Sales of music have been on the decline—yet vinyl has enjoyed a recent resurgence, a fact that’s apparent on the third Saturday of April each year, a day now known as Record Store Day.
A co-founder of Record Store Day, Michael Kurtz, explained the genesis of the idea during a recent phone interview.
“At the time in 2007, all the media coverage of record stores was negative,” Kurtz said from his home in New York City. “They were all going out of business, and people used to talk about us being the equivalent of selling monkey whips. It was just a dark time. We modeled Record Store Day after free comic-book day after we saw the success they had bringing common folk into stores.”
While the idea is to support local businesses and create enough sales to help them survive, Kurtz said there’s also a sentimental meaning to it beyond the limited editions and special releases.
“People focus on that because of the dollar amount—but it also misses the whole point of celebrating the local neighborhood record store,” he said. “All the stores are doing in-store performances, and a lot of them link up with charities and so forth. It’s all about the celebration, but people focus on the releases.”
At Coachella on Friday, April 17, the craziness started at 11 a.m. when the festival’s store opened, although it calmed down through the day. Jon Halperin, who orders the product and helps manage the Coachella record store, said he expected heavy sales to continue through the weekend.
“We sold well over 1,000 records this morning,” Halperin said. “We sold probably half of our Record Store Day product (even though it was the day before Record Store Day). We had a line of 20 or so people, and then when doors opened, everyone just came in. We sold more product today than we did last year on Record Store Day.”
What are some examples of a limited release for this year’s Record Store Day?
“Everyone is into something different. … The most popular records this year are the brand-new reissue of the Whiplash soundtrack, and The Lego Movie soundtrack was really popular. We only get so many; no matter what I order, it doesn’t mean I’m going to get it. We were supposed to get two Elvis Presley 10-inch records that were put out by Third Man Records, and they weren’t able to pull them in time, and we didn’t get them.”
Halperin said Record Store Day craziness should continue at Coachella through the weekend.
“Coachella has always done it on Friday. Record Store Day might be on Saturday, but the way we see it is most of these kids are stuck here anyway, so why not let them do their shopping on Friday afternoon? For $5, we’re going to hold their bags back here all weekend long in an air-conditioned trailer.”
As for the independent stores who are not at Coachella, does Record Store Day help pay the bills? Kurtz said it does.
“What I hear consistently is that it pays the bills for two months,” Kurtz said. “The neighbors come out and support them and everything, so it’s definitely very positive. I hear, too, that stores that were struggling became sound after (the invention of) Record Store Day. Because of that and Black Friday, they have two very strong things they can do, and it helps them connect with the community so they get more regular customers coming in.”
As for the resurgence of vinyl, Kurtz said he thinks the format will stick around for a while, even though a brief 1990s resurgence quickly fizzled out.
“All the vinyl manufacturing plants are now running at maximum capacity, and turntable manufacturers are seeing their business doubling every year,” he said. “Everything is moving in that direction. We’re optimistic.”