Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Record Store Day 2011

Like many things that started out as good ideas, Record Store Day has (in my humble opinion) gotten extremely lame less cool as it has become increasingly institutionalized. Case in point; one of the big, exciting, must-have Record Store Day releases this year is a 78 RPM version of The Beach Boy's "Good Vibrations"/"Heroes And Villains."

What started out as a well-intentioned celebration of an important but struggling institution has devolved into little more than an orgy of collector fetishism. I mean seriously, what is the point of a 78 RPM version of "Good Vibrations" other than to have a 78 RPM version of "Good Vibrations" that you can show to your friends and say "Look! I have a 78 RPM version of 'Good Vibrations'! It plays at 78 RPM!" And if your friends are really nice people they will pretend you have a really cool, unique and important cultural artifact, but trust me they don't really care because all you have is a pointless commodity fetish.

I still support Record Store Day in concept because real record stores are a dying breed, and I love record stores. But the concept and the reality seem more and more at odds with each passing year. When I recently stopped into my local, genuinely independent, record store (In Your Ear in Warren Rhode Island), the owner was unsure how many releases he would actually be able to get because the regional, medium-sized chain, Newbury Comics (which isn't even really a record store, but a lifestyle and accessories shop that happens to sell some records) gets priority from the people who run Record Store Day.

I'm eager to know if any of my readers actually really want the 78 RPM "Good Vibrations" (and not just because you think you might be able to sell it at a profit on eBay--see poll at right). Is a 78 RPM version of "Good Vibrations" the thing that will finally fill the hole in your life that you were always vaguely aware of, but never could fully articulate until you learned that Capitol records would be producing a special, limited-edition, 78 RPM edition of "Good Vibrations" exclusively for Record Store Day 2011, or will it just be another piece of junk that sits in your closet?

Oh yeah...the fourth annual Record Store Day will take place on Saturday, April 16, 2011. Support your local independent record store!


wardo said...

Is Chris Zingg still the proprietor of In Your Ear? He was a good guy when I knew him.

Pete Bilderback said...

Yes, Chris Zingg is still the proprietor (co-owner) of In Your Ear. He's still a good guy too! I feel very lucky to have a shop like In Your Ear just a stone's throw from me.

MarcM said...

I don't know. I'm kind of two minds about this. I have Paul McCartney's "Run Devil Run" in the 7" Box (the album as a collection of several 45rpms) but never listen to it in this format. I bought it because it is "cool".

I also bought the Beatles Apple USB because it was "cool" but it may turn out to be useful one day if I can play FLAC files through a proper stereo system rather than computer speakers (c'mon Sony - make the Playstation 3 play FLACs).

A repackaging's worth is only determined by how much you give it. I have CD single collection box sets by ABBA, The Beach Boys, The Beatles (& the EP one) and three by Elvis Costello. I listen to these sometimes when I want the experience of listening to singles again (weird, I know) but I also like having the reproduction of the sleeves.

So, a Beach Boys 78rpm is "cool" and may be "useless" but then the music industry has always been about these things and are only supported by those who want to do so.

PS: The point is moot for me as Vancouver,(British Columbia, Canada) never seems to receive Record Store Day releases I'm looking for. I searched in vain for the Iron & Wine live CD and the Elvis Costello 7" National Ransack.

Pete Bilderback said...

Good points Marc.

I don't mean to sound to harsh. I own the Beach Boys Sub Pop 45 RPM single, so it's not like I consider myself above these things. Fact is, it's just kind of cool to own a Beach Boys single that has the same iconic logo and look as my Mudhoney "Touch Me I'm Sick" 7", even if I never listen to it.

In general, my feeling is that music should be for listening to, but I think it's a mistake to totally write off the collector angle as meaningless, inconsequential or wrongheaded.

I can be a bit of a stick-in-the-mud sometimes is all.

Doug said...

As one who has collected music and other items of specious pragmatic value, I already hold the belief that everything in this category exists solely because someone thinks it's cool. Is that not the point of collecting? Is that not what makes something cool--to you at least: that not everyone else does?

