Sorry Indie Labels, Record Store Day Doesn’t Care If They’re Hurting Your Business

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Earlier this month, indie labels Sonic Cathedral and Howling Owl announced that they’d be releasing a single on Record Store Day, but they wouldn’t be making it available through the institution that is Record Store Day.  Instead, the labels are going to release one copy, every day, for a year.

Sonic Cathedral and Howling Owl praised RSD’s beginnings, but said that it has become part of the “music industry circus” that’s been taken over by major labels.  This is hardly a new idea.  In 2014, The Numero Group, Modern Love, and others criticized what RSD has become.

But RSD doesn’t want to hear your criticism, their goal is to help record stores not indie labels.  They released this statement through The Vinyl Factory:

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Music arouses passions. The music business arouses passions. And when you’re dealing with something as emotive as music, that’s how it should be. But it does mean that almost any initiative you take in the music business, however benign, will find its detractors.

That’s the situation Record Store Day finds itself in this week as UK indie labels Howling Owl and Sonic Cathedral accuse us of “betraying” its purpose. Set aside for the moment the fact that the two labels conveniently raise this to coincide with the release of a single (publicity stunt anyone?), what is really objectionable is the way they have misrepresented one of the most beneficial new music promotions of the past two decades.

Record Store Day has beyond doubt been the most important catalyst in the recent revival and growth in number of independent record shops. Along the way it has also driven the vinyl revival. And engaged a whole new generation of fans in music buying.

To make it clear, the purpose of Record Store Day is not to promote independent labels. It is to promote independent record shops (the clue is in the name).

Of course, because indie record shops disproportionately support independent labels, indie labels are among the biggest winners from RSD. While media coverage inevitably focuses on superstar acts often signed to major labels, in fact three out of four RSD releases are on indie labels. That’s hardly a “betrayal” of indies.

The number of releases from the majors has remained relatively static in recent years, so the increase in the number of titles – another criticism is that there are too many – has mainly been driven by indie labels. We don’t blame indie labels – the whole point is to sell records – but we have asked all labels to think harder about quality and this year the number of releases is in fact down by around 10% compared to 2014.

Yes, we do suggest a minimum of 500 copies– though we do make exceptions – but with over 220 stores participating and huge public demand, we don’t think a little over two copies per store is too onerous. Remember too that smaller runs can increase costs, which does not serve fans. The flipside of limited editions of course is the eBay problem. The greater the excess of demand over supply, the more likely it is that someone will really betray the spirit of the day and try and make a quick buck.

I could go on. The fact is that everyone involved in Record Store Day is passionate about it. We know it’s not perfect and we know we need more pressing plants. But it’s a hell of a lot better than a world without Record Store Day.

Give us a break.

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Nina Ulloa covers breaking news, tech, and more: @nine_u

Photo by Joe Schulz on Flickr used with the Creative Commons License

7 Responses

  1. Alex

    Well said you people at Record Store Day! You guys didn’t even have to reply to this low blow but you did so with honor and facts that clearly prove that those two labels (which I never heard of before today, and will quickly forget) are trying to cash in on your name. What a cheap publicity stunt. I’m a proud supporter of record store day and this just made me love you guys more!

  2. TheBigDog

    I doubt this is a real argument; just a publicity stunt. No indie record label could really be against anything which helps some of their biggest supporters (indie record stores).

  3. Some old guy

    Yes, RSD releases are by title mostly indie, but by unit sales mostly from the majors. My one gripe with RSD is that their stated intentions of getting people that have never been in a record store to come in and experience it for the first time has mostly been a failure (the exception in 2014 was the One Direction 7”). It is mostly preaching to converted and not really developing a new customer base. The fact is you have to train young people to come into stores and show them a new path to the joy of discovery. That physical experience is very different than the current state of the music world with discovery mostly happening in the somewhat isolating digital realm. RSD was never intended to be an arena for artist development and labels that were deluded into thinking that it was need to wake up. The one GREAT thing about it RSD is that it has truly helped and in some cases saved local independent record retail.

  4. rob

    Small record store guy here telling you these people are far from giving a crap about the small stores they claim to “help”.

  5. Willis

    It’s a shame that nobody really cares about anybody else. This music industry, and most every other industry, has to realize that partnerships should be beneficial to everyone. Without this consideration, the entire house of cards is at risk.