Few will argue that digital media is fast, cheap and convenient. Since the rise of the iPod, music lovers have been able to carry an entire audio library in their pockets. We can buy a brand new album the very instant it becomes available, or preview millions of songs from the comfort of our homes. A band’s whole discography can be downloaded in less time than it takes to listen to their first single.
But there’s something missing from the iTunes Store, and this Saturday, you just might find it etched in a black vinyl disc for sale at your local independent record store. It’s called community. Since 2007, an annual celebration known as Record Store Day has united vendors, artists and fans around the globe in support of music, independent culture and buying local.
Participating locations pop and hiss with activity on Record Store Day. Artists mingle with fans, total strangers connect over shared concert experiences and families discover new music they can enjoy together. Promotions vary from store to store, but previous festivities have included free live performances, cook-outs, body painting, parades, autograph sessions and more. It’s a welcoming atmosphere similar to a small-town carnival or a county fair– just with much better music.
“It’s about the experience,” explains Brian Faber, President of Zia Records. In an interview for this article, Faber remarks on the enduring relevance of record stores in the digital age and why Record Store Day proves memorable:
“When you’re just hanging out, looking around, talking to [record store] employees and enjoying the atmosphere of being out in public, you have a stronger emotional connection to what you’re buying. You can’t get that sitting at your computer.
“The support our customers have shown us on Record Store Day [sends] a direct message that has resulted in the music industry renewing their commitment to record stores and creating cool, interesting products that music fans can cherish and hand down to their kids, instead of [being] one more file on their hard drive.”
The support is mutual. In addition to special promotions, record stores give back to their communities with donations to an assortment of charities. At Zia Records, all proceeds of a local artist compilation will benefit music education in public schools. Amoeba Music in Hollywood will be raising money for Doctors Without Borders.
Record Store Day also spreads awareness of the economic impact that large corporations have had on locally-owned businesses. Buying music from your local record store contributes to your community’s economy more directly than when you buy music from Apple or Best Buy. Amazon is a particular offender, skirting sales tax laws and contributing to the budget gap in many states. “It’s important for people to support local businesses,” says Faber. “[Supporting local businesses] keeps tax dollars and jobs in your community.”
Faber explains that Zia Records is a proud member of Local First Arizona, a non-profit coalition of businesses seeking to educate state residents about the importance of buying local. According to the organization’s website, “for every $100 spent in a locally owned business, roughly $42 remains right here in Arizona, while for the same $100 spent in a national chain store, only $13 remains here.”
Record Store Day applies this idea to music retailers and demonstrates how local independent businesses can engage their community in a way that big corporations can’t. It’s proven to be a successful model that could likely help other types of businesses.
“It allows us to give thanks [to the community] for their support,” Faber says. “And remind them that we are here for them and intend to be for a long time to come.”
Record Store Day is this Saturday, April 16, 2011.
Image credit: Record Store Day Press Kit