop’s demise was my fault for going in, leeching their staff’s expertise, then buying cheaper kit online.

There are other factors in the record store struggle, of course. The following generation to mine probably have a reduced sense of any allegiance to the record store. If the internet has always been there for them, why shouldn’t they?  It’s in the process of moving from a mass market to a niche, collectors’ market.

The creative urge will live on

Still I feel and appreciate the romance of it, and occasionally I’ll meet a likemind who is into the same obscure guitar bands. The fusion of nerdery is wonderful on the rare occasions when that happens. But it’s not the reason why I was attracted to record stores, not like Jack Black’s character in the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s excellent book High Fidelity.

Gloucester, Cheltenham and Cardiff Record Stores

Flicking through racks in the hope of a sudden bargain was a time-killing past-time while waiting for a bus: fun in its own way but not something I’d really go out of your way for. My first hometown record store was a place named Pulp in Gloucester. It was run by a serious, tall, bespectacled man who you instantly knew had the fiery passion for music. We exchanged words about purchases a few times back then but I always found him a little scary. It changed locations a few times and I’m not sure if it’s still going.

In Cheltenham, where I studied and lived for a while, there was Badlands. There was more class about this store somehow, in the same way that Cheltenham always has the edge on Gloucester when it comes to class. A more interesting building on a couple of levels, better branding, listening posts, good deals.

In the original Spillers of Cardiff, pleasure could be had from flicking through the protective plastic wallets, the listening posts were great and seemed a newish invention at the time, gig tickets could be purchased, and you’d sometimes have one of those chats with staff about an exciting new artist.

Record Store Threats

The first threat was iTunes, which I used and bought from a lot for a time. Then I worked in an office well populated with other music fans, where piracy was gloriously rife and a USB key was all you needed to rip the latest new releases.  Occasional dalliances came with Amazon’s MP3 download service (cheaper than iTunes), the terrible user experience of Google Play and online streaming with Last.FM, before the arrival of Spotify.

Who knows what will come next or how it will evolve from here?  There are questions around how long Spotify can last, unless profits improve. But there will be something because there will always be an appetite for new music and passionate, creative people wanting to produce it.

You have to admire the efforts of good folk behind record store day, together with the endorsements of famous DJs. However, you can’t help wondering if it’s like the sentimental plea of an old lady not to have her lovely old cat put to sleep.

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