Happy Record Store Day, For What It's Worth

(Hey, before reading this, check out this excellent post on the same subject from my HuffPo colleague, dear friend and former co-owner of NYCD, Sal Nunziato.)

In case you haven't heard, tomorrow has been designated Record Store Day by ... well, I'm not quite sure who, exactly. But a whole lot of indie stores around the country are participating by, um ... I'm not sure about that, either. I don't even know if the stores themselves know what they'll be doing on Saturday, apart from possibly selling a few more LPs and CDs than on a normal post-millennial Saturday in this disastrous decade for music retail. Not to mention celebrating their very survival.

Ten years ago, every music retailer (including Sal and I, who owned NYCD) celebrated Record Store Day once a week. Back then it was called Tuesday, which was the day the new releases came out. Every Tuesday, we could count on our regulars coming in to pick up that week's hot new CDs. Come to think of it, Saturday was Record Store Day too - any store worth a damn could count on being mobbed from opening to closing, barring Biblical weather. And Thanksgiving to Christmas was pretty much Record Store Month.

It all seems so quaint now, that long-gone time when CD burners were almost unheard of, file sharing barely more than a rumor, and people other than antiquated geeks regularly went to stores to buy music. Sal and I thought we were so lucky when we got to listen to new CDs the weekend before street date. Today, "street date" means whenever the first blogger has posted a new album on his or her site, or when it's been leaked to a bit torrent site.

Back then, we considered Tower Records and HMV, both of which were within a mile of NYCD, to be the enemy. We were always trying to figure out new ways for our tiny, cramped store to compete with those monolithic chains. None of us would have even entertained the possibility, as we sold another truckload of Alanis Morissette CDs, that by 2006 all three stores would be gone.

I know, I know. I'm an old fart. The people have spoken and I should get with the program, stop mourning my lost music retail youth and start downloading. Honestly, I'm happy for people who live out in the sticks and whose local music retailer is a Wal-Mart that's 50 miles away, because they now have access to just as much music as any urban hipster. I agree that it's cool to be able to go to Amazon and find out what people in Detroit and Toronto and Romania think about a CD I'm interested in buying without having to get up from my computer.

But I miss talking about music face-to-face with the regulars from the neighborhood who used to come into NYCD every week. And while it's nice that iTunes recommends music that some algorithm thinks I'll enjoy, I miss having flesh-and-blood record store clerks tell me the same thing. The Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away.

Technology alone isn't to blame for record stores going the way of black-and-white TVs. You can, and should, also blame the major record labels for raising the list price of CDs to damn near $20 and cutting out singles just as Napster became a force to be reckoned with. Blame the artists they signed for putting out albums with a couple of good songs and a bunch of filler. Hell, blame obnoxious indie record store clerks for intimidating customers who just wanted to buy a Ricky Martin CD without being mocked. I'm sure that if we could all go back and do it over, we'd correct a lot of the mistakes we made in the late '90s.

But we can't. And whatever Record Store Day is supposed to signify, for me it just means that the idea of a physical, three-dimensional place to go to buy music, and interact with other people who also give a damn about it, is so hopelessly outdated that we actually have to set aside one day a year to pay homage to the past before sitting back down at the computer to go "shopping." And that's sad.