‘Dust off your vinyl’ implores one particular headline, and – to this writer, at least – ‘dusting off’ seems a particularly apt turn of phrase. Aside from professional DJs and enthusiastic collectors, vinyl – hell, the physical music format in general – is a dead prospect; at best a novelty release designed to be deliberately retroactive, at worst a mish-mash of old 45s thrown into a box and flogged at a yard sale.
So: Record Store Day. What exactly is this all about? Enough musicians are taking part in the promotional scheme for it to warrant mainstream media coverage. The NME provides a succinct rundown:
Over 300 artists have offered up new vinyl releases for today’s celebrations, with new material, cover versions, rare tracks and studio outtakes all set to be released.
Arctic Monkeys’ new single ‘R U Mine?’ is available on special purple vinyl, while Two Door Cinema Club’s ‘Acoustic EP’ boasts acoustic versions of their tracks ‘Something Good Can Work’ and ‘Undercover Martyn’.
Kasabian have released their covers of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’ and Gwen Stefani’s ‘Sweet Escape’ on 7” vinyl and The Clash have a newly digitally remastered version of ‘London Calling’ on vinyl, while Arcade Fire are offering remixes of their track ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) and Noel Gallagher has dropped a new EP titled ‘Songs From The Great White North’.
All very nice, but – again – what exactly is Record Store Day? Are people treating this as a bit of nostalgic fun for a dying form of consumer interaction (it’s all too easy to imagine a ‘video rental day’ taking off in the future, during which we all venture down to the few remaining Blockbusters and relive the glory of taking an empty box to the counter)? Or does the industry genuinely hope that this will encourage people to rekindle their love for physical music formats?
If it’s the latter, then a lot of people are going to be very disappointed.
Vinyl still has a place in the specialist market, but to view Record Store Day as anything other than a nice day out is madness. Infact, the whole thing just highlights how digital music has become the norm, and that anything outside that paradigm merits a special occasion. Put it this way: people will occasionally take up the novelty of having a street artist sketch their portrait. It’s kind of fun. Most of the time, though – if they want an image of themselves frozen in time – they’ll just take a quick snap on their iPhone. Sure, digital music hasn’t yet established the concept of ‘owning an artifact’ that physical formats hold … but it soon will.
Record Stores hold a great deal of sentimental baggage for a certain generation, but – to deploy blunt reality – that generation isn’t going to be around forever. Try asking a 16-year-old if they know what a video cassette is, never mind a vinyl LP. And this points to the reason that Record Store Day might actually be more of a hindrance than a help: rather than looking at how the Record Store can evolve in a changing market, we’re being told to celebrate the concept as though nothing is wrong with it. To use a well-trodden musical analogy, this is the epitome of fiddling while Rome burns.
By all means – treat this as a bit of fun, and get a kick out of unwrapping those rare new records. But don’t pretend this is going to change anything regarding the state of music consumption. The needle is scratching a new groove, and no-one can stop it now.