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The Hands of Time Reverse: Independent Record Stores Make a Comeback
By: Catherine Mitchell

For music enthusiasts across the globe, Record Store Day, this year April 20, is their holiday. It is the time of the year to share the gift of music with others, to hear and be heard and to meet other people who share a common interest: music.

What started as an idea by independent record store owners and employees has since sparked a movement that has grown from a small spattering of record stores in 2007, into a yearly celebration encompassing 700 U.S. record stores and hundreds internationally.

The key to any business success is the capability to network. In the music industry, the record store provided the foundation for that network, and allowed artists to showcase their music. With the shift in technology, many record stores have closed, yet with the birth of Record Store Day, the hands of time have reversed.

“Record Store Day connects artists with the community on a cultural and business level. All independent [record] stores link together to celebrate and the stores link internationally,” Michael Kurtz, co-founder of Record Store Day, explained.

Record stores were as common as the neighborhood drugstore, but fell into a decline with the advent of SoundScan by Nielson Broadcasting. “When [music] companies embraced SoundScan it started the business practice of focusing on first week sales,” Kurtz said, “this [SoundScan] works well for big corporations such as Amazon and others, but disenfranchises smaller businesses.”

These smaller businesses, record stores in this case, had to decrease the amount of music they carried, with some eventually shutting their doors for good.

Record Store Day has brought about the resurgence of record stores; Kurtz stated that many stores that he works with are opening new ones thanks in part to vinyl.

As expected, the production of vinyl decreased from, according to Kurtz, a $10 million enterprise, to $100,000, but never disappeared. “Vinyl does not fit well with the corporate model (buy one item and offered to buy something else),” Kurtz said.

In fact, vinyl was, is, and probably will continue to be the most preferred way for artists to release music.

Record Store Day grows in popularity each year, and artists in celebration of the festivities release special edition records, Kurtz said that factories are “back logged because so many people want vinyl.”

United Record Pressing produces anywhere from 30-40% of the vinyl in the U.S., and according to Jay Millar, director of marketing, vinyl production has increased exponentially.

“Record Store Day is bigger each year, and it is our [United Pressing] busiest time. Since around November, we have operated 24 hours a day, six days a week to keep up with the demand,” Millar said.

Contrary to popular belief, vinyl was not totally eclipsed by the advent of new technology, only the full length records. According to Millar, the production of the 12” single boomed. “Radio station DJs were still spinning vinyl, we shipped copies to roller rinks. We [United Pressing] were by no means slow at that time. We had fewer orders then but the average order size was much larger as they were shipping to every roller-rink, dance club, radio station and wedding DJ,” Millar said.

Not to mention, United Record Pressing press vinyl for anyone: garage bands, established musicians or just anyone who can prove that the music is theirs, or that they have the right to use it.

Vinyl helped in the push for record store retention, but record stores themselves have changed to merge with the times, and artists have joined in the fight to support these stores.

Record stores have gone digital, meaning that instead of just operating a storefront, businesses now offer digital downloads. Part of this digital movement is the 1000 Artist Campaign.

According to Kurtz, the 1000 Artist Campaign introduced the “third option,” a new way to buy and support local record stores. “Artists put a button, ‘buy local,’ next to the iTunes or Amazon [link] and the programming written into that button locates the local stores that sell the album or song,” Kurtz said.

These days, record stores exist at the permission of their patrons. They provide a kind of personal service that isn’t found through online sources or large corporations, and as long as there are those who are passionate about buying and discovering new music, there will be record stores in which to find it.

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