I shanks-mared it down to Five Points at seven in the morning the day after Thanksgiving, thinking I could use a couple miles to wake up a bit and walk off some mashed potatoes. As I was heading through the college district right at the base of the Saluda hill, some burly bro slammed through his front door, trailing clouds of weed smoke and gesticulating with a slopping Solo cup as he shouted past me at nothing. You have to admire that kind of holiday dedication, and I did just that while standing—improperly dressed—in front of Papa Jazz for forty minutes in the thirty-five degree Black Friday air. Nineteen people lined up with me by eight—a pretty significant downturn from previous Record Store Days, which at least gave me the distraction of post-mort market analysis. It also gave me plenty of time to think:
Record Store Day’s raison d’etre is, and has always been, supporting local stores by giving them high-flash limited releases that sell immediately, bolstering Q4 sales for the industry. Why then, was RSD Black Friday 2014 populated by such lackluster releases? Papa Jazz received 6+ copies of the Little Miss Sunshine OST vinyl—it’s a great soundtrack, sure, if you’re still stuck in 2007—and a similarly sizable shipment of the Game of Thrones soundtrack, and that kind of push leaves me trying to figure out who determined the shipments and what markets they’re after. RSD has always trafficked in contrast: you’re going to see Hozier and Bastille right there next to more credible and longer-lived artists, and that juxtaposition is part of its charm. Honestly, though, I didn’t find Record Store Day Black Friday 2014 to be very charming, and the poor selection was a large part of why I felt so unimpressed. I wasn’t alone in that regard—though lonely from turnout (which can easily be chalked up to post-holiday apathy or travel plans). Among we lonely few, most were discouraged by the anemic selections.
Per SoundScan, vinyl sales made up 3.5% of total music sales in 2014 compared to .2% in the aughts. It’s no longer a format just for completionists, audiophiles, or physical fetishists, but for mass consumption. I get that—hell, I think it’s great. Vinyl fever bolsters a difficult industry and encourages full-album engagement, but it’s always a hard thing to see 120 gram represses of albums from 2007 languishing in the bins, their overcompressed masters sounding just as terrible on wax as they did fifteen years ago when you first bought them from a Sam Goody. Vinyl’s gone back to the mainstream—for every import-freak you find trawling Discogs.com, there’s a freshman who picks up Modern Vampires because it’s on sale at Urban Outfitters for $12 and hey, it comes with a download code*. Which is fine, honestly, but it does mean the supply shifts to match the market. So in April, when you’re sorting through bins full of die-cut colored vinyl special editions of Megan Trainor, remember that this is what the market demands.
I’m blaming you, Jack White.
Experiential Grade: C-
Best Pick: Mastodon, The Motherload 10” picture disc; Death Grips, Government Plates (depending on market—Papa Jazz received no copies)
Worst pick: Seth McFarlane, Holiday for Swing