Fuck record store day. Here’s an idea record stores, why don’t you just have cool in-store shows? WOAH. Or here’s an even crazier idea, why don’t you help some local bands release some records? Or actually BUY the records and show a little faith instead of doing consignment. Yeah. Wrap your head…
I never even thought about this stuff until last night when it was pointed out to me that One Direction- a group I have nothing against but are you know, one of the biggest in the world- released a 7” yesterday. Which is cool. However, the demand for it meant that the pressing houses were all full up, so no room for the little guys to have theirs done in time. I totally get the appeal of limited edition items, especially on fancy vinyl. However, the entire point of record store day was to help out the little guys. The record shop and the bands. It’s amazing to see the big deal it’s become over the past few years, but it would be so much more satisfying if it weren’t just going to the big names who don’t need the money.
I saw one direction vinyl yesterday but it was a glam rock band.. Maybe tower ordered the wrong ones.. There were a lot of them.
Yep, that was them. Ironic humour or whatever. Apparently, it not only stopped smaller acts from having theirs done in time for RSD, but even bands who were just planning releases for around this general time. They’d scheduled their album launches for months to be told that they weren’t a priority compared to this lot. Ouch.
What? That’s do fucked up. RSD is meant for smaller independent music people not bloody one direction. Like, I’ve seen people give out about tower records doing RSD, but they are independent in Dublin just cause there store is now bigger than HMV’s. But it’s not for one direction.
Side note: Do one direction fans even own record players or will they try to put them in a cd player? Like most of them are 10 years old.. Right?
I did see the head of RSD UK suggest that it will start to regulate itself to a point. Now, me WOULD be optimistic, but Tower had to buy all those One Direction picture disks. By the time I’d got in they’d already sold out of some thinags I wanted but they had LOADS of One Direction records left. They won’t be making that mistake twice.
There’s still a problem with major labels dominating it in general though. I’m not sure how that could be solved…
I sort of tiptoed around this in my earlier post because I didn’t want to unnecessarily denigrate teenage pop fans (hello, Tumblr poptimists who may be reading this!) but I can’t imagine many One Direction fans own turntables. However, they don’t need to own them, but just have access - which is why I suggested parents or older siblings - a sort of trickle-down effect of the vinyl revival, if you will (although, especially if it’s older siblings, there may be some conflict involved). Furthermore, since there are a lot of One Direction fans, it only takes a few…. and lastly, I think it’s fairly well established that plenty of people will buy a particular record even without the means to play it, *just* because it’s a cool object (which is a large part of why many people buy vinyl, the ability to produce sound from it is merely an extra justification).
As you say, commercial logic dictates that if they don’t sell, they won’t be produced again, at least not in such numbers. But the conspiracy theory would be that there’s some attempt to choke off smaller releases to… I dunno, concentrate the pressing capacity on more lucrative reissues? That’s a stretch, but as you say, the dominance by large players - almost a tautology, really - is a difficult thing to address, as by its nature it’s baked into the capitalist process.
I didn’t partake of RSD this year, in part because I haven’t been buying or even playing much vinyl of late (only having access to a turntable on weekends) and because if I want to buy something, I’d rather do on a quieter day. The only specific release that I heard about that caught my eye was the Life Without Buildings Any Other City reissue, but I’ve decided I still prefer Live at the Annandale Hotel. I went into the new Tower - which really is excellently placed opposite Hodges Figgis bookshop - a couple of weeks ago, and the vinyl section is very nice up on the cast-iron balcony, but… well, I didn’t actually want to buy anything. I was sorry to hear as well that Elastic Witch was closing, although apparently only/mainly because the operator wants to devote more time to playing in his band, but again I only bought a few records there, ones which I could almost as easily have gotten in Tower (with a bit more digging). It’ll be interesting to see if it’s replaced though, because the whole cafe/record store synergetic combination is touted a lot but I wonder if it really stands up, commercially.
After so many years of RSD critiques, I think I’ve become comfortably pessimistic about the whole thing (well, as comfortable as someone not working in a record shop nor with any particular desire to do so). I’m not, and never was, the kind of person that needed or wanted the ‘social’ side of record stores. I’m the guy who walks in and methodically browses through the boxes and picks a couple of things and buys them, with minimal conversation (sorry to any bored shop workers that may disappoint). And I enjoy that, for what it is - it’s qualitatively different from browsing on a computer screen, with the greater element of serendipity and chance, and it’s nice to be able to bring it home and place it on the turntable the same day. Still, those things don’t count enough to me that, frankly, I’d put any real effort into preserving record shops. The people who really dig them, who value the bonhomie and whatnot, I guess they’ll just have to come up with another model.
Maybe the mid-sized independent like Tower will survive, or the odd local shop with a good reputation or good coffee, or maybe there needs to be a more drastic shift towards an essentially non-commercial, community exchange. What really interests me, though, is the stuff discussed here about collective recommendation methods for music streaming online, which is naturally where most of the discussions about music (like this one) have gravitated. Add to that a local element, for artists from a particular geographical area, and online ordering maybe supplemented by, say, stalls at a weekend market, and what do you really need a record store for?
I finally got round listening to the second LP from my newly purchased (second-hand) copy of London Calling and, as I had hoped, it was much cleaner. Obviously whoever owned it before didn’t often play it all the way through, which isn’t too surprising as I know I’m a lot more familiar with the songs in the first half. And when I went back and properly cleaned the first LP (which I really should have done to start with, for the sake of my stylus if nothing else), it did noticeably help.
