It’s been described as “Christmas morning for music fans.” Record Store Day – an international day to celebrate independent music stores and the people who support them - is set for Saturday, April 22.
For Bull Moose stores in Maine and New Hampshire, the celebration will have added significance because that’s where the concept for Record Store Day was hatched 10 years ago.
In 2007, Chris Brown, head of marketing for Bull Moose, came up with an idea that soon caught fire – set aside a day to celebrate indie music stores by offering customers special limited edition releases and allowing each store to craft their own events around the day, including live in-store performances.
Before interviewing Brown for this story, he forwarded the email exchange that sparked Record Store Day. The original message from Brown to Michael Kurtz, head of the largest indie record store coalition in the United States, reads in part, “I’m just thinking as I type, but it could be a national event that drives people to indie stores. We would need some nice licensed pieces – maybe something along the lines of the upcoming Guided by Voices rarities box. Indies rule. We haven’t gone anywhere. We are better than ever and we are more important than ever before.”
According to Chris Brown, that exchange, with a few tweaks, was the blueprint for Record Store Day, though he is quick to point out that it was a collective effort which brought the idea to fruition.
“It’s great to be part of the success of Record Store Day but I realize that if a great idea is 10 percent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration, in this case, it’s probably one percent inspiration and 99 percent other people’s perspiration,” Brown said with a laugh. “I have to be realistic. It’s really an enormous group effort. It takes tens of thousands of people at record stores across the world and all of the label people and artists who make an effort to come up with something special. And it wouldn’t be fun if hundreds of people didn’t show up at record stores everywhere.”
And those music lovers begin lining up early, waiting for the doors to open, in order to be among the first to have a crack at snapping up one of those limited-edition titles. All Bull Moose locations are scheduled to open at 8 a.m. on April 22.
“I’ll be here by 4 a.m. on Record Store Day and they’ll start lining up by 5 or 5:30 a.m.,” said Freeman Saunders, manager of Bull Moose on the Hogan Road in Bangor.
“Record Store Day is just like opening day for baseball and we always look forward to it. I’ve seen 150 to 200 people lined up to the end of the block just before we open the doors,” Saunders told me.
Fans of Record Store Day plot their strategy days or weeks in advance. Their mission is to locate the desirable titles on their list, hold them safely under their arm and keep going to see what they can find.
This year’s list of Record Store Day releases was released on March 21 and is available at www.RecordStoreDay.com. It features hundreds of limited edition titles from artists ranging from The Beatles and Ben Folds to Motorhead to Mungo Jerry. The number on the far right of the column is an indication of how many copies of that title were created and it ranges from the hundreds in the case of extremely limited regional releases to 5,000 copies of exclusive RSD records such as titles by The Smiths and Neil Young.
As for which releases will be most in demand on April 22, Chris Brown says it’s anyone guess but he has an inkling about a few ultra-desirable titles.
“One that I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s something they have to have is a 7-inch from the actor Corey Feldman with Snoop Dogg,” Brown said. The single “Go 4 It,” backed with “Everybody” featuring Doc Ice, is a limited run, regional-focus release, strictly limited to 1,000 copies.
“The Beatles are doing a 7-inch reissue of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ backed with ‘Penny Lane’ (limited to 4,000 copies) that is high on a lot of people’s lists,” Brown added.
For the past several years, Brown has produced a preview video, offering fans an early sneak peek at exclusive Record Store Day titles as they arrive at Bull Moose in the days leading up to the event. Those videos, available on Bull Moose’s YouTube channel, often go viral as Record Store Day fans, eager with anticipation, share them on social media.
A number of companion videos have been produced by Brown, in a series called “Record Time with Chris.” The latest installment at the time of writing (#11 – “More Record Store Day”) features Brown’s thoughts on various RSD releases, including “Stories for Ways & Means,” a benefit album for children’s literacy programs.
“They got some really interesting people to do narration and my favorite is probably a story called ‘Doug the Bug’ by Frank Black of The Pixies and narrated by Danny DeVito. It’s awesome!” Other stories on the record were written by Nick Cave, Devandra Banhart, Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Gary Numan. Described as “An unprecedented literary mix tape,” Brown said he thoroughly enjoyed his advance listen to the benefit album.
Viewers may want to pay special attention to the contents of episode number seven of “Record Time With Chris” - while keeping in mind the date when the video was uploaded. They like to have fun at Bull Moose.
