It’s one day before Record Store Day and I find myself carrying a box of 150 assorted 12″ and 7″ records three and half blocks to a small record store in Madison, WI. As I struggle with the box, getting it to the next trash can or newspaper machine to rest on, I start to think about its contents and some of what these little (heavy, but pretty small) round vinyl discs have meant to me over the years.
Everyone remembers their first record. Mine was an old Kinks compilation you know, one of the ones from the late 60s with the old “stereo” logo on it. I thought it was so cool. It looked very “60s English” (probably pressed in Kansas). After opening that first one, smelling the new vinyl and putting it on the family record player, complete with fold out speakers, I was hooked. Buying, selling and trading records became a major part of my life. I loved records so much I even learned how to master them. Back then, everyday was Record Store Day. The first place I would go when I went to a new city was the record store. Whether it was Arcata, CA, Baton Rouge, LA or Salt Lake City, UT, it seemed like you could gauge the vibe of a place by the contents of the record stores.
Fast forward through decades of record company greed, technological advances, exploitation and more record company greed and we find ourselves in a time where most people don’t buy records or own a turntable. Many have grown accustomed to hearing the tinny sound of a chopped, compressed mp3. Don’t even get me started how the lives/careers of independent labels and small record stores have been reduced to trying to make it through the next month.
All this progress and convenience is proving to be problematic for everyone. Even the fat cat record companies are struggling (only making a bunch of money, instead of making tons of money) now that it has become easy and acceptable to “share files” rather than buying music and giving it to your friends. Back in the “good ol’ days” if you wanted to steal music you had to either grab it off the shelf and run or spend the time to put it on a cassette and subsequently deal with the tape hiss and degraded sound quality. Most people were too lazy to steal much music. If they wanted to get off cheap, they could buy a bootleg cassette (or in some cases an LP) but at the very least, economic activity was still occurring.
Just when I’m about to slide into the depths of mid-life depression, I am jarred back to the task at hand by the sight of a sandwich board displaying the name of my destination: B-Side Records. I walk in the door, hand over the records and start going through the old wooden bins. As I’m looking for that lost gem of a record, a guy walks through the door dressed in black with a Treasure Isle 7″ label printed on his T-shirt. He walks straight up to the shopkeeper, introduces himself and says that he’s playing tonight and has some “wax” for the store.
I almost cry. This is me twenty years ago. On the most important mission ever, spread the music and make it happen one record and one store at a time. After he finishes his business with the store, I introduce myself and ask him what time he’s playing.
That night I find myself at The Frequency, one of Madison’s great small clubs. I walk in the back room and there he is on the stage alone, bouncing around with his hollow body electric guitar, putting on a show meant for festival size crowds. But as I walk further into the room, I realize that I make up 25% of the audience.
This fact does not have any impact on the show. He eventually wraps up his set with “I’m Eric Blowtorch. Good night”. Now, chances are Eric Blowtorch will never grace the red carpet at the Grammys or sell a million copies of anything but, [insert patriotic music here], he is out there doing his thing, willing to do anything to keep the scene alive. I’ll take one of these guys over ten of the most commercially successful pop artists any day of the week.
So on Saturday, when you’re thinking about what to do, go out to a local record store and dig through the bins. Spend some time and talk to the shopkeepers and employees about stuff you like. Ask them what’s new. Spend a little money and take home something you’ve never heard of. Look for specials and free stuff. Help keep these small but important pieces of our culture alive. If you enjoy it, remember these stores are open all year long. You can go as often as you like. I guarantee you won’t find this interaction and sense of community on iTunes.
Remember: Support local music. Don’t steal it.
Bonus! Check out these cool YouTube clips on how records are made.
And follow this link to a great vintage film on record manufacturing circa 1942.
Image courtesy of vinylrecordsforsale.org