The local indie record store used to be a sacred place for music lovers like you and me, people for whom music is so much more than a tool to fill the silence. Long before Ebay, you could find limited-edition pressings, rarities, posters and hard-to-find merchandise in the darker corners of your local record shop. There always seemed to be at least one in every college town, and finding them was almost as much fun as finally tracking down that rare Wipers vinyl or (sickeningly overpriced) Dylan bootleg from ’69 that you’d been looking for since before you could tie your own shoes. They were the go-to spot for hipsters and fanboys to mingle and expose one another to underground gems, the guy behind the counter making no effort to conceal his elitist, condescending smirk while ringing up your selections. It was all a part of the experience.
The internet has unceremoniously rendered these gems entirely obsolete, bringing every musical Holy Grail a fan could dream of to their fingertips with a few clicks and keystrokes. Forever gone are the midnight release party rituals, the mystery and exhilaration of discovering a new album in person. Downloading music through services like iTunes and booming peer-to-peer networks is a wet dream for any low income college kid with endless bandwidth. For many like myself, music blogs with Rapidshare and Megaupload album downloads have become the new record shops – the opinionated rants of strangers I’ll never meet are now my first impressions of the unknown. Interesting trade-up, but clearly the better move for my wallet.
I used to be proud of my massive CD collection – I’d have them organized and alphabetized with near-obsession. Now they sit stacked in a large covered plastic bin in the corner, awaiting my next pillaging for some extra cash from Second Spin or Amoeba. At some point in the past year or two they quietly became relics, outdated and absurd, just as the almighty mixtape did. Those sacred little pieces of plastic gave way to mix CDs in the nineties, which gave way to the iPod a decade later. Who needs to deal with scratches and a playlist you can’t remember, when you can take your entire music library with you wherever you go? It’s a no-brainer, and it was bound to happen at some point, no matter how much of a fight the labels decide to put up in an attempt to stop the evolution of musical distribution.
It’s getting harder and harder to find the local record stores of old: posters lining the walls, spiked and tatted employees with encyclopedic knowledge of the most abstract musical history imaginable. They are quickly becoming a thing of the past, yet another thing that we’ll reminisce about to our children with a faraway look in our eyes, just like our parents did about whatever dated shit they couldn’t let go of.
In honor of this dying species, a group of small-store supporters have created a national Record Store Day, set to take place April 19th. Across the country, bands (Metallica, Vampire Weekend, etc) and DJs perform for free at special events throughout the day. The goal is to raise support for independent record stores in their local communities. It’s a good cause, but unfortunately in this instance “support” isn’t much different than adding multivitamins to a feeding tube. According to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, more than fifty percent of the record stores in the US have gone out of business since 2003. Digital album sales are skyrocketing, rising ore than 50 percent in the last year alone, while standard-format album sales fell 15 percent in 2007, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Everybody’s got their favorite, from Vintage Vinyl in New Jersey to Easy Street Records in Seattle to my favorite, Lou’s Records in Southern California. The unique atmosphere and eclectic depth of selection is irreplaceable by anything on a computer screen or transmitted through cables; these were cultural hubs of artistic expression and education, beautiful breeding grounds of discovery and inspiration. So if you’re not doing anything Saturday, hit up recordstoreday.com and see what kind of events are scheduled in your area.