Usually, the third Saturday of every April brings with it the much-celebrated Record Store Day (from herein referred to as RSD because I'm lazy).
But Covid-19 has put a spanner in everyone's works - including the music industry's - and the holiest of days in a music fan's diary has been split into three "drop" dates for 2020, as labels drip-feed their releases to the general public wearing face masks and latex gloves (probably).
This means RSD is now made up of Aug. 29, Sept. 26 and Oct. 24. A triple treat for all involved.
If you haven’t heard about this day before, it’s when musical artists release special edition recordings in a physical format, be it tape, vinyl or CD, that can be bought in independent record shops across the globe.
Great huh? Not particularly covid friendly, I'll grant you, but it means fans get something special from their favourite artists, local record shops make money (yeah shops, not "stores" you damn Americans, just because you started the day doesn’t mean you can ruin our language with impunity *starts playing Land of Hope and Glory*) and greedy internet music giants such as Spotify and Apple, that would normally get exclusives purely because of their buying power, miss out.
It’s a great and noble idea with enthusiastic backing from all corners of the music world, be it fans, critics or artists.
However, I was a music critic for many years and I have to confess, I grew to hate this day.
A few years ago I was writing for a marginally well-read music webzine and got the task of writing a lengthy feature about the most notable RSD releases that year.
What became quickly apparent was that everything was shit. That's a technical, critique term, of course.
If there’s a musical equivalent of churnalism, RSD was it. Almost every release was a re-release, or b-sides and demos tacked together and wrapped up in the same material the emperor used to make his new clothes.
Sure, there is some good stuff each year (actually, I’m only assuming this) but a re-release with some new album art slapped on it does not an "exclusive" make.
It was as if they (the record labels, not the artists) chucked together any old rubbish they found down the back of the proverbial sofa. A lot of the releases felt like cut-and-shut jobs, devoid of feeling, cheap rip-offs to drum-up money in the name of “real music”. It felt like a con; a bit like Nirvana’s ever-expanding back catalogue that still gets plundered every few years.
And this brings me onto my second bugbear. There’s a kind of ethos attached to RSD that says “real music” is released on vinyl. Or that vinyl is somehow the best medium for enjoying music and all those pesky MP3s are killing the medium, so we’re collectively losing something important.
Bollocks are we.
Firstly, your stereo is only as good as your stylus. My dad could have told you that in 1974, and he was an alcoholic. Most people don’t have a brilliantly expensive stereo and thus vinyl is going to sound sub-par. I’ve tested this myself; my mate's cheap stereo didn't pick up the full range of the drums on a Prong album, but the CD version on the same stereo system sounded fine.
I don’t want to enter into the ultra-nerdy debate of what is the best musical format, but digital formats at least sound as the producer intended, even if you want to talk about the loss of “warm analogue tones” or whatever.
There is a misplaced honour given to vinyl - a dusty and cumbersome old format - as if everyone who listens to music on an iPod is a philistine. I appreciate the value in sitting down and absorbing an entire album, but RSD isn't about that, it's about vinyl geeks and super fans getting conned into buying b-sides on expensive colour 7-inches.
"So, what about the record shops?" I hear you cry. Surely this day is great for independent retailers?
Well, I never bothered to find out. It probably does help and if so, that’s a great thing. Yet I doubt it keeps them in business. I doubt they all rely on this one day to keep afloat. The world of music is changing and having a special day to keep record shops open isn't going to hold back the tides of change.
I have a lot of axes to grind about music piracy (I never illegally download, and I'm still waiting for my medal to come through the post) and I mourn the loss of album art (a wonderful thing tossed to the wayside in these digital times), but if we paint RSD as some sort of panacea for these problems, then we’re deluded.
Ultimately, people can buy what they want. I don’t care. What does bother me is how RSD is considered a glorious celebration of creativity and authenticity when in reality, it’s neither.
It’s a great idea sure, but it has morphed into an empty gesture that masquerades as something special and the duplicity bugs me.
Perhaps the real issue is that I just don’t like being told how and when to appreciate music by industry bigwigs and sycophantic music rags. For me, that in itself enough is to consider the day, well, a bit bobbins.