Record Store Day 2013 - But if the world has moved on, why should we care?
Recorded music is about more than objects, but we should still value the culture that surrounds it
Record Store Day 2013 is approaching, but the world has changed - and what if your local record store isn’t worth supporting? Hamish Brown argues that music is more than objects, so let’s celebrate recorded music in all its forms and the culture that surrounds it.
On the face of it, Record Store Day is still a bizarre idea - even six years in. For one day a year we're all encouraged to celebrate the continued existence of small shops selling objects made of plastic and card, the primary function of which was once as a delivery medium for music, but that also developed a curious secondary quality as collectables in their own right. These days, a world of potentially life-changing music is available everywhere. If individuals choose to make a living in a precarious and quickly-receding industry, why should we care for them any more than for Yellow Pages, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Blockbuster and other models superceded by technology? The world changed, the way we listen to music changed with it, but record shops didn't.
On the surface, the sentiments behind Record Store Day might seem similar to other Facebook feed campaigns championing a worthy-but-failing enterprise, and certainly if we go by documentaries such as Sound It Out, set in the last record shop on Teeside, these days they're places frequented by a freak show of 'life's outsiders', easily characterised as places doing something admirable against the odds, deserving of your support, or worse - quaint. Similarly, the notion of record shops being the last bastion of the 'indie' ethos, that are in some sense 'sticking it to the man' by their very existence discredits them as offering little more than nostalgia. Tellingly, few of the figures waxing lyrical in 2012's Last Shop Standing, (Billy Bragg, Johnny Marr, Norman Cook) are under 50.
In harsh adapt-or-die economic terms, when the commodity being traded stops being scarce, outlets will close - although in this case, some struggle on haunted by embittered proprietors moping around wishing it was still the 90s. Meanwhile, many of the ones with imagination and enthusiasm have found a way to capitalize on what they do have to successfully redefine themselves as something better than they ever were. With Glasgow's Monorail Music, years of immersive engagement with music by Stephen MacRobbie and his staff enable them to create an unique environment that exudes passion, where a record simply being granted rackspace means it's highly likely to be your next musical epiphany - and they curate a film club on the side. Manchester's Boomkat, the still unrivalled site specialising in leftfield electronica, stay sustainable by operating from an office rather than premises, while Rough Trade's own Counter Culture compilations of the best new music are essential.
So, in an age where some would have us believe that recorded music is a spent force and we're all opting for the supposedly more visceral (and more profitable) live music experience instead, this Record Store Day, rather than focussing on formats and mindless one-off purchases, how about listening to something actively, not passively (no headphones, no getting distracted halfway), taking a chance on something new, celebrating all the spaces we use to experience music and those who devote their lives to music and the culture that surrounds it, thereby providing the best mechanism for the good stuff to get heard. The commodity may no longer be scarce, but neither is it homogenous - 'Good music, and the other kind' as Duke Ellington said - and there's a place for discovering the former using methods more substantial than Hype Machine, Amazon's algorithm and the charts. As Tony Wadsworth, Former CEO of EMI puts it in Last Shop Standing "People actually do want somewhere they can go and find something they didn't even know they wanted."
Record Store Day is celebrated on 20 Apr.