As the 20th century—and the golden era of the record industry—was drawing to a close, the door was slammed on it with the advent of file sharing sites and MP3’s rise in popularity; where sonic quality and artistic packaging took a back seat to convenience and (free) cost. It’s hard to compete with that in this day and age of instant gratification.
Sales slowed and piracy “growed” while record stores “knowed” their future was on the line.
Then an idea was ignited during an ’07 meeting of indie record store owners in Baltimore.
Owner of Atlanta’s Criminal Records Eric Levin told me, “Back in 2007 a group of record store owners, myself included, got together at our annual (Noise in the Basement) convention and we wanted to do something to shine the light back on record stores, try to capture some press, and let people know what a good time it was at record stores.”
I had no idea when I walked into my personal favorite record store for the past two decades Criminal Records on Saturday, April 22 that I would be greeted by one of the few people that founded Record Store Day a decade earlier.
“I had experience with Free Comic book day—which Criminal Records is a comic book shop as well,” Levin said, “and suggested we model it after Free Comic Book Day and the burgeoning vinyl scene. About 8 months later we launched it nationally.”
Now record fans and collectors from around the world pay their respects every year to this growing subculture where analog sound is a way of life.
But it didn’t exactly explode out of the gate.
“It was kinda difficult getting people invested that first year—from artists to labels to other stores themselves,” Eric continued, “but it did take off organically, and pretty quickly it became international and has become the phenomenon that it is now.”
Despite the fact that this annual and international momentum has been up to speed at 33.3 RPM for a decade, the record industry revolutionary war is still raging. Vinyl sales continue to grow, very slowly, and not at the pace needed to save the record industry according to VOX, but they are helping the retail stores keep their doors open so music lovers can experience the circumscribed culture of the independent record shop.
As a child, my dad’s stereo and record collection were at the center of my universe. His 1972 Samsui Hi-Fi receiver was a centerpiece in our living room, and the collection of ’70s and ’80s records was prominently displayed—and easily accessible—on the shelf. My dad taught me how to handle and care for the records, and gave me permission to listen whenever I wanted. I could gently set down a needle into a shallow spinning grove much earlier than I could even eat politely with a fork.
Now I listen to music through that same analog signal path that delivered my first taste of The Beatles and Jimmy Hendrix when I was 5. The Record Parlour in Los Angeles refurbished my Samsui receiver in 2013 and, serendipitously, had a pair of speakers and a turntable from the same vintage, which I bought of course. Listening is now often a purposeful and focused experience where I’ll examine and admire the components of a song in the same way I did as a kid.
Great recordings on vinyl get the attention they deserve, as our ears are treated to an analog warmth that only traditional stereos can provide.
Ziggy Marley once said, “Record stores keep the human social contact alive. It brings people together. Without the independent record stores, the community breaks down with everyone sitting in front of their computers.” This couldn’t have been more evident than this past weekend in Little Five Points. The human social contact and energy was alive and bouncing as DJ’s, producers, audiophiles, musicians and everyday enthusiasts emerged from their labs and pads to thumb through the precious wax stacks and celebrate their craft.
As a musician, producer and fellow audiophile, I love the feeling of “owning” music and holding it in my hands. I go to record stores for the pleasure of flipping through the bins of albums, often without any idea of what I am looking for, and let the records find me.
Shout out to Criminal Records for hosting this 10th anniversary celebration of Record Store Day featuring performances from Small Reactions, Surround Sound and more, and to Eric Levin for carving a new path in the music scene, for the revival of indie record shops, and bringing communities all over the world closer together—one vinyl record at a time.