Words by Thomas Bradey-Riseley
Today combines the biggest single-day retail event, Black Friday, with the largest vinyl selling event worldwide, Record Store Day. It’s been a tumultuous year for RSD – and the event nearly came to a halt entirely across the globe. LDN spoke to UK Record Store Day founder Megan Page about what it’s about, what to expect this week and how they’ve overcame the challenges of running a retail event during a full lockdown.
LDN: Tell us about the concept behind Record Store Day Black Friday.
Megan Page: Record Store Day Black Friday was an initiative that started in the US alongside Black Friday originally and it kind of took a few years for it to catch on in the UK. But ultimately the idea of Record Store Day Black Friday was to turn the commercial Black Friday as we know it on its head and look at it as an opportunity more to celebrate the culture of independent record shops, to celebrate the art of vinyl rather than that kind of low as you can go, cheap-as-chips, commercial Amazon event which the rest of the nation seems to participate in.
LDN: So you didn’t want to get people lining up outside record shops from the night before for the bargains?
MP: It’s less bargain-based and its more celebrating what is genuinely a premium product. I think some record shops will choose to have their own sales, their own in-store events to acknowledge Black Friday as the retail event. But in terms of the Record Store Day version it’s just about offering fans another opportunity to have something collectible and probably something people would actually want to have in their record collection, rather than offering something that they probably don’t need which seems what the rest of the Black Friday event is about.
LDN: Is it harder to make an event out of it when it’s all online?
MP: Yeah, it has been a lot harder this year and the whole ethos and spirit of Record Store Day is an event which is designed to be celebrated instore. It’s an opportunity to really get people who may have never been into a record store to go and experience record shopping, to experience who their local record store owners are for the first time. So it’s really disappointing from our side that we have had to scale that back but obviously it’s completely out of our hands and something which the whole world is dealing with at the moment in terms of the pandemic. We’ve just had to be quite creative and inventive and look at new ways of welcoming people into the record store world, even if the majority of it is online.
“We had to talk with all the international territories because Record Store Day is a global event and get a feel where every country was at in terms of the Coronavirus cycle.”
LDN: Because of Covid, Record Store Day was broken up into separate events across the year. When did you realise you had to adapt and how did that work out for you?
MP: Record Store Day was initially intended to be held in April; every year its held on the third Saturday in April. We realised about three or four weeks before Record Store Day itself that we were not gonna be able to not hold Record Store Day as we know it. Record Store Day is as much about all of the events, the live music, the gigs, the instores, the street parties as it is about going and getting these limited-edition releases. So we knew it would be very irresponsible to move full steam ahead organising the normal Record Store Day events. It was back at a time where I don’t think anyone really understood what was happening and what was about to happen and how long it was gonna happen for. I think we were still all under the assumption that this was something that would be a month or two and in the world and we would revert back to normal. Actually, we had to get on a call with all the international territories because Record Store Day is a global event which happens on every continent and get a feel where every country was at in terms of the Coronavirus cycle so we realised holding it anytime soon would not be applicable or feasible and we pushed it back. The whole idea of pushing it back was effectively to try and try and split up the amount of people we would get going into the shops at any one time. We wanted to make this a more manageable experience for record shop owners who would have to operate with socially distanced queues and time slots, we also wanted to give the record shops opportunity to build cash flow over a matter of months rather than on one day. After having three-four months of zero sales, it would allow them to bring in products at least in bite-sized chunks rather than in one go and allow them to increase that cash flow over a longer period of time.
LDN: Did the staggered approach work for you?
MP: There was definitely an element of having to adapt as we went along but we built a few different contingency plans depending on what stage of the pandemic we were in. For the first drop in August we were effectively managing socially distanced queues, time slots or for one year we allowed the shops to put their products online on the same day at 6PM. That was to alleviate shops who were concerned with letting people in or didn’t quite have the space to invite people in or didn’t feel comfortable with letting customers in. So we gave the shops lots of different options to manage Record Store Day in a way that suited them the most. Obviously now we find ourselves in full lockdowns. By the time the Black Friday events come around we’ll be online only at 6:30pm if shops aren’t able to open. It has definitely been a year of rolling with the punches but in term of the success of the event, we surveyed all of our retailers after the third drop and the general feeling was it went as good as it could’ve gone, so that’s all we could’ve asked for this year.
“It’s about reminding people that record shops are such important parts of their communities, it’s where people discover music for the first time.”
LDN: Why is Record Store Day so important?
MP: I think Record Store Day is so important because initially it came when vinyl sales were at the lowest they’ve ever been, a lot of the music industry had written-off vinyl and decided the way forward was MP3, download and the streaming playlist era. Record shops knew there was still a demand for their product, there was still a customer base who cared about vinyl, that were wanting to buy vinyl. They came together to build a coalition of record shops which said, “We need to do something here to make sure we’re not left behind”. That mentality that started the event is still at the heart of the event today and it’s about reminding people that record shops are such important parts of their communities, the DNA of the music scene in cities and towns and its where people really discover music for the first time. I think its an opportunity to get people into a record shop who have never been in a record shop before and hopefully their first experience of Record Store Day is a good one, it’s the bringing together of like-minded people, like-minded souls who love music and once these people go in we can convert them and they’ll come time and time again.
