Record Store Day is like the Christmas of the music world. Music lovers from all over the world come together in unity to support their local record stores and favourite artists. In an age where digital music is overtaking the market at an incredible speed, it’s wonderful to watch people celebrating actual, real, records and all that they embrace.
Luck would have it, records are back in fashion. Hipsters, we salute you. This is good news for the independent record store market and according to the official Record Store Day website more than forty new shops have opened in the UK high streets in the last 5 years, with sales of vinyl albums already up 74% this year alone. Despite the recent increase in vinyl sales, the digital transformation of society and the music industry is progressively replacing our physical music collections with online streaming services, which we now rely on to hear our favourite tracks. Let’s hope the internet doesn’t do a dinosaur on us and become extinct.
Record Store Day was founded in the USA back in 2007 when over 700 independent record stores came together to celebrate their incredible culture. A year later the UK followed suit. Artists, record store owners and music fans rally together to acknowledge and support a culture and art form the world would be lost without. Watching the passion on music lovers faces as they queue for hours on end to join in the celebration and take the time to indulge in the physical act of finding their favourite record is something downloading an MP3 will never replace.
The culture of how we listen to, and our interaction with music has changed dramatically since the internet became a player in the industry. We want our music like we want our food- fast. We don’t think about the ingredients, where it came from, who made it. We want it cheap and to satisfy our immediate needs. We’ll pay £3 to a company with questionable ethics for a skinny, no whip, decaf, hazelnut latte without much thought. We’ll even queue for ten minutes to receive the monstrosity. Pay a few quid for a record that someone’s spent years perfecting, not to mention the years and money spent mastering instruments, that has helped you through that difficult situation or always puts you in a great mood? It’s like you’ve asked someone a complicated maths problem. It confuses them. A new generation of music consumer has been born, and in their mind, music is free. Most of the arts are free actually. Is it time for a society overhaul yet?
Most adults can remember the first album they ever bought. They can remember the artist, the album title, their absolute favourite track, where they bought it. How excited they were when they had it in their hands. They remember what the cover looked like and the smell of the freshly printed sleeve. It was a memorable moment. It was sacred. The interaction we once felt by owning music has been replaced with online playlists and ‘likes’. The artwork on the album cover is looked at as an afterthought as is seeing who wrote and produced each of the tracks. Music has become a fly on the wall. It’s there whilst we are busy doing everything else. With so much new music flooding the internet every day, its shelf life, and our attention, is becoming much shorter too. What are our children going to remember? The first time they opened their own Spotify account? The first music video they watched on Youtube? Streaming services definitely have their pros. They have made the music industry accessible for smaller, unsigned artists. Artists no longer have to rely on major record labels to release their music and it can be heard all over the world for free. That’s a fantastic opportunity. But this new era is also killing off the need to buy records and CDs.
Record Store Day is a little like the Valentines Day of the music world. Record stores can’t survive on one good sales day a year. Just like your love can’t survive on a bunch of roses every February. It’s important to show your significant other all year that they are appreciated and that you love them. Why wait for a commercial day to buy flowers and whisper sweet nothings? Record Store Day will see record stores flooded and my, will it be a beautiful sight. Thousands of music lovers stroking handsomely designed record sleeves and paying hard cash for creations that are full of blood, sweat and tears. But just as every day should be full of love, every day should be filled with the desire to pay for your music.
Artists have always been at the bottom of the money ladder when it comes to revenue, with record labels right at the top. With the advent of streaming, it’s actually still the record labels that are winning, not the streaming hosts and definitely not the artists. The big labels receive millions in licensing fees so that companies like Spotify can stream the artists signed to the labels. The artists receive pittance, regardless whether you pay subscription fees. It’s a similar situation with record sales, the artist receives the least in the financial equation, but it’s still more than the pennies they receive via streaming. Steve Albini wrote an insightful article back in 1993 in The Baffler, pre streaming, entitled ‘The Problem With Music’ where he highlights these financial disparities. Perhaps the real answer is addressing the distribution of revenue in a fairer manner.
More and more musicians are having to resort to full time day jobs on top of writing, recording and touring, just to afford to continue making music. Many musicians can’t take the heat and quit because it’s just too much of a struggle. Streaming isn’t creating revenue, the current economic climate means many fans aren’t going out to watch live music, touring is expensive… That’s just the tip of the enormous iceberg. But as challenging as the music market may feel at the moment, music itself is far from doomed. People have been creating music since the beginning of documented history and will continue to do so until our planet explodes. We need it for our souls. Rather than resisting the digital transition, we should absolutely embrace it but in a positive and responsible fashion. As consumers we need to find new ways to use technology to support musicians and build exciting new communities. Crowdfunding websites like Patreon might be the future. Patrons pay artists monthly or per creation, as much or as little as they like. In less than a year and a half over 125,000 people have signed up and are donating over a million dollars every single month. From these figures alone it is apparent that a lot of people want to pay their favourite creators directly. Perhaps the new generation of music consumers aren’t so bad after all. Maybe they just need a little education. Eat that Doom.
Music is a collaboration, a journey, a communal experience. Just as Facebook can’t replace the feeling you get from a real physical community, digital music can’t replace the magic of owning your favourite artists craftwork. Looking at your favourite piece of artwork on the computer is an entirely different experience to seeing it on your wall. If you’re streaming your new favourite artist every day on Youtube, go out and support them and your local record store. In a matter of seconds you’ll remember just how much you appreciate the entire experience. Gosh, you might even make a friend.
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