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The Vinyl Revival was jumpstarted in 2008 by the nascent Record Store Day; now a new book recounts how it happened, despite the odds.
By Clive Young ⋅
New York, NY (April 11, 2022)—It’s not the best-sounding music format or the most convenient, and it certainly isn’t the cheapest—so it’s no surprise that vinyl was left for dead by the music industry in Nineties. A funny thing happened on the way to oblivion, however: Records had a tiny, infinitesimal resurgence in 2008 and then never looked back. Fast-forward to today, and U.S. vinyl sales are exploding; according to the RIAA, in 2021, they hit $1 billion in sales for the first time since 1986. This year will be even bigger.
There are lots of theories about how and why this resurrection is happening, but every answer eventually leads back to Record Store Day, the annual worldwide event designed to get music lovers back into independent record shops to buy ultra-limited edition records. Simply put, the Vinyl Revival would never have happened without the goofy celebration, which began not-so-coincidentally in 2008. Now the against-the-odds tale of a moderately misfit gang of indie retailers and their industry-changing event has been captured for posterity in Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century (Rare Bird Press), penned by regular Pro Sound News/Mix contributor Larry Jaffee.
“Until I started researching, I was under the impression that the book was essentially going to be about the limited-edition records,” says Jaffee, “but the more I talked to the people who created the day, the more I realized it was really about record store culture. I think it’s telling that even throughout the CD era, we never stopped calling them record stores.”
During vinyl’s bleakest days in the mid-2000s—a time that was dark in every corner of the post-Napster, pre-streaming music industry—record stores were shuttering at an alarming rate. Industry marketers Michael Kurtz and Carrie Colliton knew something had to be done, and fervidly pitched the idea of a national, day-long celebration of music shops. Their audience, however, was a handful of hungover retailers on a Sunday morning at a convention in Baltimore. Today, with memories fogged by the ensuing years, not to mention the previous night’s festivities, virtually none of the retailers interviewed are sure they were there—but they think they might’ve been. Kurtz, affable throughout the book, takes it in stride, sharing, “My favorite version of who invented Record Store Day came from Twist & Shout’s Paul Epstein [who told a Denver magazine], ‘Michael and I came up with the idea while smoking pot in a hotel room.’”
Warner Brothers and a few indie labels got on board for the first Day in 2008, creating 17 special releases sold at 300 participating record stores, and the event took off. Despite facing the occasional adversity—most notably the pandemic, which forced Kurtz and Co. to radically reinvent the event for Covid times by splitting it into three separate, less intense “drops”—the event continues to grow. This year, as Record Store Day returns to a one-day format, 400-plus titles will be sold at more than 1,200 participating shops in the U.S. alone. The book will already be out when Record Store Day takes place on April 23, but naturally the Day will get its own special edition, limited to 1,100 copies that are packaged with a unique album of in-store performances by Paul McCartney, Billie Eilish, Metallica, Pearl Jam and others. For those who want to make their copy even more rare, Jaffee will be signing books that day at Looney Tunes Records in West Babylon, NY.
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