The QT

Wednesday 19 June 2024

Vinyl’s big day has a flip side

Record Store Day 2024 takes centre stage this weekend as vinyl’s unlikely revival gathers pace. But, as Simon Rushworth discovered, opinion remains fiercely divided when it comes to an event established to support independent retailers across the UK
  • Music fans looking forward to special events, live music and giveaways
  • Independent stores can cover overheads for the whole year
  • But critics say Record Store Day has become another corporate event
The racks are getting stacked at Newcastle-based independent record store Beyond Vinyl

From the early hours of Saturday morning, hundreds of dedicated music fans will form excited, chattering queues, snaking around the streets of Tyneside, in anticipation of this year’s most sought-after drop of limited edition vinyl.

Come rain or shine, Record Store Day brings together serious collectors, late adopters, lifelong friends and excited families. It marks the annual release of unique live sets, long lost demos, intriguing rarities and revisited classics. 

Embossed gatefold sleeves, spectacular splatter vinyls, exclusive inserts and specially commissioned booklets complement critically acclaimed songwriting and career-defining creativity.

The overriding sense of community and celebration is palpable. Special events pace the day with live music, giveaways and plenty of good humour, making Record Store Day much more than a commercially-motivated cash grab. Or so its supporters argue.

“There are positives and negatives,” muses Tyneside-based Gordon Armstrong, a former DJ who’s spent the last decade rebuilding an extensive vinyl collection that temporarily fell by the wayside as CDs and then digital downloads dominated the scene.

Gordon Armstrong with two of his most prized releases from previous Record Store Days

“What I really Iove about Record Store Day is seeing kids getting excited about new music. It’s not just dusty old men like me rifling through the racks and going on about the good old days.

“If you’re 15 or 16 and your favourite band is releasing something limited and new on vinyl and you’re prepared to travel for miles and queue in the rain just to get your hands on that record, then that’s brilliant.

“Another positive is being able to pick up stuff that’s either never been released before on vinyl or, if it has, not for years and years. Record Store Day can be amazing for people like me who’ve fallen in love with vinyl all over again.

“And I love the community spirit around the event. People who I might only see once in a while suddenly pop up in the same shop or further down the queue and it’s just like old times again.

“Then there’s the reason why Record Store Day was established in the first place: some of the record shops I visit are kept afloat by what they sell on the day. In certain cases income from Record Store Day can cover their overheads for the rest of the year and enable them to keep introducing people to physical music every week.”

Team Sleep’s 2005 album looks set to be one of the most sought after exclusives at Record Store Day 2024… at a cool £58.99

Gordon still hasn’t decided whether to invest the best part of £100 in Record Store Day exclusives from Jeff Buckley (£33.99 for a coloured double album) and Team Sleep (£58.99 for a double gold LP with ‘bonus tracks lithograph’) when he could buy as many as five standard albums for the same price.

And since its inception in the late noughties, an undercurrent of frustration and a sense of exclusion has taken root amongst those who feel Record Store Day is gradually drifting beyond the financial reach of rank and file music fans already grappling with a cost-of-living crisis.

“I’ve always been a consumer of music and I can understand why some customers might perceive Record Store Day to be something of a money grab by the record companies and the artists,” says David McGovern, owner of Newcastle’s Beyond Vinyl.

“But I don’t believe that’s the case. Record Store Day items are, by their very nature, a little more expensive than regular releases but, on the whole, I don’t think they’re extortionate.

“From an artist’s perspective, it’s so difficult to make money from music these days and selling physical products is a lifeline to so many of them.

“Record Store Day has also given many independent record shops a new lease of life. Don’t get me wrong — taking part requires a huge investment, in both time and money, and there is a financial risk involved.

“We have to try to predict the right quantity and what’s going to be popular because there are no guarantees that you’re going to sell all of your stock.

“But I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a wonderful day and the sense of community spirit is incredible.”

David will be throwing open his doors at the John Marley Centre from as early as 6am ahead of trading two hours later.

David McGovern, of Beyond Vinyl, has been taking delivery of Record Store Day stock for several weeks now

Tea, coffee and bacon sandwiches will fuel his committed customer base and the Beyond Vinyl team has worked overtime in a bid to ensure they have the widest variety of stock possible.

But Record Store Day isn’t for everyone and The QT spoke to disaffected retailers who have made a conscious decision to stay away from this year’s celebrations.

One independent shop owner in the North East, who asked not to be named, feels prohibitive barriers to entry dissuade many stores from taking part.

“If you don’t have an account with a certain number of record companies then you’re not invited to the party,” he explains.

“It benefits those shops that have longstanding associations with labels and represents too great a risk for many of us.

“There’s simply no predicting what might or might not sell and the danger is that, even if you do sign up for Record Store Day, you could be left with unsold stock that will ultimately end up on sale at a heavily discounted price. At that point the margins become unmanageable.”

Nevertheless, Record Store Day has never been more popular. Two hundred and seventy shops are taking part this year nationally — a record (excuse the pun) in the event’s 17-year history. 

Those robust figures reflect the sector’s overall buoyancy with independent record shop numbers reaching a new 10-year high. In 2014 independents accounted for just three per cent of music outlets but by 2023 that figure had risen to almost one in four.

