The fourth Saturday in April is the most wonderful time of the year – for record collectors, that is. Not only is April 22 Earth Day but also Record Store Day (RSD), an annual event for fans of vinyl who hope to find limited releases and more at their local record shop. It’s a day when serious collectors rub shoulders with first-time buyers (thank you Taylor Swift) lining up outside stores for the chance to pick up the latest release from their favorite artist.
“When Record Store Day started, there was a lot of doom and gloom around record stores,” says Carl Mello, director of brand engagement at Newbury Comics, a Boston-based chain with two Rhode Island stores, in Providence and Warwick. “Everyone was suffering with file sharing and illegal downloading in the early 2000s. Stores were closing left and right; a lot of the big chains went away, followed by the little stores… things were in pretty bad shape.”
The industry responded with what was initially seen as a gimmick, an effort to get customers into stores. “We thought, let’s build a few exclusive titles and see if that gets people to come to the stores,” says Mello. “Each year it’s kind of gone from strength to strength. It’s been transformational for people who sell records, which is not what it set out to do.”
Hundreds of titles are released on RSD, most of them one-time pressings. Many sell out fast and show up on the secondary market before the day is over. The albums range from classic rock acts like Paul McCartney, The Doors, and Carole King to more contemporary bands like The Magnetic Fields and The 1975. In fact, RI natives The Cowsills are releasing their new album The Rhythm of the World on RSD this year.
In the early years, there were only a couple of dozen releases, a number that has increased dramatically. According to Mello, what set the ball in motion was Metallica. “They were very early in signing on to RSD. They did an in-store performance at an indie record store in San Francisco, Rasputin, that was a really big deal.” Soon, classic rock artists like The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles were releasing albums as well.
Although the vinyl industry has grown steadily in recent years, it took the pandemic to spark an even greater interest. “When the pandemic hit, everybody in the world decided that they wanted to start buying vinyl,” laughs Mello. “Our sales went through the roof. Before, we were selling maybe 10 percent more each year. All of the sudden, we’re selling over 100 percent more annually. In 2020 and 2021, vinyl sales nationally were up over 50 percent, although things have cooled since,” he adds.
One highlight this year promises to break all RSD records: “A ‘not so limited’ Taylor Swift album, which by far, will be the biggest release that’s ever come out on Record Store Day,” says Mello. “Taylor Swift saying ‘I validate Record Store Day’ is just another example of what Metallica was thinking. I love the encouragement of younger customers coming out!”
If you’re planning to line up on April 22, remember to get there early – and that not all titles will be available at all locations, but you’ll certainly find something you love. RecordStoreDay.com
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