Record Store Day 2012 kicks off nationwide on April 21. (Flickr/Orin Zebest?
Record Store Day is an annual music lovers' event with a short tradition and a strong following. On every third Saturday in April since 2008, vinyl enthusiasts flock to record stores across the country -- and even around the world -- for a day of browsing, listening, and mingling with like-minded music buffs.
Shop owner Stu Goldberg has been participating in Record Store Day since it first began. He's been in business for 31 years, running Mr. Cheapo CD & Record Exchange in Long Island, New York, with locations in Commack and Mineola.
I think it could be pretty busy on Saturday, he said. We could have people waiting for us before we open up.
On Record Store Day, a wide range of music labels -- representing everything from classic rock to jazz to hip-hop -- release special vinyl versions of singles and albums. This year, there will be hundreds of releases; the extensive list is available online. Some are being released exclusively for Record Store Day, others are regional or have limited availability, and the rest are being released to participating stores on Saturday but will be generally available in the near future.
Participating record stores have already placed orders for their top picks, but nothing is guaranteed. Goldberg was one of many shop owners to put in advance orders for the special releases; he knows from past experience that it's best to ask for more than you need. It's a crazy process because they never give you what you want. There's always an extremely limited run. For years, I would order 50 and get two, he said.
This year, he was surprised. For whatever reason, I ordered 50 and got 20 this time. So I got much more merchandise than I was interested in buying, and I spent more than I had planned to!
But he's optimistic that extra demand could absorb the extra merchandise. Other record stores in the area have died out over the decades, making him one of the only remaining indie vinyl sources on Long Island.
We seem to be getting more response than ever, because there's nowhere else to go, he explained. When I opened up my business 31 years ago, there must have been about 30 or 40 stores in long island. Now, there might be four independent stores. You would think it's a totally dying world, but the interest is migrating to wherever they can find it. My business right now is pretty much equal to what it's been for the last few years.
In 2011, he said, a relatively new LP shop in the area saw lines around the block on Record Store Day. But since then, that vendor has gone under. Goldberg thinks some of that demand might spill over to Mr. Cheapo's two locations.
The closing of stores across the country -- not to mention the overall long-term decline in record sales -- has an obvious cause: the digital era has taken over. But despite much wringing-of-hands over the demise of tangible music collections, vinyl is far from dead. You can thank the hipsters for that; these retro-minded youths rank vinyl right up there with Day-Glo Ray-Bans and ironic shoes, which may be why record album sales grew a full 39 percent in 2011, and are already up 10 percent for 2012.
Of course, Record Store Day is not just about the vinyl itself. Many participating stores across the country offer live music, expanded hours, and special events just for April 21.
Goldberg doesn't have special events planned; he tries to attract his consumers the old-fashioned way. We're not even having a sale, he said. I think it's best to just keep prices reasonable in general. For him, Record Store Day 2012 will be all about the experience at its most basic: chatting with other vinyl enthusiasts, thumbing through alphabetized stacks one album at a time and, every once in a while, stumbling upon an amazing find.