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi Doug, I admit I am going a bit hard on this release. I have many "limited edition" collectors items myself, and digitizing and sharing them was the original impetus for creating this blog. I think what rubs me the wrong way about this release is that it is (almost) unplayable by design. Very few of us have turntables that can spin at 78 RPM. So while having something on, say, colored vinyl does not create any added value beyond the "cool" and "collectable" factor, you can at least still play it if it is meant to spin at either 33.3 or 45 RPM. This release takes the novelty factor so far that all you are left with is the novelty--no music. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with that in reality, but there is still something about it that bugs me.

Anonymous said...

I just happened by your blog while Googling "Record Store Day" for info on this year's happenings. After reading this post I get the sense that you don't understand what makes record stores cool in the first place, which is the ability to go to a place and find things like Beach Boys 78s. There are folks who obsess about such things because they love everything about records. I am one of those, and even though I am not a big Beach Boys fan it is cool to have a place where I can go and pick up that 78 and, perhaps, even buy it for my collection. I think you let your glib coolness get in the way of a celebration of something that many of us (I suspect you included) hold dear. Mike in Colorado

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi Mike...thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

If releases like this are what makes record stores "cool" then I confess to not getting it at all. If all my local record store had was collectors items like this (especially ones that I couldn't even listen to on my turntable), I don't think I would spend much time or money there. I'm just being honest. I don't really get it.

I consider myself a huge Beach Boys fan, and when the SMiLE box set comes out, I'm going to pick it up on the day of release and devour every note and pour over the liner notes for new insights into the music and creative process behind it. But I'm not interested in this release for the simple reason that I can't listen to it on my stereo. For me anyway, whatever special collector value a record might have is entirely secondary to the music on it.

If other people are turned on by releases like this, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that. It's just not where I'm coming from, and I'm afraid I don't really understand the appeal. But then there are many things in life I don't understand, and I see no sin in admitting it.

Releases like this do not capture what is special to me about record stores at all. I enjoy finding things like a sealed copy of the first NRBQ album (which I immediately opened and listened to, thus reducing its value as a fetish object), or hearing something by a new indie band and realizing I'm not yet too old to appreciate their music, or finding a dirt cheap copy of a CD that I regret having sold years ago. In other words, I like record stores because I like music, not because they sell collectible objects.

Anyhow, sorry you didn't enjoy this post...I do my best.

Anonymous said...

Pete- It's not that I didn't enjoy the post, just that I think that you came down hard on something that might be enjoyed by many folks who (increasingly) used to frequent record stores on a regular basis. There are so many different types of thrills that one could derive from browsing the record bins, one of which was a special collector's edition of some artist or another (remember the colored vinyl releases). All that I'm saying is that this kind of marketing has always been a part of the record store experience, just like finding those rare NRBQ releases that you mentioned. And by the way, I still play my 78s occasionally, and I might even by this one by the Beach Boys, despite my black Chicago upbringing! Mike in Colorado

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi, Mike. Thanks for the follow up thoughts. I admit having come down too hard on this release. I might feel differently about it if I were 78 RPM enabled myself.

But there is a larger point about Record Store Day that I don't want to get lost. In general, I like Record Store Day, but more as a way to raise the profile and public awareness of record stores, not so much for the limited edition releases (some of which, I admit, I consider cool).

The issue I have with RSD is that the people who run it (perhaps understandably) tend to prioritize medium sized regional chains over real Mom & Pop record shops. The employees of said chains hoard the most in-demand releases for themselves, then flip them on eBay for a profit because people couldn't find them in the actual stores on Record Store Day. The situation seems to get worse every year, and it is counter-productive.

Record Store day is a good idea, and I support it, but the way it works, I'm not sure it does as much good for record stores as an institution as it could.

But I am all about supporting local record stores (and local businesses in general). I've even talked my local newspaper into writing a feature story on Record Store Day and the fact that my local shop is participating. Don't mistake by glib coolness for indifference. I really love records and record stores a lot.

Mark TDoLore said...

