When I sent out my "top albums of 2007" list to friends, one of the responses from a record label friend was essentially that everyone's list was different. Yes, sales overall are down but more interestingly is that sales are now split among hundreds of different bands rather than a narrowly defined list set by major labels...
Mark down Saturday, April 19 on your calendars as Record Store Day.
The day will be celebrated with performances by Stephen Malkmus and his Jicks and Vampire Weekend among others.
Record stores across North America will have performances by bands of all stripes and some stores will be offering exclusive new 7" vinyl singles from bands like Built To Spill, R.E.M., Death Cab For Cutie and The Black Keys.
This is all in honor of the humble independent record store, which has become a rare sight these days. Even big name music retailers like Tower Records (closed down in 2006) and Virgin (massively scaled back their stores) are not immune to the current climate that has seen freebie downloads take a bite out of music sales.
Ever since I had a disposable income thanks to parental allowances I've been haunting the record stores where I lived. It was a special connection to the music via a store that often had owners and staff that really knew their stuff.
Visiting a store like Zulu Records in Vancouver, Sound Connection in Edmonton or Soundscapes in Toronto offers you a friendly shelter where you can browse their collections and find the hot new releases or a forgotten gem.
In my small town there was a store called The Zone. I say "was" as The Zone closed its doors at the end of March. But while open, owner Ken would provide that extra personal touch that you simply cannot get at a Wal-Mart, an iTunes or a freebie download. If I wanted a new release title that is a bit off the mainstream like Devotion by Beach House, Ken would special order it and have it by the following week. He'd even go to great lengths not to mark up the prices too much.
Ken understood his customers could easily go to Wal-Mart or Amazon - or just download for free. Dealing with a brick & mortar store like The Zone and an owner like Ken meant I had a local music connection with my community, often discovering new local bands thanks to his concert postings, which often led to a sale of the band's CD.
As I mentioned, you can't get that personal touch from a department store or a faceless iTunes.
I'll still support record stores as best I can while they still exist. I may have to drive a little further to find these kinds of stores, but they're still out there. Hopefully your town still has its own independent record store in business.
You can show you care this Saturday by dropping by your local record store and browsing their catalog of releases and, maybe, finding something you really want. Talk to the staff - you'll be pleasantly surprised at how knowledgeable they are. You'd be supporting local business and helping to ensure the record store as we know it doesn't go entirely extinct.
Happy Record Store Day!