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.
Albums

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.

CDs

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.

45Player

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.

RecordStore

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?

Why Does Big Business Have a Bad Reputation?

No matter who you are or where you are in the world, you are going to have some interaction with big business in today’s world. Whether it is a trip to the local Target, a quick fast food lunch at McDonald’s or Burger King or, on the more serious end of the spectrum, a hospital or a pharmaceutical company, anyone in the world and U. S. citizens in particular are constantly in contact with the world of business. However, these companies don’t seem to grasp the concept of “customer satisfaction” but entirely get the concept of “maximizing profits.”

There are many that try to defend big business by saying “it’s just a few bad apples in the bunch” (an argument heard far too often on far too many subjects, to be honest), but historical evidence doesn’t support that connotation. Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle depicted the atrocities that occurred in the meatpacking industry in the early 20th century, including people losing body parts in food vats (or, in some cases, entire bodies), child labor, long working hours and inadequate wages (and Sinclair knew about these cases by experience; he worked in the Chicago meatpacking industry for several weeks researching the subject). A couple of decades later, John Steinbeck penned the story of the migrant farmer in his epic novel The Grapes of Wrath.

Throughout the last century, the mistreatment of those who worked in the coal mines of West Virginia, Kentucky and other Appalachian area by big business has become well known to the world, including coal companies cutting back on safeguards that might keep their employees alive. The rail industry, construction industries (how many men were killed just during the building of the Hoover Dam? Officially 96, in case you’re wondering) and other high risk jobs also have many incidences where those that employed the workers cut corners or unnecessarily risked their employees lives all to make a little extra money. Following the financial crash of 2008, only 15% of U. S. citizens trusted business leaders to make the proper choices – the ETHICAL choices – when faced with a decision, something that got worse during the British Petroleum oil spill in 2010 and the insistence by the then-President of the company, Tony Hayward, that he’d “like his life back.”

The actions over the past week aren’t exactly looking to improve on those numbers any further for big business. First up was the automaker Volkswagen, who was found last week of purposely sending out 11 million vehicles with a serious defect in their product. These vehicles, for the most part the diesels that Volkswagen is known for producing, had their emissions software tampered with to make it appear that the emissions weren’t violating U. S. regulations. VW attempted to call the tampering with the software “an irregularity” but it soon became apparent that it went much further.

Other countries such as Germany, France, Italy and South Korea – all big customers of Volkswagen’s product – are examining their own laws to see if there were any violations and the company itself is looking to stem the damage. Officials with the company have decided to put together a $7 billion war chest to help pay for damages to customers, potential fines to government authorities and other costs. There is still a huge question as to how Volkswagen will make this right, but their first step instead of fixing the issue was to pull all unsold diesels off the market.

Now, some would say this is an example of “free market” economics working (Volkswagen’s stock has fallen 41% in the past week), but that isn’t enough to cure the reputation of big business as being callous to its customers in putting the almighty dollar over its performance.

One of the most heartless acts that big business committed over the past week was done by Turing Pharmaceuticals. The company and its CEO, a former hedge fund manager by the name of Martin Shkreli (because he couldn’t go by the name of Richard Dick), in August bought the rights to a critical drug called daraprim, which is used by those with weakened immune systems (primarily infants and AIDS patients). Almost immediately, the company raised the price on the pill from $13 (still pretty pricey) to $750.

It isn’t uncommon for the pharmaceutical industry to pull bullshit like this. Many times a company will obtain the rights to a drug and, by putting a couple of useless changes into the chemical makeup of the product, be able to change its name and resell it, usually at a higher price. If the drug is a “one of a kind” product – meaning that there isn’t a generic equivalent – the price for the drug can be outrageous from the start. But this case, and in particular Shkreli’s response to criticism of his company’s actions, has shown how bad big business can be.

In 2012, Shkreli tweeted “Every time a drug goes generic, I grieve,” demonstrating that he didn’t care about helping society but only helping his bank account. He was on Twitter again on Monday attempting to diffuse the situation but only seemed to throw more gasoline on the fire. Shkreli disparaged those that disagreed with him, including fellow industry leaders, the media and other opponents by snottily responding to complaints on Twitter before heading to CNBC to further insult people.

If there’s any justice in the world, then there will be reaction against drug price gouging like this. Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has stated that she will be presenting a plan against this type of price inflation; currently, the GOP candidates do not have any response. But perhaps the only things that big business might understand are humongous fines and the long arm of the law.

Also over the past week, the former CEO of a Georgia peanut company was sentenced to 28 years in prison and two other high ranking executives received jail time for their part in causing an outbreak of salmonella that killed nine people. Stewart Parnell, the CEO of Peanut Company of America, could have received life in prison for his actions but only got the 28 year sentence. His brother Michael, a broker for the company, received a 20 year sentence and a quality control manager at the plant in Georgia, Mary Wilkerson, was sentenced to five years.

So what did these people do? The Food and Drug Administration, upon inspecting the plant where the tainted peanut products came from (the company sent peanut paste to several outlets for usage in different products), found rat feces in the warehouses, dirty equipment used to process the peanuts into paste and forged certifications that said products were untainted despite actual lab results that indicated differently. Perhaps most damning was an e-mail reporting to the elder Parnell that salmonella levels were high on a shipment. His reply to the e-mail? “Shit, just go ahead and ship it.”

Look, we know that the object of a business is to make money; hell, there isn’t another reason to be in business unless that is what you’re doing. Along with the ability to make money, you also have to have the interest of your employees and your customers first and foremost in your company’s mind. You have to provide a decent job and wage to your employees; perhaps more importantly, you have to provide a product to your customers that is safe for their consumption (we could talk about how weak the laws are regarding this in some areas of business, but that is an argument for another time). If a business cannot do these things, then they shouldn’t be in business.

Ethics seems to be the weakest area of knowledge for plenty of businesses and industry’s biggest players. Perhaps if customer sentiment following a company’s error or fines implemented by government officials had an effect, the companies would work from an ethical standpoint rather than one simply driven by greed. Unfortunately, this starts with the customers because, by the time the government acts on any incidences of misconduct in the business world, the companies have already made their millions (billions?) from the product they’ve foisted on the public and are more than willing to part with a bit of those profits to escape jail or some other punishment.