Monday, April 19, 2010

Clarification, "good guys," and some free music.

I would like to think that my message was sufficiently conveyed in the subtext of my previous post, but just to be sure, because in the conversation that is now emerging in the wake of my post, it seems that some have perhaps misconstrued my main points. I would like, therefore, to make these central points explicit in an easy-to-parse bullet-point format.
  • It was not my intention to tar all indie record stores with the same brush. Just as with most subcultures, there are good seeds and bad seeds. I recognize that, have recognized that for some time, and I therefore tend to only patronize (and try to be a vocal champion of) those who I consider to be, to put it in very reductionist and polarizing terms which are perhaps a but disingenuous but ultimately kind of necessary, the "good guys."
  • Nor was it my intention to disparage the good folks at Record Store Day. As I said in the previous entry, on the first Record Store Day I visited, if memory serves, five shops, arriving at the first one an hour before opening to find that I was the only person crazy enough to do so. Anybody who went to a record store this past Saturday knows how exponential the growth has been in the past two years. That first year, there were very few publicized exclusives, and they were all, I believe, from upper-tier indie labels - Matador, Merge, and Beggars, as I recall. The co-opting of Record Store Day by major labels (Warner Bros. in particular) has been curious to watch, and ultimately a necessary step in the growth of Record Store Day that unfortunately causes the onset of the standard independent paradox - one feels happy for the growth and sustainability of the event, but at the same time feels a slight sting as it no longer feels like it is yours alone. It's like watching your favorite band suddenly become huge, which is obviously a sensation I know somewhat well. But seriously - no anger toward the Record Store Day people should be read into my post. I know they are doing what they can with what they have, and frankly, the sometimes disorganized and ramshackle nature of the proceedings lends it a charm that has been steadily disappearing from record shopping culture since the rise of the internet.
  • I am not a fan of individual "speculators" who purchase rare records for the sole purpose of resale value, and I have not tried to hide this at any time. Usually, somebody who knows the resale value of these records is himself (or herself) a music lover, and therefore knows how it feels not to be able to get one's hands on something one wants due to the opportunism and greed of others. So what you have, then, is music lovers screwing over other music lovers for a few bucks. I know the economy is tough, and I am not going to judge you as a person if you do this. However, I am going to make a judgment call on your particular action and say it's a shitty thing to do. It doesn't make you a terrible person, but it's still a terrible thing to do to one of your own. And I know that this point will likely get accusations of having a "holier than thou" attitude, but frankly, I think having principles and sticking to them is underrated these days, and I'm not going to back down on mine.
  • The thorniest issue in the resulting discussion revolves around the one that I feel most strongly about, and which was meant to be the main thrust and eventual target of my ire and frustration: the stores themselves that withhold this stock from the customers supporting the brick-and-mortar stores to flip on eBay, usually for exorbitant Buy-It-Now prices. Record stores flipping products on eBay, sometimes at inflated prices, is nothing new, but it's something that has seldom been talked about. And in the past, and even in general, I don't necessarily have a problem with this; it is an example of stores adapting to a new economic climate and business model. What does it matter if an old Velvet Underground 45 goes for $100 on eBay, or if it sits collecting dust in the basement of an obscure record store in Brooklyn with a $100 price tag on it? For better or for worse, this is a capitalist, free market economy. Supply and demand applies in person as well as in online transactions. However, the Record Store Day stock is another store. In the words of the founders of RSD,
    This is the one day that all of the independently owned record stores come together with artists to celebrate the art of music. Special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products are made exclusively for the day and hundreds of artists in the United States and in various countries across the globe make special appearances and performances. Festivities include performances, cook-outs, body painting, meet & greets with artists, parades, djs spinning records and on and on. Metallica officially kicked off Record Store Day at Rasputin Music in San Francisco on April 19, 2008 and Record Store Day is now celebrated the third Saturday every April.
In other words, it is meant to be a community event. As I interpret it, and I believe that Ms. Colliton and Mr. Kurtz confirm this in their comments on my previous post, the customers are just as important a part of Record Store Day as the stores and the musicians are. It's about what happens when the three come together. As somebody who spent a significant amount of his free time growing up simply hanging out in an independent record store, and later becoming an employee in this same store (RIP Full Circle Records), the idea of community and socialization is important to my conception of what an independent shop represents. The brick-and-mortar customers are the lifeblood of these shops, and I read RSD as a way of rewarding them for their continuing loyalty to a business model that many have written off as anachronistic.

By withholding these releases, by not even giving the brick-and-mortar customers a chance at these releases, the record stores have in a sense broken an unspoken pact of responsibility. They have sold out the patrons who would support them and keep them afloat for a quicker buck. These shops do not deserve our support or our patronage if they are going to disrespect their customers so callously and blatantly. I have seen some comments from others stating that they would rather their record store flip the product without giving them a shot at it if it means they can compete with Wal Mart and iTunes - my point of view (and, again, my principles show on my sleeve here) is that we don't need stores that have no respect for or loyalty to the customers who support them. Loyalty goes both ways, folks.

No, we will never put an end to record flipping and amateur eBay entrepreneurship. That is just a fact of our economic system. However, in a capitalist environment, the consumer can vote with his or her wallet. We can point out the stores that are betraying their customers. We can make examples of them. We can spread the word. We can shame them. We can stop supporting them until they give us the same loyalty and respect we would give them.

Frankly, I am just happy to see that some conversation has started as a result of this post. I am a bit overwhelmed at the amount of attention that my little navel-gazing and venting blog post has attracted in a short amount of time, but if it gets people thinking and talking about this, and perhaps deciding what role principles should play in their own conception of retail ethos, then I have more than done my job. I want to thank those of you who have supported me, spread the link through internet fora, agreed with me, or even challenged or disagreed with me. Just keep talking about it. Keep the discussion going. Things can change.

For those of you who have gotten through the preachy and self-righteous portion of this post, I'd like to direct you to some of the good guys that I have had the pleasure of dealing with int he independent music retail world. Please, whenever you can, support these establishments, because they truly do deserve it.

And, finally, to reward those of you who have made it all the way through my screed, here is the promised free music. First, let's foil the entrepreneurs who are trying to profit by flipping copies of the Blur Record Store Day UK exclusive. The reunited band released their first new song in seven years, "Fool's Day," in a limited edition of 1,000 7-inch singles that are obviously woefully sold out. Fortunately, the band have made the song available to anybody who wants it for the price of an e-mail address. Click through below to download "Fool's Day" in either 320 kbps mp3 or uncompressed wav format.

Blur - Fool's Day (download)

Next, don't fret that you didn't get your hands on one of the 600 copies of the Hold Steady LP. Instead, courtesy of NPR, you can stream the entire
Heaven Is Whenever album and listen to it as often as you went until it is released on May 4 by Vagrant Records!

the Hold Steady - Heaven Is Whenever (stream)

NPR is also offering a full free preview of the new Broken Social Scene record,
Forgiveness Rock Record, also out May 4 on Arts & Crafts.

And, finally, experience the sheer addictive awesomeness that is the new LCD Soundsystem record,
This Is Happening, courtesy of their own damn selves. LCD really is getting better with each album, and I highly recommend giving this a listen or ten. This Is Happening is released on May 18.

LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening (stream)

I just want to give a huge thank you to Eric Harvey and the New York Magazine Vulture Blog for helping to spread my thoughts and get conversation going, and another thank you to all of you who are participating in the conversation.
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