Why Record Store Day Means Nothing to Me

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For the twelfth year in a row, Record Store Day has come and gone. Since 2007, there has been one day in April, usually a Saturday, when the nation’s independent record stores – you know, those dying outlets that sell CDs, DVDs and, shock of all shocks, VINYL!! – throw a big party to celebrate their industry. Normally during these special days there are special releases, discounted materials, giveaways and other fun had by all that make it one of the most special days of the year for those who frequent independent record stores.

There’s only one problem…I’ve never been to one of them.

It isn’t because I don’t like music. Quite the contrary…I LOVE MUSIC! Looking back to my youth, my best high school friend DJ and I would cut out from field trips to Champaign, IL, to peruse the stacks at the local “mom & pop” outlet. Often we would walk out of those trips with bags brimming with new LPs – vinyl albums – that were ahead of what was on the radio in those days, much to the consternation of our chaperones on the field trips and, then, our mothers.
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After high school, that collection of albums kept growing. After I entered the Marine Corps, my late mom was more than willing to get the crates of albums out of her house and they traveled with me. At one point, I owned more than 1500 albums, across all genres, and played them frequently. When the advent of CDs dawned in the mid-1980s, I was on it and gradually began seeing my CD collection grow alongside my LPs.

We will avoid the story of where all these priceless treasures went – except to say I hope the bitch choked on them or whatever she bought with the money for selling them – and fast forward to today. I have been able to recreate my former stacks and keep up with the music of today. I am always on the hunt for new material and probably will always be looking for the latest from music, of any genre or generation.

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There is one thing that I won’t do, however. I cannot embrace the vinyl movement again.

It isn’t because of some deep-seated hatred of vinyl that I make this statement. It isn’t the same listening to Miles Davis on a pristine CD or hearing an old Muddy Waters or B. B. King track on MP3. The experience you would get hearing those jewels on a crackly old vinyl album is beyond reproach. The problem lies in the fact that the latest move back to vinyl is a simple money grab by the record industry, not some nostalgic journey back for those today who are too young to remember those days.

I came up through virtually every evolution of the recorded music industry. In the 1960s, it was vinyl albums and singles (called “45s” for those of you who aren’t aware). In the 1970s, the eight-track tape began to take hold, most likely because people couldn’t take a turntable into their vehicles with them and they wanted a way to play music…hence, the eight-track cartridge. The heyday of the eight-track morphed quickly into cassettes, loved because they were smaller than the eight tracks carts and you could bring more with you.

The 80s brought the big switch, one which basically killed vinyl. The compact disc, or CD, became the norm as people ditched their bulky turntables for sleek CD players. The CDs lasted for nearly 20 years before the digital format – MP3s – began to take over. Now, music is pretty much consumed in singular song tracks, either through download or streams. When it came to full-length album purchases, the CDs had to battle it out with…hey, look at that! VINYL ALBUMS!… which made their comeback to challenge CDs for dominance with full-length album purchasers.

Therein lies my problems with vinyl nowadays. Remember those 1500 albums that I used to have? In many cases when I purchased those records, the cost was as low as $3.98 for NEW records. For a 45, it could be as low as $.99. Fast forward to today’s record stores and those very same albums that I once owned are being sold for upwards of $17.99 or more. Likewise, the “turntables” that are offered are nowhere near the technical grade we had back in the 70s and 80s – seriously, your little sister normally had a shitty turntable to play her Leif Garrett 45s on that is about par for what is available today.

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Now you can tell me, “Well, the costs to produce a vinyl record have gone up,” or “Well, there aren’t as many vinyl producers today, so they have to charge more for the product.” In both cases you’d be mistaken. The costs are no higher today to produce a vinyl record and, while there may be fewer production outlets, to produce the minimal content that comes out is a mere pittance compared to vinyl’s heyday.

The reasons that vinyl is done today are many and diverse. There is an air of nostalgia about having a “vinyl” copy of one of the legendary albums in musical history (arguable…wouldn’t it be better to actually have the ORIGINAL legendary album on LP?). Some would say there is a purism to playing some musical formats from the vinyl format (and that would be a fair argument). But the vinyl record resurgence is simply another way for the record companies to scrape more money out of the customers, the listeners, and it is possibly a way for “hipsters” to show they are “legit”…by spinning their music on vinyl rather than CDs or MP3s.

Which brings us back to Record Store Day. I looked at the list of special releases and reissues that were set to come out today and I really wanted some of the pieces on the list. That was until I saw that they were on vinyl or, for fuck’s sake, COLORED vinyl (like I am going to get high and watch the COLORED vinyl spin on the turntable for hours on end). And it immediately turned me off from even being interested in Record Store Day for another year.

I know the logic of Record Store Day is to support the local, independent operators who have, against all odds, stuck it out with formats for music that may seem archaic. These stores do need support and, with the box stores like Best Buy, Target, and FYE all but ending the sale of CDs in their stores, the independent record stores become an even more important part of an audiophile’s life. But don’t continue to do a disservice to your customers by demonstrating a bias to one format over another one simply in a chase for the almighty dollar.

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Here’s a novel thought for 2020, independent record store owners. How about evening out the product between CDs, LPs and whatever else you might desire (hell, if you want to do reel-to-reel, knock yourself out)? Not everyone wants to go “back in time” to the days of vinyl and you alienate much of the customer base when you prize those vinyl purchasers over those who purchase CDs. Besides, you and the record companies took away vinyl once…what stops you from doing it again?

