The stench of death hangs heavy in the air among the old guard of the music industry, a nauseating signal of inevitable, impending doom. While Reznor, Del, Radiohead and the like push the evolutionary envelope and lead by example, serving as pioneering forces in the New Industry Order, most major labels are still clinging to their antiquated, nearly-obsolete playbooks, heads in the sand and lawyers on the prowl, hoping Gene Simmons can pull them out of the fire.
Sadly, it’s not only the fatcat label heads and pampered pop idols under the shadow of the executioner. The music-buying collective is finally coming around to the realization that those overpriced, fragile little plastic coasters are far from the be-all and and-all of the music as a physical product- especially when convenience enters the equation. As a result, conventional music stores at a blinding pace, and everyone- from the Towering giants to the indie college-town shops- are biting the dust.
It’s getting harder and harder these days to find the local record stores we grew up with- the ones where show posters line the walls, beautifully alien sounds blare from the speakers and spiked & tatted employees with encyclopedic knowledge of the most abstract musical history imaginable mock your every anti-cool move. In honor of this dying species, a group of small-store supporters banded together last year to create a nationwide Record Store Day, with the goal of raising support for independent record stores in their local communities. It was a celebratory affair, with over 600 stores and dozens of musicians taking part, and largely considered a success.
More than 1,000 stores worldwide are expected to take part in the second annual Record Store Day this Saturday, April 18. Once again, participating stores will offer in-store events or performances by an impressive number of artists, as well as more than 100 unique special releases including rare singles and albums by everyone from Tom Waits to The Black Keys. White Stripes / Raconteurs nucleus Jack White, rightfully considered among many to be one of the last true protectors of rock’s Old Guard, is taking part with his new band The Dead Weather by releasing a 7″ vinyl pressing of their new single, Hang You From The Heavens.
Jack offers the following sentiment in honor of the day:
“I think it’s high time the mentors, big brothers, big sisters, parents, Guardians, and neighborhood ne’er do wells, start taking younger people that look up to them to a real record store and show them what an important part of life music really is. I trust no one who hasn’t time for music. What a shame to leave a child, or worse, a generation orphaned from one of life’s great beauties. And to the record stores, artists, labels, DJs, and journalists; we’re all in this together. Show respect for the tangible music that you’ve dedicated your careers and lives to, and help It from becoming nothing more than disposable digital data.”
I’d like to tell you that there’s hope for these sacred pieces of music history. That if we really band together on Saturday, our show of goodwill will sway the Great Digital Movement enough to hold back its drowning tide and save stores like Lou’s Records, Vintage Vinyl and Amoeba. I’d like the fact that vinyl sales rose 89 percent last year to be inspiring and uplifting- but in letting those numbers stand alone I would be misleading you. The fact is, despite a significant upswing, the total number of vinyl records sold last year barely reached 1.8 million. In the grand scheme of the industry, that’s a dead medium. No room for debate.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m not hoping for these record shops to fail. They were an integral part of my musical development, and there’s no replacing the discovery of a new love while sifting through the stacks of vinyl- feeling the cellophane-wrapped edges under your fingertips, smelling that hard waxy smell so common in those places. All the same, 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. Forever gone are the midnight release party rituals, the mystery and exhilaration of discovering a new album in person. Despite the RIAA’s draconian flailings, downloading music through services like iTunes and booming peer-to-peer networks is still exploding with popularity. 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.
Music will survive. We’re not gathering on Saturday to fight for the music. That part’s going to be just fine. But the commerce built around it, the product and peripherals that have replaced the focus on the music itself- that’s what’s dying the slow death. And don’t you worry- vinyl’s not going anywhere. Between the audiophiles, the collectors, and the Library of Congress, the art of vinyl is and will remain an artistic high-water mark within the realm of the actual music product.
Here are just a few of the exclusive releases fans can look forward to on Saturday:
The Dead Weather, featuring Jack White, will release a 7″ vinyl of their single, Hang You From The Heavens.
El Grupo Nuevo De Omar Rodríguez López, a Mars Volta side project feat. members of Hella, will release their debut Cryptomnesia on vinyl.
Ben Harper’s 10″ vinyl release, Shimmer And Shine, which will feature the unreleased track Spanish Red Wine.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ It’s Blitz LP, a vinyl version of the upcoming album.
Bob Dylan’s 7″ vinyl of two tracks from his 2004 Bonnaroo performance, Dreaming Of You and Down Along The Cove.
The Cold War Kids‘ live album, Live At Fingerprints, taped during a performance at Fingerprints Record Store in Long Beach, CA.
Jane’s Addiction vinyl reissue of Mountain Song and Standing In The Shower… Thinking.
MC5′s classic Kick Out The Jams single reissued on 7″ vinyl in original packaging, first time available since 1969.
My Morning Jacket‘s super-exclusive Live At Louisville double LP, vinyl edition is a one-time pressing.
Bruce Springsteen will cut a 7″ that includes his Halloween song, A Night With The Jersey Devil.
The Flaming Lips / Black Keys split 7″, including Borderline and Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles.
Neil Young’s Sugar Mountain Live at Canterbury House 1969 special double LP vinyl addition.
Radiohead is reissuing a ton of 10″ vinyl EPs, some of which are already available, including Karma Police, Creep, Fake Plastic Trees and more.
Sonic Youth / Beck split 7″. Sonic Youth will also put out a split with Jay Reatard on RSD.
For more info, including participating stores and special day-of performances, head over to the Record Store Day site.