Back in 2008, Record Store Day was launched as a hopeful holiday aiming to buck up struggling independent music retailers desperate to lure customers.
The situation was dire. The Tower Records chain had closed in 2006, and CD sales were shrinking. Vinyl was an outmoded format that barely amounted to a drop in a music industry bucket with a hole in it.
“The general consensus,” said the day’s co-founder Carrie Colitton, “was that record stores were dead.”
The seventh annual Record Store Day is set to take place Saturday. More than 1,200 retailers across the country are selling limited-edition merchandise and hosting events.
The mom-and-pop music-store glass is half-full.
A big reason is that sales of vinyl have increased sixfold since 2008. Last year, CDs, hurt by the growth in streaming Internet services such as Spotify and Pandora, fell an additional 14.5 percent. Digital sales declined for the first time since the advent of iTunes.
But vinyl increased 32 percent – rising from 4.5 million units in 2012, to more than 6 million in 2013, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
This year, there will be 450 Record Store Day-specific releases hitting stores, up from “between 10 and 20” in 2008, according to Colitton, who oversees the Raleigh, N.C.-based event along with partner Michael Kurtz as an unpaid vocation. (In her paid job, she’s director of marketing for Dept. of Record Stores, a coalition of indie record stores.)
Among the choice selections: Bruce Springsteen’s “American Beauty” EP, featuring four unreleased songs; LCD Soundsystem’s “Live at Madison Square Garden”; and “It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” the vinyl reissue of the 1988 classic by rappers Public Enemy, whose leader Chuck D is this year’s official Record Store Day ambassador.
Evidence of the vinyl renaissance is apparent throughout pop culture:
• Saturday will see the release of Eilon Paz’s “Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting,” a gorgeous coffee-table book that depicts 130 enthusiasts with their collections, including “King of 78s” Joe Bussard, and Frank Gossner, whom Paz accompanied on a record-hunting trip to Ghana.
• “Portlandia” star and Olmypia Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein’s American Express TV commercial set in a record store has been viewed 10 million times on YouTube.
• Director Alex Steyermark’s movie “The 78 Project,” which captures musicians such as Victoria Williams and Ben Vaughn making 78 r.p.m. discs on a 1930s Presto recorder, premiered at the South By Southwest Film festival in March. In July, Amanda Petrusich’s “Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records” will be published by Simon and Schuster.
Vinyl has become cool again “because of digital music,” Paz said. “The natural thing to say would be that the MP3 killed vinyl. But I think it’s the opposite, actually. The lack of a physical, tangible medium brought vinyl back to the people.
“We don’t change, really,” added Paz. “Times change, technology changes. But our basic need to hold, to feel things — vinyl lets you fulfill those needs.”
It also sounds good. “The sonic quality of the vinyl format is so warm and full compared to all digital mediums,” Big Rich Medina, a Philadelphia-based DJ, tells Paz in “Dust & Grooves.”
“I think it’s happened because of the anonymity of the digital age,” said Grammy-winning producer Aaron Luis Levinson.