Hi there...I agree that Record Store Day is perhaps getting a little to flashy (for lack of a better word). My fear is that the spirit of it is getting lost in the laundry lists of exclusive releases. I enjoy the blog.

Mel said...

Interesting piece, I agree with a lot of what Pete said. Here in the UK we also have record store day. I went along to last years and thought they should rename it Record Dealer Day.
It's kind of mystifying, I still can't get my head round how it's meant to save record stores, I mean I don't see how it will get new people through the door who wouldn't go anyway. Maybe it did start off with good intentions. I saw very little evidence of that in the UK. The only way I can see that would make it more worthwhile is to promote smaller labels, who are the lifeblood of indie shops, but then that would mean convincing people to buy releases by obscure artists, which is record shops problem to start with.
I can't really find it in my heart to blame the record stores for stuff going on Ebay for silly money though. If people are mad enough to pay £500 for a record that was designed solely to be a collectors item, I'd rather it went in the store's pockets. Then at least they could put their feet up for the next month knowing their extortionate rental charges are paid.
edit: just seen RSD say they will 'investigate' records sold on Ebay: ?!? Can't see how they can police this. If intention of them being limited edition collectibles, at some point down the line they are going to be worth a lot of money to someone. It's inevitable really, unless you sell them with self destruct mechanisms implanted ;-).

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi Mel. Very interesting, thanks for your thoughts. I'm not sure how Record Store Day would investigate eBay flipping. I guess they could check to see if store owners were waiting to offer items for sale on eBay rather than putting stock on the floor. They could probably threaten not to stock such stores on future Record Store Days. Not sure how effective that would be. In the final analysis there is little that can be done about it, and I'm not even sure anything should be done.

To anyone desperate to get ahold a particular release, I would advise patience. Whatever you do, don't jump on eBay to buy something you couldn't find in a store on the Sunday after record store day, because that is when you will really get robbed.

Anonymous said...

I have tens of thousands of 78 RPM records. Yet I have never purchased one new. Having the Beach Boys 78 would be unique in that way. Sadly, the local record store received far fewer records than they got orders for and I won't be getting one.
Yes, it does seem kinda skeevy since the Beach Boys never released on 78; it's a gimmick. But it's a pretty cool one and I see it as a good sign overall.

Pete Bilderback said...

I think you'll be able to find a copy eventually. I admit, if I were a 78 collector the idea of being able to buy a brand new 78 just once in my life would have some strange appeal to me. Good luck snagging a copy. Just be patient.

Stephen said...

Just recently got this 78 rpm double record package, but my question is a different one in case you know — is it OK to play it with the 33/45 rpm needle? I checked the grooves on the records and they seem "closer" like 33/45 grooves. I do have a special 78 rpm needle, but I'm not sure it's appropriate for this modern 78 edition. I did try it out for the first minute or so with the 33/45 needle and it did just fine. Thanks for the post!

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi Stephen. Yes! Absolutely play it with your normal 33/45 needle. It is a normal, modern microgroove record, it's just that it spins at 78 RPM. Whatever you do don't use a needle intended for shellac 78s! You would likely destroy the records in a single play. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I found your blog looking for information on how limited this "Good Vibrations" edition is (do you know?).

I don't know why I wanted one of these records so badly. It must have been the coolness factor of owning a 78 RPM record that was made in this century. I can play mine on the Technics SP-10. I plan to record it on the computer on its one and only play. Then it goes on the shelf.

My copy has a story: I live in Florida. In a discussion on this release on a message board, I said how much I wanted one, but none of the participating stores within 100 miles of where I live would respond to e-mail. Someone told me that his brother lived in Cleveland, and was tight with the record store guy and could get one for himself and one for me. It arrived today. The only other way I could have got one is to go to eBay, where it's now going for as much as $40. I paid sticker price and postage.

So I got one. It makes me happy. I don't expect to get rich selling it (I have no plans to sell it), but I'm a record collector. I had to have it. Cheers!

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi Anon,

For all my bitching, I got one too, so don't take anything I say too seriously!