In addition, vinyl sales brought in £177.3m last year — seven times higher than in 2014. 

And earlier this year vinyl records were added to the UK consumer shopping basket of goods and services in a landmark move that underlines the market’s significance to the national economy.

Megan Page coordinates Record Store Day across the UK and is a keen advocate of the event’s community spirit and sense of inclusivity. Credit: ERA

As head of PR and marketing at the Digital Entertainment and Retail Association (ERA), Megan Page is responsible for coordinating Record Store Day across the UK.

She believes it’s never been easier for retailers to embrace a positive movement uniting independent shop owners nationwide.

And Megan is a passionate advocate for Record Store Day’s inclusivity and its ongoing commitment to welcoming consumers from diverse backgrounds into a safe space.

“There shouldn’t be any barriers to shops getting involved in Record Store Day,” insists Megan.

“We’re happy to list retailers who aren’t stocking official titles — but still celebrating the event — and actively do that. But independent record shops are independent for a reason and I respect the fact that they’ll have their own ways of doing things.

“What I would say is that being part of Record Store Day is being part of a cultural event that’s helped to put independent record stores and vinyl on the map.

“If you look back 17 years, vinyl was on the brink of extinction with many music industry executives writing the format off. But there was still a demand for vinyl and a demand for the culture around shopping for records.

“Now Record Store Day is a global celebration that brings together fans, labels, artists and retailers.”

And while Megan admits that it’s difficult to get away from Gordon’s stereotype of ‘dusty old men’ on both sides of the counter, she insists Record Store Day shines a light on the new breed of retailer and consumer helping to secure the sector’s future.

“A lot of the newer record shops are run by people under the age of 30,” she adds. “There are a lot more women behind the counters and the customer base is also changing. There’s been a real shift towards the 18-25-year-old market and there’s much more of an even male and female split.

“Record Store Day reflects all of the amazing and diverse talent within the music industry and that includes the record shop owners.

“There might have been a time when traditional, independent record stores were seen as intimidating by certain groups but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I’m a massive champion of making sure that they are really inclusive and welcoming spaces.”

Fans of Hayley Williams will have to find £59.99 if they want their copy of Paramore’s RE: This Is Why remix album on double vinyl

One of those inclusive and welcoming spaces was lost to the region last year when Teesside’s Sound It Out Records closed its doors.

Tragically, owner Tom Butchart suffered a heart attack in his shop in June 2023 and now Stockton, like so many North East towns and cities, is without a Record Store Day representative.

Sunderland’s Hot Rats Records flies the flag for Wearside but otherwise Newcastle — with six active, independent retailers — has become the mecca for vinyl collectors across the region.

As well as lamenting the loss of Tom and Sound It Out, Norton-based John Burrows feels Record Store Day might just have had its day. Like Gordon, he feels the major labels’ top picks have become prohibitively expensive and the father of two won’t be making the trip up the A19 to Tyneside this year.

“Record Store Day has become more of a commercial event than something for vinyl fans,” he sighs. “It’s got to the point now where I don’t even check what’s on the lists — it all feels very cynical and it feels like fans are being milked by the record companies all over again.

“I used to love it. I used to love the sense of anticipation before the big day and going armed with my wish list. 

“I remember Maximo Park did an in-store at Sound It Out and then I think they went up to Newcastle to do another straight after. 

“Back then Record Store Day still retained its warm, indie feel and the sense that small record shops were genuinely benefitting from the movement.

“It should be about supporting the little guy but also enabling music fans and record collectors to pick up something special on the day. 

“I don’t mind paying more than usual for a special edition of a previously unreleased live show — maybe on coloured vinyl — but £59.99 for Paramore’s remix album? How can the normal fan in the street afford that?

“I just don’t feel it anymore. Record Store Day has become a corporate event that’s priced out the average working person. It’s completely moved away from what it was in the early years.”

BBC Radio 6 Music has supported Record Store Day, and independent retailers like Beyond Vinyl, since 2016

BBC Radio 6 Music first partnered with Record Store Day eight years ago and, although the station chose not comment on the pricing of vinyl, its support for the event remains steadfast.

“We’re all about supporting music beyond the mainstream and musical discovery,” said Samantha Moy, head of BBC Radio 6 Music.

“We’re really proud of our continued partnership with Record Store Day, which began in 2016.

“Our presenters have a chance to dig deep into their collections for the weekend and, as a station, we have the opportunity to shine a light on independent record shops which, just like us, offer a space where people can discover new music, as well as classic tracks and albums which are new to them.

“From Friday (April 19) to Sunday (April 21) presenters will be hosting a three-day celebration of vinyl and records on 6 Music.

“Friday’s focus will be 7”s, Saturday’s will be 12”s and Sunday’s will be albums and album tracks.

“Also on Friday, Huw Stephens will be paying a visit to Tangled Parrot in Swansea, broadcasting his 4-7pm show from there.

“He’ll be joined by Adwaith for an acoustic session (listen out for an exclusive new track) as well as special guests including Carwyn Ellis, Jack Jones of Trampolene and Hue Williams of Swansea Sound.”


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