The thought had occurred to me, however, that record hiss is probably one of the most primary signifiers of vinyl’s physicality - not to over-romanticise it. In fact it’s not something I’ve encountered much or at all, simply because I don’t have that many ‘old’ second-hand records - the only one of similar vintage is a copy of The Undertones, or Patti Smith’s Easter, neither of which seem much overplayed in the way London Calling probably invites naturally. It’s interesting to experience nonetheless, from the strongly audible crackling as soon as the needle hits the record (instead of the normal muted stutter) to the soft fuzz surrounding the opening chords of ‘London Calling’ (which however is quickly overpowered by its booming rhythm) or to hear the quiet beginnings of ‘Jimmy Jazz’ suddenly filled with extraneous noise. It may all be an illusion, but I frequently find that vinyl makes me listen to music with more depth and attention.
This quote, which seems to imply that overpriced CDs caused the invention of MP3s*, came across my dash a while ago with a sizeable conversation around it that I was going to join with the above criticism, but then never got around to completing the post. Now someone has asked me about my thoughts on the topic in general, I’ll wade in again.
Simply put, we’d all (at least on the consumer side) like vinyl to be less expensive, but as long as it’s sold by capitalists and we keep buying it at inflated prices, the price will keep climbing. And throwing around the accusation of ‘greed’ when your site and article is about record collecting is a bit… disingenuous, I suppose. Personally I don’t think of myself as a record collector in any kind of meaningful sense, although that is apparently what all vinyl buyers are now - any more than I am a ‘book collector’ simply because I buy (physical) books and like nice editions. With vinyl the use value is paramount, although the use I get out of them is (visually) aesthetic and kinaesthetic as much as aural, and also includes what is I guess technically the exchange value of contributing to the artist.
I think the real significant difference between CDs then, and vinyl now, is that while CDs represented the default music format for most, and thus the price was what the wider market could bear, vinyl is obviously (and will remain) a smaller and self-selecting market, a subset with a different reference point for ‘fair’ prices. If labels price themselves out of a wider group of consumers, without too much disposable income but with a moderate interest in vinyl, in favour of a more affluent and dedicated bunch of fans willing to pay high prices, it may not be bad business strategy in the short term (and since when does capitalism really think about anything else?). This is a good and more reasonable piece on the dangers of a speculative collectors’ bubble crowding out more ordinary fans:
"The vinyl marketplace is probably permanently contracted, but rather than over-serving the superfan, it should pivot toward super-serving the casual fan. Anyone should be able to walk into any record store in the world and buy a standard vinyl copy of Nevermind for a reasonable price, rather than confronting the 180 gram pressing or the deluxe quadruple LP that fishes for their cash from a lofty wall display. In its attempts to scrape profits out of a niche, the business has squeezed its output out of the bins entirely.”
There’s the ‘should’ word in there of course, and I think a distinction should be made about whether one is making a business case in warning against the collapse of speculative bubble, or arguing for broader access to vinyl as a cultural good. The two probably do converge, nevertheless, and logically there could be a good opportunity for producers to grow the market with reasonably-priced offers (if the gain is greater than artificially creating and curating a niche market); but each argument is based on different values and assumptions which ought to be examined. You can’t have your cake and eat it: you can’t have cheap vinyl and have them be genuine limited editions of popular artists. Which, to be fair, we know and we don’t want the latter if we want the former: but as long as there are sufficient people with the resources and inclination to buy the expensive stuff, it will continue that way.**
'Overpriced' vinyl is a consequence of its status as a fetish object, rather than a mass consumer good; even the high prices of CDs were a function of their status as luxuries, with no equivalent substitution goods (until mp3s…). To bring vinyl or CDs down to an accessible and 'reasonable' price, as in the Dischord Records example used, requires or required stepping outside of capitalism and the pursuit of profit to some extent. Recasting that as a moral obligation within a commercial industry, to somehow service fans with low-cost vinyl because it will make them culturally superior, if not financially poorer, is ultimately just bunk. Yet the discourse seems to be not 'fuck capitalism' (allowing people to make their own choices about accessing culture) but 'vinyl needs to grow' (as if the culture industry will heed the aspirations of a minority who seem content in propping up their own niche status).
Of course, current recording artists have an interest, both financial and artistic, in making their records accessible, so I don’t see as much issue with inflation at the low- to mid-levels. Above that, artists have the recognition and the backing to put out an expensive record that channels money back to themselves and their labels (who are paying for more extensive distribution and marketing, of course) so greed, essentially, becomes a possibility. Likewise, and especially, for back catalogue reissues - which are just a way of trading on reputation to maximise a niche value. It may have to change if it is to remain sustainable, and it ought to change if it is to be fair, but those are different aims.
*I’m not saying it had no effect on spurring technological development in filesharing or that it didn’t (rather obviously) exacerbate the scale of the subsequent collapse in revenues, but if CDs had been more moderately priced, would Napster never have happened? Of course not - and thereafter the issue was not so much the price of music but whether it had any monetary value at all.
**One potential, theoretical upset to this extraction of value from record collectors, similar to the effect of mp3s on the CD market, would be if 3D-printed records became a genuine alternative. It still seems some way off before there is the resolution required to produce a passable copy, and in machines cheap and small enough for home use, but let’s just say it will happen: then the physical object can be made (through an entirely digital process, incidentally) by the end user, and the means of production of the niche good (only, presumably - and legally - the digital file from which it is produced, and we know how that works) is no longer in control of the labels. It wouldn’t appeal to everyone of course, and there would probably still be the attraction of a known imprint, as well as genuine analogue resolution - but the prices to be commanded wouldn’t be as high, and thus the bottom would fall out of the speculative market for good.