Fighting the good fight: Record Store Day

Photographs taken by Wilderness Record Store team on RSD 2020, 29th August for Fred Perry
Words by Hannah Tinker

Until recently, vinyl had begun to collect dust. Pushed to the back of the mind, as an archaic physical format that your parents admired during their prime years. Until it made it's resurgence, rather out of the blue, in 2007. That year, record sales fortuitously began to increase - a remarkable, unexpected surprise to the industry. An industry that itself, had started to collect dust: in 2005 there were 734 independent record stores in the UK, by 2007 that number had depleted to 408. It's worth noting that it wasn't the number of stores that started to increase in 2007, but the physical vinyl stock which they sold. Slowly and steadily, the industry started to grow again, the format made a comeback and the number of stores closing each year began to slow and soon, increase.

It was that same year that, during a local meet and brainstorming session between a selection of independent record stores in Baltimore, USA; Record Store Day was founded by Eric Levin, Michael Kurtz, Carrie Colliton, Amy Dorfman, Brian Poehner and Don Van Cleave. A rise in a market was identified, a market which needed to be saved. Their idea was to have one, exclusive day a year - only at independent stores - that celebrates the winning triad: staff, customers and musicians, by way of unique events and releases from/at stores, labels and artists of all sizes, all genres and price points. The plan was set in motion for the first official Record Store Day 19th April 2008 with Metallica set to host and perform at the opening event at Rasputin Music in California, as well as ten exclusive releases from the likes of R.E.M, Stephen Malkmus, Death Cab For Cutie and several more.

News soon spread overseas and UK store owners and vinyl collectors soon heard of RSD and felt it could effectively boost our industry at a time when it was starting to rise from the ashes. Singer-songwriter and left-wing activist, Billy Bragg met Kurtz in an airport in Texas and they agreed that Bragg would spearhead the campaign in the UK and perform at Rough Trade East on the same date - 19th April - in 2008. On the day, nine record stores took part including Jumbo Records in Leeds, Piccadilly Records in Manchester, Spillers Records (the worlds oldest record store) in Cardiff and Avalanche Records in Glasgow and Edinburgh, amongst others. Both in the US and UK, the event was a roaring success, there were queues for all stores and most noted it as their most successful day of sales to date, Kurtz himself mentioned: "after that we kind of knew that we were on to something amazing."

Some may however, contest that not all musicians can afford press to vinyl and that record stores only support those that can. Contrary to what they're often (unsurprisingly) categorised as, record stores, don't solely sell vinyl these days. One of the most influential, the aforementioned Spillers Records, pegged with the international title of the oldest record store in the world, was founded by Henry Spiller in 1894. Originally they sold phonographs (later known as gramophones) and their counterparts: phonograph cylinders and discs. Nowadays, wares sold from record stores take the form of vinyl, CDs, tapes, merchandise, the rogue capricious stock (floppy discs, USB sticks etc), gig and festival tickets, as well as live in-store events, such as the weekly gigs we host at Wilderness Record Store. A boost of customers and sales to independent record stores boosts the music industry itself, as they act as the abetting, strong-hold for artists across all genres and at all tiers of success.

At present, as of 2016, UK physical format sales now surpass streaming audio revenue for artists, which is categorically, phenomenal. An entire industry has made a U-turn, a change of course that highly wouldn't be possible without the support and passion of record store owners, customers and also musicians themselves. Looking again at Spiller's of Cardiff as an example, as the store has been open for more than one hundred years - theirs is just one illustration of the enthusiasm and motivation behind independent record stores. Owners and staff members of independent record stores are a network of business owners and employees, each with an unadulterated admiration for music and its creators.

It is without a doubt that independent record stores wouldn't have made such a tenfold recovery without the support of Record Store Day and their affiliated events. It's proof to their success that only fifteen years ago, record stores were seen as an unprofitable and depleting business venture but now, in 2020, there are over one thousand independent record stores in the UK alone. Each year on a Saturday in April, RSD is held and people flock to the stores, not only to purchase the limited edition releases but, anything from the stores, marking a day of celebration for theses businesses.

Here at Wilderness Record Store, our very first Record Store Day was this year; the only year when the one day has been split into three separate, socially-distanced days. Similarly to so many of our counterparts, we worried if the same impact would be reached but sure enough, each day completely bowled us over. Intriguingly, each one (particularly the first drop) were our most profitable days yet for stock as a whole - people purchased more of our general stock, as well as our exclusive stock - it felt that people visited the store simply to celebrate the industry, to praise the network and, the musicians it so ungrudgingly supports. It is a complete testament to RSD that this happens each year, every time more successful and inclusive and that they pushed forward in 2020. This year, they adjusted what they could and moved the event to three separate drops across August, September and October. This year, now more than ever, independent stores such as ourselves, at a time of great worry and uncertainty needed this vital support, this critical boost to an insecure year.