LDN: How does a small band or a really small indie label get involved with Record Store Day?
MP: It’s not prescriptive, anyone can get involved. The only criteria is that it’s exclusive to those independent record shops that are taking part. You press up enough copies to supply the demand. If we have 250 shops we would expect 500 to be the minimum run, that would allow two copies of it to go into every record shop. We welcome very DIY small local artists and major superstar and heritage acts as well. If the product isn’t available now there’s always the opportunity to play in stores and to promote your music that way. Lots of retailers look to have local musicians take part in the event, they put up stages or hire local venues to have Record Store Day afterparties.
LDN: Is there always a demand from labels to promote on Record Store Day?
MP: It’s the busiest vinyl selling day of the year by a long shot. There aren’t many other retail events that can compare to the weight of Record Store Day. To have 250 shops and to have media spotlight on those shops, to have the celebratory atmosphere, it’s as much about the commercial side of it as it is celebrating a big part of our culture. But I think the sales speak for themselves in terms of how many records we do sell in one day in comparison to a normal year.
LDN: Is there a constant contact between records shops and you or do they have to contact you first and say ‘we want to get involved’?
MP: There is a sign-up process. The shops let us know they want to sign up then we maintain communication with them throughout the year leading up to Record Store Day. Record Store Day is coordinated by the entertainment retailers association (ERA) which is the trade body which represents the interests of retailers who sell music, video or games products. The majority of retailers that take part of Record Store Day are already signed up with the trade associations and have been for many years. There’s about 250 indie record shops, I would say there’s about 30 new shops that have signed up in the last couple of years. The majority of those shops have all been taking part for a very long time now.
LDN: Has RSD been affected by the Apollo/Transco lacquer factory fire in February?
MP: To be honest there are a lot of manufacturing issues at the moment. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the main challenge is. That obviously did have a lot of ramifications for the entire vinyl manufacturing industry at the beginning of the year. What we’re seeing now is pressure at the plants who have had to scale back their operations due to Covid. Making records is a very labour intensive thing which requires lots of people to be fully functioning, what we’re hearing is a lot of these operations have had to be massively scaled back. We’ve also seen a lot of albums in the first half of the year have been pushed back to the second half of this year which has created a bit of a bottleneck at the plants. It seems to be an ongoing delay at the plants which we hope will alleviate as we get back to normal in the first half of next year. I think the message to labels about Record Store Day and about pressing in general is to reassure the quality of the products you’re pressing is very good and in demand and very quality over quantity so we can try and figure out the pressure the plants are facing.
LDN: What’s next after Black Friday?
MP: I don’t think there are more ‘days’ scheduled. We have enough days now. Everything we do is to champion important parts of the industry, we have national album day which is very important. We live in a world where playlisting and track-based listening have become more prominent and it’s just about ensuring that those things which have been so important to us culturally as a country and are so embedded into British history still have their moment to shine. For us it’s just planning for Record Store Day and hoping that will go as smoothly as possible.
LDN: Last month saw National Album Day, your third year running. What is it and how did you come up with the idea of it?
MP: National Album Day is an event which is coordinated by ERA and by the BPI [British Phonographic Industry] and it came out of the independent label community who I think recognised that we are moving into a world where playlists and streaming is becoming more prominent and its more of an opportunity not just to celebrate classic albums but the fact that artists are still going into the studio to create a body of work, something that is intended to be listened to from start to finish, that sometimes runs the risk of getting lost in digital services and in the world of playlisting. So it’s really just an opportunity for the nation to celebrate the albums that they love be it your Beatles, David Bowie, Rolling Stones, all those classic albums which have been such a huge influence on the music of today or the albums you have used to get you through 2020. National Album Day this year focused on the 1980s which was a really interesting and rich decade and played such a huge role in influencing so many artists today. But really it’s just a celebration of the albums that mean something to all of us individually.
LDN: The plans for next year is to build on what you already have, there isn’t anything new coming?
MP: It’s hard to say, we’re hoping to have a normal Record Store Day and National Album Day again we’re hoping to have a new theme for next year. Hopefully we’ll have some releases, and hopefully by October next year we’ll be back being able to do gigs and in-stores and live events. It might be too early to say for Record Store Day at this stage but hopefully be back to normal as much as possible.
This Friday’s event includes re-releases and limited editions from artists such as Beastie Boys, David Gilmour, Lou Reed, The Weeknd, Herbie Hancock trio and George Harrison. Head over to www.recordstoreday.co.uk/releases/black-friday-2020 for full details.