Today is a good day for music. While we’re enjoying the third day of Roadburn it’s also Record Store Day. We were at a packed Sounds Tilburg where the announced ‘DJ-set’ by Dutch Record Store Day ambassadors De Staat turns out to be a live set after all. Fool me once. We park at the door from where we see a lot of folks carrying out RSD-totes filled with what, by the shape of it, can only be vinyl. Could it be? Are people actually coming to RSD to buy records? Is the vinyl hype real?
Editor: Lisa Gritter
I’m at the counter wanting to talk to Maarten Koehorst, the owner of Sounds Tilburg, but he’s too busy selling records. Which we can only take as very good news. We’ve been hearing buzz about vinyl being the new black for a while and a recent report from BuzzAngle (through Genius) tells us “Vinyl sales grew by just shy of 12 percent from 8.6 to 9.7 million sales, while cassette sales grew by almost 19 percent from 99,400 to 118,200 copies sold in the US. It wasn’t quite the 41.8 percent growth seen in music streaming, but it’s still very impressive for two formats that are decades old.” Great news, but what does this actually mean for those independent record stores and labels?
Since Koehorst is busy doing what he does: selling records, we sit down with Johan Prenger of the late Hardcore/Punk label Reflections Records (released records by Nihill, No Turning Back, Zeal & Ardor, Herder a.o.) to talk about the vinyl hype and Record Store Day.
Prenger: “I’ve ran Reflections Records for 25 years and we’ve always released vinyl. Of course, in those days we also released CDs, but vinyl was the norm in punk/hardcore and that never changed. We’d sign a local, unknown band like Reaching Forward, press 1000 LP’s and easily sell them at shows, but also through mailorder. Back in the days we used to go to a lot of shows with boxes of vinyl to sell. It was easier then, venues were happy to have you, there was no such thing as paying commission to have a merch stand at a show or festival. And, not to sound like an old man, but buying a record used to be a big deal. There was no bol.com or Spotify, you’d hear about a band, go to the record store to buy their record, go home and play it over and over. When illegal downloading began it wasn’t even such a big deal for us, but when people were able to buy any record at big online stores and have it shipped to their front doors the next morning it became harder to survive as an independent label.”
This is the story we all know: with the internet came the big online stores, offering everything you need or want for competitive prices and shipped within 24 hours. Add streaming services to the mix, like Spotify and Deezer, and you have an almost unbeatable competitor when you’re selling records from a store or as an independent label. It’s also the very reason Record Store Day was ‘invented’. “Record Store Day was conceived in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners and employees as a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1400 independently owned record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally.” (recordstoreday.com).
For any music lover this is obviously an idea to support and with all the good news about vinyl sales ging up you’d think it would be a great time for labels releasing vinyl. So why is a quality label like Reflection Records no more?
Prenger: “The production of vinyl is very expensive, so you really have to sell a certain amount to make any release worthwhile. With people streaming their music or buying records online at major stores it’s hard to make those numbers. Personally, having to use these sort of terms like ‘making numbers’ was not what I wanted to do. Music is a passion, I never wanted it to feel like a commercial business. I also don’t think the hype around vinyl is that real to be honest. Sales are going up for sure, but that’s coming from a low point and I don’t think young people are actually buying that much vinyl, the kids are on YouTube right? If you look at the Record Store Day releases you see so much old stuff: The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Queen, which are the records I think most people who are just getting into vinyl start their collection with, the icons. It’s difficult to get people to spend their hard earned cash on an unknown band when these classic records are the competition. To be completely honest, I don’t play that much vinyl anymore. I like listening to records on a Sunday, but I too put my Spotify playlists on shuffle when I’m painting.”
This all seems a bit more gloomy than we hoped. But don’t worry, it’s not all bad and like Bob Dylan said: “The times they are a-changing” and that’s fine. “I don’t want to sound like a complaining old man”, Prenger says laughing, “I get it and Record Store Day is still a very good thing for those independent Record Stores. And at Roadburn festival especially bands and labels are still selling records to a very dedicated crowd. We worked with Herder when they played Roadburn and we’d sell about 200 LPs just at the festival. That’s great. I think a commissioned piece like Molasses this year can easily sell 1000 LP’s and most of them will be sold at Roadburn.”
So, there you have it. In a warped music industry, where the internet allows us to stay at home and stream almost every album ever released for almost free, Roadburners are still dedicated vinyl buyers and we witnessed a packed Sounds Tilburg with a queue at the register this Record Store Day. It really was a good day.