Record Store Day: Garbage, Postal Service and Other Vinyl Devotees Serve It Up
When Garbage met Screaming Females, it was love at first sound check. Generations in rock separate them-Garbage embarked on a seven-year hiatus the year before Screaming Females even picked out a name for themselves in 2005-but their penchant for hard noise, a kindred fondness for Patti Smith and the seismic vocal chemistry between lead singers Shirley Manson and Marissa Paternoster laid the foundation for creative kismet when the alt-rock stalwarts brought the indie/punk upstarts along on their comeback tour last fall.
The idea to cover "Because the Night," Smith's incendiary single co-written by Bruce Springsteen, was suggested by Paternoster when the bands opted to close one of the tour's final shows with a duet-the only one Manson had ever performed on the Garbage stage-and it eventually made its way to tape. "We kept on saying, 'We have to get up onstage and sing together,'" Manson recalls. "When she said, 'We have to do "Because the Night,"' we said, 'That's the perfect choice.' We were playing it a couple of times on the road, and we thought it'd be the perfect opportunity to solidify a recording and do something really special for the fans and for all the independent record stores."
The result-which shreds the rock standard to pieces in the most exceptionally merciless way-is a modern, fitting take on a classic collaboration, and the first thing Garbage thought of when the members were looking to contribute to Record Store Day. No stranger to the industry holiday, Garbage previewed songs from Not Your Kind of People nearly a month before its official release with an in-store performance at Austin's Waterloo Records on Record Store Day in 2012. This year, the record that the band is putting out-a limited run of mint-green 10-inch vinyl that features "Because the Night," along with a new Garbage track and a remix of "Automatic Systematic Habit"-represents more than the kinetic chemistry Garbage and Screaming Females harnessed while trying their hand at a Patti Smith song. Since it's a special package, the product of an unpredictable pairing and a release from an independent label (Garbage's own Stunvolume), the Garbage/Screaming Females release embodies the shifts brought on by Record Store Day that impact the music industry across the board-and the shaping trends that have fueled Record Store Day's meteoric rise from a community experiment to an international movement.
"Sales were stronger than ever before in 2012," Rhino Entertainment senior VP Mark Pinkus says. "We've never sold out of [Record Store Day] titles as fast as we did this year. We've been a huge supporter of indie retail since the beginning of our label, and when Record Store Day came around, we immediately supported it. It's been a growing area of focus for us, but the leap between 2012 and 2013 is huge. It's astronomical."
Pinkus' sentiment and Rhino's current order status reflect a climbing growth in vinyl sales that's outpaced expectation during the course of Record Store Day's six years. According to Nielsen SoundScan, vinyl sales in 2012-which clocked in at 4.6 million units-were up 17.7% compared with 2011's 3.9 million. To break it down on a week-by-week level, indie record stores enjoyed a 26.6% gain in album sales when they moved 528,000 units the week of Record Store Day 2012, while the prior week's sales amounted to 417,000.
When the needle drops, Record Store Day is about capitalizing on collection and creation for the labels, artists, stores and, ultimately, consumers. For Legacy Recordings VP of sales Scott Van Horn, providing a special edition of an archetypical title is a pursuit that's grown easier with each passing Record Store Day. Of Legacy's contributions in 2013, which include Aerosmith's first three albums remastered from the source tapes and pressed on 180-gram vinyl, the orders for the original mono mixes of Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe" are already "through the roof," and Van Horn attributes this in part to Record Store Day's regular acquisition of exclusive, covetable content.
"As Record Store Day has grown, there have been more and more artists that have really embraced it," he says. "There was a time early on where I'd have to explain to them what Record Store Day was all about. Now, it's a very easy sell for me to call an artist or a manager to say, 'What do you think about this exclusive release or piece for Record Store Day this year?' It's universally almost always a 'yes.'"
A more pressing challenge presented by Record Store Day lies in keeping the vinyl from flying off the warehouse shelves too fast, according to Pinkus. Rhino Records will put out 14 titles on Record Store Day, up from the five it released in 2012, and eight of those will be pressed on a rainbow of colored vinyl, including the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die on white.
"Retailers want collectible items," Pinkus says. "The key is making sure we're not creating too much demand, and that we're not creating an expensive collector's item, which we too often do. Ready to Die-that was limited to 3,000 copies. If I had to do that over again, I'd make that 5,000 copies based on demand... Here's all this limited-edition vinyl that you have to buy that day or it's gone. That's about as exciting as you can get. Holding that LP in your hand and knowing that you got one? That's like going to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory."
For independent labels, collaborations-much like the Garbage/Screaming Females single-and tried-and-true catalog favorites shine brightest under the Record Store Day spotlight. Jack White, dubbed 2013's Record Store Day Ambassador for his demonstrated success as both an artist and founder of independent label Third Man Records, is releasing the White Stripes' Elephant on vinyl in the United States for the first time in a decade. Seattle's Sub Pop is treating Record Store Day as a promotional vehicle for the deluxe, 10th-anniversary edition of the Postal Service's Give Up (out April 9), in that the duo will be performing at Coachella on the day itself while signed copies of the record are given away at a handful of stores. Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater performed a rendition of Stevie Nicks' "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" on tour together last year, and that, along with "A Wake for the Minotaur," an original they wrote on the road, will be released as a split single from Sub Pop as well. Sub Pop head of sales Richard Laing says, "Record Store Day provides an outlet to release projects that wouldn't always make sense, but you can put together these special one-off projects that people get excited about."
Whether those stepping up to the line unfurling from the front door of a record store on April 20 are collectors searching for the latest David Bowie boxed set or the Icky Blossoms/Black Lips single put out by Saddle Creek, Record Store Day is a movement built on maximizing opportunities across the music industry. The majority of the releases dropping either exclusively for or in partnership with Record Store Day-which amount to more than 350, up from the 250 released last year-reflect this as a myriad of audiophile trophies. It gives labels a second go at exploring options for best-selling and nostalgic titles in new formats. It provides artists-like Garbage and Screaming Females-with a platform for expanding upon a sound they can't ignore while releasing new material that doesn't otherwise fit in with their current commitments. It supports the record stores with a swath of in-store performances and exponential spikes in foot traffic-and it gets that Aerosmith reissue, or that Van Etten/Shearwater Nicks cover, or that pressing of the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die on white vinyl in the hands of someone who can't wait to throw it on a turntable.