Record Store Day Brings St. Vincent, B-52's, Todd Barry and More to Brooklyn for a Vinyl Chat

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Record Store Day at Rough Trade East on April 19, 2014 in London, United Kingdom. 

Vinyl enthusiasts, rejoice: the lineup for Record Store Day 2015 has been announced, and as usual it's a comprehensive doozy. From Third Man Records' 10-inch 78 RPM of Elvis Presley's first recording to Of Montreal's first live album, whether a once-in-a-lifetime cherished object or just another novelty from your favorite band, there will be something waiting for everyone at the front of those long, long lines on April 18.

To coincide with the announcement, RSD held a press conference at Williamsburg, Brooklyn's Rough Trade record store and concert venue on Mar. 10. Founder Michael Kurtz presided over a panel of music-minded folk, MC'd by The B-52s' Fred Schneider (who made sure to insert plenty of references to his own limited-edition releases, past and present). Those participating were record producer Kozmo Vinyl, affiliate of The Clash, The Jam, and Ian Drury and The Blockheads; comedian Tom Barry; Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Brewery; Kate Pierson of the B-52s; and last but certainly not least, Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent.

Kurtz opened with some facts: 1,500 record stores in the United States and Europe each were participating in RSD this year, and in the past year, 200 new record stores opened. "Can we get a round of applause for that?" he said. He kept it brief, handing the microphone off to Schneider, who took questions from the audience rather than instigating discussion among the panelists himself.

"Not to be a total shill," he began, "but..." He then held aloft vinyl copies of his side project Superions' releases "Who Threw That Ham at Me" and Destination... Christmas!, along with Party at My Trouse, a joint project with Southern Culture on the Kids -- the last of which he mentioned again at the very end of the session. He and Pierson made quite the dynamic duo, and it was fun hearing reminiscences about a blind-in-one-eye bus driver they had on tour, but their self-aggrandizing banter distracted from the point of the panel.  

Fortunately, the audience avoided similar pitfalls of standard question-and-answer sessions. One of the most interesting responses was Calagione's to an inquiry about his thoughts on Whole Foods, Amazon, and Urban Outfitters selling vinyl. "The indie music is like the indie beer world," he said. "Foreign companies control 80 percent of the market, but there are over 3,000 small American breweries. You recognize that in a perfect world, every beer would be sold through an indie store, but that's not the reality." 

He also indulged in a little self-promotion, mentioning that Dogfish Head's Chateau Jhiau demonstrates a relationship between music and beer "as old as time": in the same Chinese tombs where archaeologists found the ancient suds recipe, they also found the oldest playable instruments made of bird bones. 

Barry was a little more glib. "I buy my vinyl in the bulk foods section," he said, referencing Whole Foods' decision to stock vinyl in its stores.

Other topics of discussion included record flippers ("If 2-4,000 out of 600,000 pieces of vinyl shipped end up online, it's distressing to see a $15 St. Vincent record sell for $150, but that's life," said Kurtz), improperly mastered vinyl, and how 5-600 submissions are whittled down to a little over 400. "It's somewhat chaotic," said Kurtz, who admitted he passed on a release last year he should have taken and still regrets it.

A lot of attention was also paid to the recently announced new global release date of Friday. "I have to be careful because it's very political," Kurtz said, though he went on to admit that it's a bad idea because fashion, games, and movies are still released on a Tuesday. He agreed with Martin Mills' concerns about the move further marginalizing indies and proposed keeping Tuesday as the day to release vinyl reissues, new vinyl, and other special packages.

But that focus, and the discussion of large-scale retailers versus independent record stores, seemed myopic when considered against a much larger unmentioned (at least at that event) issue facing RSD: overloading vinyl manufacturing plants with major-label LPs. It's getting so bad that plants are even shutting down because they can't keep up with demand.

Though RSD advocates keep coming back to the idea that the more, the merrier -- more independent record stores, more RSD releases -- demand has gotten so high that indie labels are opening up their own pressing plants to deal with the rising demand and six-to-eight week wait times . While RSD is about independent record stores, not independent labels, as Kurtz himself pointed out, those sorts of delays become much more relevant with the new global release date if it already takes so long to restock a record that has sold out.   

The panel ended, appropriately, on releases the panelists were looking forward to.

"J. Dilla's 'Fuck the Police' picture disc," said Clark.


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