Tomorrow, April 21, is the official Record Store Day celebrated by people who work in record stores and the smaller group of people who remember shopping in them.
I remember shopping in record stores in the early 80s when I was in middle and high school. It was a short bike ride from my house to the Palmer Park Mall near Easton Pa. The record store at the mall, called something like Listening Booth Records, was pretty typical, dominated by what was popular at the time—heavy metal hair bands, pop music and rap. Being mostly a punk rock fan, I had only about four-square feet of stacks to look at, and most of it was old catalog stuff. When bands in that category released new music, it didn’t show up there unless it was one of the bigger names like the Dead Kennedys or Black Flag. To get new music I had to go to shows and buy records from the bands themselves or drive to Catasauqua (a little place near Allentown) that had an independent record store called Mad Music (or something close to that). That place also sold t-shirts, music zines and skateboards—altogether a cool place to hang out.
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During my music formative years I probably bought more cassettes than LPs because cassettes played in my boombox, Walkman and car stereo. My experiences with vinyl were often disappointing—skips right out of the package weren’t uncommon. I remember returning one record about four times before I finally gave up and figured there were just some songs I was destined not to hear. By today’s audiophile standards my turntable was a piece of junk, so maybe that was part of the problem.
Of course, much of the nostalgia and celebration of record store day now is about the stores, not the records. Record stores of yore were supposed to be places you could talk about and learn about new music, where you could make discoveries and spend an afternoon flipping through rows of cool stuff.
Sure, I remember that. I remember the uninterested sales staff at the chain record stores. I remember the elitist attitude of the sales staff at the independent record stores. I remember driving to locations and finding nothing of interest because my tastes weren’t top 40.
Now I get 99% of my music from download sites or streaming (Yay Sonos). I’ll occasionally order a physical CD from Amazon and sometimes pick up used vinyl from yard sales or vintage shops. I learn about new music from the recommendation engines in the online music stores, from hearing new music on Pandora and Slacker or from the Youtube posts of my Facebook friends. I’m exposed to several times more new music now through those resources than I ever was browsing in record stores. And frankly, the new model works better for me.
Of course there are many brick & mortar business that have as much or more value than their online counterparts. You can’t get dessert on a Friday night from an online ice cream shop. The in-person experience is crucial when shopping for quality AV gear. And I wouldn’t buy a fly fishing rod without making some practice casts in a dealer’s parking lot. Shopping for music is a different story.
Now I don’t want to be a whiner, but I’m not finding that much to be nostalgic about. I don’t hate records or turntables (I own a turntable and use it occasionally) or even record stores. I just don’t understand why they deserve some made-up holiday? Do we need a special day to celebrate every business category that wasn’t able to keep up with changes in society and technology? Will we one day have a Commercial Theater Day because quality home theaters and 4K downloads have put crappy megaplexes out of business? What about Cable TV Day for some time in the future when the Internet has buried the Comcast cable model. I can’t wait.