Record Store Day was conceived in 2007 as a way to celebrate the culture of independent record stores with special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products made exclusively for the day.
Serious collectors were drawn to that aspect of it, but as the years went by Record Store Day also became a time for regular music lovers.
"It's kind of a mix between the two," Ben Frith, who runs Mount Pleasant's Neptoon Records with his dad, Rob, tells the Straight by phone. "When we have Record Store Day, there's obviously a large amount of our regular customers there—and some of those people range from hardcore collectors to just big music fans—but we're also seeing a lot of people that you don't see any other day of the year.
"We've gained a lot of business on Record Store Day from people who traditionally only pick up stuff from Amazon."
Frith claims that there's "not a lot of downsides" to Record Store Day, which actually happens twice this year, on June 12 and July 17. The 33-year-old certainly sounds psyched about the aural joys headed his way during the next couple of months. Although he admits that it's a bummer that COVID-19 has nixed Neptoon's normal hosting of live bands, he's pretty thrilled about some of the special vinyl that's about to be available at his place of work.
"Let me scroll through...," he says, scanning the RSD website for prime picks. "There's a Devo release, and any time there's a Devo release I'm pretty happy. There's some stuff coming from Modern Harmonic, which is a subsidiary of Sundazed, and they're doing, like, a Link Wray release. They're also doing one for a band called Fashion that looks really cool. There's a Frankie and the Witch Fingers reissue, Groundhogs reissue—that's always exciting. Let's see what else is in this batch here...
"In terms of titles I think people are gonna be really excited for this time, there's the Rage Against the Machine live record; that's gonna be a massive one. And there's a Jefferson Airplane B-sides and rarities. There's an Elton John record coming out that's actually never come out before; there's an unreleased record from [Prince's old band] the Time that's gonna be pretty exciting, I think. Another big one this time is gonna be the Linkin Park release. There's two live Police records coming out.
"Oh, Replacements!," he adds, perking up. "It's Pleased to Meet Me outtakes and alternative takes and things. That's gonna be cool. And they're doing the Stillwater record, like the band from [the movie] Almost Famous, so that's kinda neat. And next time around, in July, they're doing a CSNY's Deja Vu alternate takes, so for me that's one of the coolest releases they're gonna have, period."
Frith says the mighty sweet guitar sounds that are audible while he chats are from Afrique Victime, a new record by Mdou Moctar. "You'd like him," the rockin' proprietor says. "He's a really cool guitarist from Africa. Heavy guitar players are very big fans of this guy."
A call to Grant McDonagh at Zulu Records reveals super-cool sounds in the background of his Kitsilano store as well. The 58-year-old shop owner is spinning the latest Black Keys vinyl, Delta Kream, a celebration of Mississippi hill-country blues. "It sounds a lot like Savoy Brown meets Steve Miller circa 1972, '71," McDonagh reckons, "which is a pretty good sound."
Besides pushing the exclusive releases connected to Record Store Day, McDonagh plans to hold a sale throughout the entire store. That tactic has worked in the past.
"In some ways, we do better on our regular stock than we do the Record Store Day stuff," he points out. "The Record Store Day stuff is very specific, and there's sometimes two or three that seem to be the hot commodity that us and other stores have trouble getting. The other side of the coin is people come in and they just want to support us, which we really appreciate. They just want to flip through and find things, and the selection's really good right now."
An abundance of stock notwithstanding, McDonagh admits that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in some "terrible" times for Zulu, financially. But although it's been a struggle to survive for some local outlets, he still believes there's a sense of community between them.
"I'm always sending people to other stores," he says, "and I know they're sending folks to us. A person will tell me what they're lookin' for, and sometimes I'll recommend a place—it could be Neptoon, it could be Beat Street, it could be Vinyl, it could be Noize To Go. There's about a dozen record stores in the city; there's actually more than that. People come in here sometimes and they go, 'Oh, man, you must be the last record store,' and it's like, 'No, there's lots of us.'
"But on the West Side," he adds, "we are the last record store."
McDonagh rings up a customer's purchase, which includes a vinyl reissue of Led Zeppelin III and used LPs by Nat King Cole and Robert Palmer. In the background, that new Black Keys album is still wailin' away, leading one to wonder how cool it is to be the boss and play whatever you want.
"That's why I could do this for a hundred years!" he says. "I'll never get tired of that. I mean, you get to play music all day! It's truly one of the best parts of the job."