Other high-profile releases include seven Prince reissues of 12-inch maxi-singles from the 1980s, All Time Low’s “MTV Unplugged” session, Ken Kesey’s “The Acid Test” featuring The Grateful Dead recorded live in the studio in 1966, two Pink Floyd titles, plus releases from Dave Matthews Band, David Bowie, Big Star, Santana, Rush, Stevie Nicks and hundreds of others.
According to Saunders, the words “limited edition” are certainly a draw for Record Store Day. Artists and labels work together to create a special product only for sale in independent record stores. The item’s scarcity adds to the appeal of that particular release and to the overall success of Record Store Day.
“A lot of our customers are collectors and they really want to get a copy of their chosen limited edition title,” Saunders said. “We do what we can to get as many copies as possible but once they’re gone, that’s it. Some of the things that sell the fastest just surprise us.”
The vast majority of special Record Store Day releases will be issued on LP, 7-inch 45 and 10-inch EP with a few select titles on CD and cassette. According to Saunders, the demand for vinyl is not a fad but a trend that has grown exponentially in recent years. Bull Moose’s Bangor location meets that demand by allocating more space to stock it.
“There’s that tactile thing where people really appreciate being able to hold a record, remove it from the inner sleeve, study the notes and artwork and just enjoy the experience of listening to analog,” said Saunders. “You really don’t get the same thing from compact discs and certainly not from mp3s. Vinyl has made a significant increase, especially in the last five years.”
An important point about Record Store Day, made by both Brown and Saunders, is that the customer truly does come first. Employees and management of participating record stores remain hands-off when it comes to acquiring the rare titles being offered for sale. Only after the day comes and goes, if any copies remain, will an employee be allowed to get it for themselves.
“Everything to do with Record Store Day is about the customer,” Saunders added. “We want people to come to Bull Moose, have a good time and enjoy meeting other collectors. That’s what it’s all about – music fans getting together and having a day for themselves.”
Live in-store performances have been part of Record Store Day since the beginning. For the 10th anniversary celebration, all live in-store events from Bull Moose feature Maine-based musicians, according to Brown.
“If you think about the traditional role of the record store being the first place to really show upcoming artists any respect, paying them what they deserve and all of that, it’s important for us to celebrate that as part of Record Store Day,” he said.
Portland-based band Fifth Freedom will play at the Waterville Bull Moose at 80 Elm Plaza, beginning at 2 p.m. “They’re a really hard-working metal band and they’re great,” Brown said.
Scheduled to appear at 2 p.m. at the Scarborough Bull Moose, located at 456 Payne Road, is the Boston/Portland trio Weakened Friends, a band described by Brown as “Obviously one of those bands who will be leaving us. They performed at South by Southwest and are definitely on their way.”
An Overnight Low is set to play at 11 a.m. at the South Portland Bull Moose, located Mill Creek at 219 Waterman Drive.
Dominic Lavoie will perform at the Brunswick Bull Moose at 151 Maine St. at 1 p.m.
Spencer Albee is scheduled to perform at the Portland Bull Moose, located at 151 Middle St., at 4 p.m.
The emails that started it all
With permission from Bull Moose’s Chris Brown, we present part of the 2007 email thread between him and Michael Kurtz containing the genesis for Record Store Day.
From: Chris Brown
Sent: Friday, July 27, 2007 1:54 PM
To: Michael Kurtz
Now, on to Indie Record Store Day. It needs a different name, of course. I'm just thinking as I type, but it could be a national event that drives people to indie stores. We would need all coalitions--not just the ones we usually work with, plus all the unaffiliated indies.
It might be good to do it in our slow period- Feb or March. I don't know if we would want to give away free CDs or what. We would need some nice licensed pieces--maybe something along the lines of the upcoming Guided By Voices rarities box.
There is a huge press angle here too. Indies rule. We haven't gone anywhere. We are better than ever and we are more important than ever before.
In-stores in every market. In Denver, both Indie and Twist get somebody good.
Video, print and online testimonials from artists would run in every market to promote the event.
Try to include movie stars and game developers.
I'm going to close because I haven't eaten lunch yet.
From: Michael Kurtz
Sent: Friday, July 27, 2007 2:14 PM
To: Chris Brown
Subject: RE: idea
Wow. I think this is an idea we should act on. Perhaps we should allot 30 minutes of our time in Baltimore to discuss and map this idea out?
…just finished lunch. I think I ate too much.