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When U R Gone, What 2 Do with Ur Legacy

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It’s taken me a few days to come to grips with the death of the legend that is known as Prince and, to be honest, there aren’t words that can express the depths of the impact of his death. Barely older than myself at 57, Prince Rogers Nelson stepped into his elevator on Thursday last week at his sprawling Paisley Park recording studios/home in Minneapolis and, with no one else around, passed away inside the car. In one moment, another icon of the music industry had been stolen from the world.

2016 has been a particularly difficult year for iconic musical legends. The one most applicable to Prince was David Bowie (who also had a seismic impact on myself) and the two, if not cut from the same cloth, at least were in the same skein of fabric. Both were innovators in the music they created; they followed the path of their own choosing and, upon their death, it was automatically known that there would be no one else like either of them. Add in other legends like B. B. King, Merle Haggard, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey, Lemmy Kilmister and Maurice White (just to name a few) and, if there’s a Heaven, then the joint is rocking pretty hard lately.

Perhaps the Grim Reaper can leave musicians alone for a while…

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There are several other legendary performers that Prince has a great deal in common with, however. One of the big issues that has come out is that Prince was notoriously known to keep a humongous stash of his own recorded materials on the grounds of the Paisley Park studios. A past studio musician who worked with Prince in the 1990s stated that, at that time, there were at least 50 albums of unreleased material that were in basically a bank vault inside the home. Now that Prince has passed away, will there be similar comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson as to their posthumous activities?

Hendrix only released three albums of original material prior to his death in 1970 but, following his passing, it seems there were tracks just laying around that he had worked on. Between 1971 and just last year, 59 total albums have been released bearing Hendrix’s name (12 studio, 25 live and 22 compilations) and this isn’t even counting Extended Play (EPs), singles or “official bootlegs” of Hendrix performances. The same is true in the case of Shakur; he released four albums prior to his death in 1996 and seven albums after his demise. Hell, Shakur even came back as a hologram at Coachella in 2012 to “perform” for the crowd.

Jackson didn’t escape this type of action either. While he was a bit more prolific with his career prior to his death in 2009 (ten solo albums plus his work with his brothers as the Jackson 5 or the Jacksons), he – or, better yet, the Jackson estate – has released two albums of work posthumously, Michael and Xscape. There was also a documentary movie released, This Is It, that detailed out the preparations for the World Tour that Jackson was set to embark upon before his death.

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Estimates on Prince’s entire estate at the time of his passing have been put at $250 million (probably much better off than any of the men whom we’ve discussed previously when they left this mortal coil) and it is conservatively thought that, over the next five years through just what is in the marketplace currently, another $100 million could be earned by the Prince estate. The question becomes what do you do with that wealth of material that Prince put in the vault.

If there were 50 albums of material in the mid-90s, with someone like Prince there are probably a couple of hundred albums of FINISHED product there now, waiting for eager fans to hear. There’s probably another couple of hundred of albums consisting of bits and pieces that could be cobbled together into some form of functional music. The question becomes do you just keep it locked away? Or do you go ahead, realize the potential goldmine that you have and release it?

There are plenty of cases where a writer or musician will leave a piece unfinished because it just doesn’t feel right for a particular mood that they are working on at that moment. In other cases, they lose the momentum that drove them to write the piece in the first place or they simply forget that they were working on it in its entirety and move onto other things they feel are more challenging. These things really happen – you ought to see the number of things I start writing that either never reach fruition or fizzle out…if I revisit them today, they move forward hesitatingly again until that fateful moment that they get forgotten about.

Since I am in no manner as productive as Prince, as musically talented or as in demand as to my product (I’d like to think I can turn a phrase or two sometimes, however), the dilemma becomes whether he left explicit instructions for his family members following his passing. It is possible that he detailed out what to do with this vault of recordings down to the T and his family will follow them faithfully. It is possible that he dictated that those recordings never reach the ears of the civilized world, which would be a true tragedy. Then again, the family may go against any of Prince’s postmortem wishes (or a court might) and just release things as they need the money and it will seem as if Prince never left us.

The worst thing that could happen is that Prince’s family sells the rights to Prince’s legacy to either a record company or another artist. This is what happened in the 80s when Jackson bought the rights to The Beatles catalog (and destroyed the friendship he had with Sir Paul McCartney, who encouraged him to get into music rights ownership, over the issue). Simply the material that is in public today should be enough for Prince’s family to be able to not only live well but be able to erect some sort of appropriate way to memorialize their loved one who left far too soon. To sell off his legacy in such a manner would be heresy to his memory.

I personally hope that we do get some more QUALITY Prince material – in my opinion, there’s a reason that Prince put those recordings in a vault…he didn’t feel that they were of the standard that he wanted his audience to hear. But if his family were to deem those recordings should stay unheard by the public – or if Prince himself explicitly dictated that they weren’t to be released (the worst thing to hear would be that they would be destroyed – it would seem like another fire at the Library of Alexandria for music lovers), then those wishes would have to be respected. There is one thing that is clear – we’d love to not be thinking about this issue and instead wondering when Prince would either perform next or what would be the general groove of his next album.

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