a, Arts & Entertainment, Music

Revitalizing a bygone medium: the rise of Record Store Day

With the proliferation of digital media, the so-called ‘death of the physical format’ has been proclaimed for years. The seventh annual Record Store Day, which will take place on April 19, throws a wrench straight into this morbid hypothesis. The day’s sole purpose is to celebrate record stores, their customers, and the artists and musicians who fill their shelves. Participating stores offer exclusive limited releases, varying sales, and even live performances. Since its inception, vinyl sales have skyrocketed, reviving a medium presumed to be dead.

Michael Kurtz, one of Record Store Day’s co-founders and the current event manager, explains that the idea was inspired by a similar endeavour undertaken by independent comic bookstores called Free Comic Book Day.

“We looked at what they were doing and how they were exciting stores and their customers to celebrate the culture of the store itself,” Kurtz says. “So we decided to take that idea and do it for music, for record stores. We launched the first one with just about 10 releases, and Metallica did an event at Rasputin in San Francisco. It just exploded after that.”

Today, Record Store Day is a global event with participating stores across North and South America, Australia, Europe, and Asia.

There’s no denying the practicality of downloading and streaming music digitally, but despite its many benefits, there is something that gets lost when you interact with a medium in such a fragmented and often inattentive manner. Digital music has a tendency to revolve more around volume and convenience, often putting the art and music in the background. Kurtz attempts to articulate just what it is that makes vinyl such an appealing platform.

“Its much more of a communal experience,” Kurtz begins. “I can’t explain all the reasons for it, but it just happens to be that way. It’s like the difference between watching a movie from beginning to end in a fantastic theatre versus watching it on your phone and hitting the pause button while you talk to somebody [….] I think the vinyl experience is more devotional—kind of a real connection to the music.”

Kurtz explains that many musicians feel a certain loss when their music is listened to digitally.

“If you talk to artists who put a lot of thought and creativity into even the sequencing of their albums to create an experience, all of that is just blown out when it goes digital because it’s just so easy to skip a track [….] It becomes all about ‘What is the single?’ versus the album as a whole.”

Thanks to the large crowds it attracts, the event is a great way to help reintroduce people to the immersive listening experience that records offer and also an opportunity to really showcase musicians’ creativity.

Among the more unusual limited editions being offered at this year’s event are a space record in which various artists were given sounds recorded in space and then asked to create music around it, as well as a translucent 7-inch with knitting yarn inside the vinyl, created by Los Angeles-based band Liars. Kurtz observed that Record Store Day inspires a lot of artistic creativity and innovation.

“I think that artists have embraced it and used it as a palette for creating really unique, fun, and exciting vinyl records, which has helped lead to the explosion of vinyl as a format,” says Kurtz. “And for the music fans, they’re getting reintroduced to a format that enables them to really enjoy the music the way the artists intended it to be heard.”

As local businesses and cultural centres, independent record stores play important roles in their communities year round, and especially on Record Store Day. In these intimate venues, local talents are highlighted and neighbourhood people are brought together to bond over mutual passions. Kurtz shared his thoughts on the power that this can have in the music world.

“When you have a record store in a community, then there’s a real connection between the music fans and the artists that doesn’t exist without it. This takes the shape of special events that the stores hold, or special releases that they do, turning people on to new artists.”

Kurtz uses Lorde, whose song “Royals” was awarded Song of the Year at this year’s Grammy’s, as an example.

“When Lorde launched, she put out a 7-inch record through record stores before it really went anywhere else,” explains Kurtz. “The stores were so turned on by it that they started talking about it word of mouth, and it just gave legitimacy to her as an artist. When it started exploding digitally, it had meaning; there was a reference point. It wasn’t just hype—it was actually real. That’s what record stores do.”

Shawn Ellingham is a vinyl enthusiast and the primary owner of Soundcentral Record Shop, one of Montreal’s independent underground music stores located in the Plateau which has participated in Record Store Day for the last five years.

“There’s all kinds of music lovers,” says Ellingham. “You have people who collect [them] for the artifacts, and there are other people who just really dig the music. I think that’s what it really comes down to—vinyl really appeals to musicians and music lovers.”

He went on to explain that bringing people together through records is just the first step in fostering a community.

“Usually, people who are part of that community will share a lot beyond the music,” says Ellingham. “It’s a way to bring them together. I think an environment like this is just perfect for that. It’s a place to exchange contacts [….] I think stores like this and the others in Montreal do that, they bring like-minded people together [….] We’re also giving a venue to artists, a voice to people who might not have had their chance or who aren’t sure about how to get heard.”

On the big day, Soundcentral will be showcasing Simon Kingsbury, a local talent who will be performing a solo act. They’ll also be selling a number of Record Store Day exclusives and there will be plenty of in-store action—maybe even a foosball tournament.

Phonopolis, another Montreal record store located in the Mile-End will be having a 15-percent-off sale on all regular store merchandise, they will be carrying some official Record Store Day releases. There will be an evening in-store concert featuring Canadian indie rock artist Michael Feurerstack and other various artists. The other participating stores—each with their own surprises planned—include Sonik, Aux 33 Tours, Cheap Thrills, Sonorama, Primitive, Beatnick Music, and Boutique L’Oblique.

Of course, Record Store Day is a great event for anyone who is already a part of vinyl culture, but it is also an amazing point of entry for newbies to the scene—an open invitation for everyone to get out of the house, make some musical discoveries, support their local stores, and celebrate the arts.

 For more information and for the official list of exclusive Record Store Day Releases you can visit http://recordstoredaycanada.com

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