Every Day is RSD
I usually try to avoid any comment here on the annual commercial circus that record Store Day has become. Everyone’s sick of that griping right? And the IDEA is noble – “hey, let’s celebrate and draw attention to independent record stores by having a day that gets people into the shops who might not otherwise visit them.”

But when the effects appear to be more and more detrimental to both smaller independent record stores and to smaller independent record labels and those people start voicing their concerns… well, let’s just say it’s all getting interesting.

The issue was summarised in an excellent commentary on Twitter recently from Repressed Records in Sydney, Australia – which is both a small Independent Record Store AND a small Independent Record Label. Here’s a summary of their comments:

Limited Edition Record Store Day pressing = 1000 copies
Ambitious run for majority of great current day bands = 500

There’s a serious problem with attention given to most great music of today. It is less likely to be considered ‘relevant’ unless it has a legacy.

True Independent Music Culture is getting squeezed out of its own habitat.

Record Store Day could be done better & foster true independent Music Culture better as Independent Record Stores are, or can be, so important, creating an alternative dialogue & visibility for untainted music.

I agree with all of these. So do Howling Owl Records in this splendidly Quixotic venting. Not sure what to do about it though. I have enjoyed spending previous Record Store Days at my local record store. They couldn’t afford to be part of the official day or order any of the official RSD titles but they had the shop full of customers enjoying the day for the sake of it. That’s something more small stores seem to be doing – an ‘Anti-RSD’ movement. Which will probably be just as effective (and a lot more fun) than the speculator-led crush at RSD stores.

My own experiences over the past few years have caused me to be concerned about what RSD has become. I run Fishrider Records, a small independent record label. The most recent release – an album from Dunedin electronic dance/trance post-punk trio Death And The Maiden – initially expected late December or early January – was held up due to pressing plant delays in the UK contributed to by high priority RSD jobs. LPs were finally delivered in March. That put us (it’s a co-release in the UK with Occultation Recordings) in the difficult position of deciding whether to schedule the UK release prior to RSD on 18 April or after.

We knew stores reduced or stopped ordering regular releases prior to RSD, particularly smaller stores with financial and space constraints. But we also knew stores took a while to recover financially after RSD from non-returnable payment up-front RSD stock purchases. We didn’t know how long we would need to wait for stores to recover and return to ‘normal’. This well-researched and balanced article from the For Folk’s Sake website explains the issues small stores face around RSD.

We opted to release the album in the UK pre-RSD in early April. Store orders to the distributor were way down on previous releases. Understandable when credit limits are tight and a store is faced with a choice between a new release from a new band and hyped RSD ‘limited editions’ from established or ‘legacy’ artists that will hopefully have customers queuing down the street on RSD.

As an aside, even without the pre-RSD hype circus dominating music media, it is more difficult now for true independent labels to get access even to online media, competing for attention against well-funded establishment PR campaigns. That’s one of the reasons you see mostly the same releases and names across all the main online media. And that’s one of the reasons I do PopLib. In its insignificant way it it may help draw some attention to worthwhile music people are unlikely to find out about otherwise.

Fishrider LP banner 3

The label I run releases an album roughly every 6 months. Over the past 3 years each release has taken a month longer to get pressed than the previous one. This has a huge effect on small labels for planning releases (including timing promotion, publicity and tours) and on cash-flow. The delays between paying for vinyl and receiving income from their sale is lengthening with each release. That in turn makes it harder to fund future releases or assist bands with recording or touring.

Ever-increasing delays resulting from demand out-stripping production capacity are a sign of success for the vinyl music format. However, half the year now is dominated extra delays caused by pre-Christmas and then pre-RSD (2nd Christmas!) pressing runs. As a consequence, minimum pressing volumes (many plants are now turning away jobs under 500 copies), release date planning uncertainty and the stretched out cash-flow implications of ever-lengthening turnaround times all make it more difficult for new labels who want to release music in the preferred physical format to start up or survive.

I suspect that direct-to-customer mail-order sales keep most small labels going now. Ironically, that is something Independent Record Stores complain about. For the other 364 days of the year those independent record stores rely on a steady stream of customers seeking new releases (and new re-issues). Some of those customers now prefer to buy direct from labels – better prices, better deals. Unfortunately some (a disturbingly significant percentage I believe) prefer to buy from Am*z*n. Sometimes because the shops don’t stock those releases (see my comments above). It’s a vicious circle of cause and effect.

Independent record labels (and self-releasing artists) are releasing the most interesting and risk-taking new music, and developing new artists, a few of whom will carry on to be the ‘legacy artists’ of the future. When that symbiotic relationship between small labels (including self-release artists) and independent record stores is damaged the ecology of the independent music culture sector is damaged. As Repressed Records said: “True Independent Music Culture is getting squeezed out of its own habitat.”

I’m not sure what the answer is. What is happening is just a supply and demand capitalist business thing. RSD represents a chance for stores and some labels to make some money. That’s business. But it is unfortunate that something created with noble intentions of supporting independent stores has been manipulated into an artificial supply & demand scarcity trick. It has turned what started as a good idea into a major commercially-driven music industry event which has grown so big and ugly some now believe is causing damage to the wider independent music culture sector.

Time for a re-think if those behind RSD truly care about Independent Record Stores and the wider Independent Music Culture they are part of. That’s my RSD War Dance.

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