Later next month, we will once again be flocking to our local record shops to browse and hopefully discover some limited edition vinyl releases hidden deep within the bulge. Record Store Day has grown from a modest gimmick that supported the independent music vendors of the world, to a full-blown international sensation, which this year seems to have been fully embraced by the major labels. While the occasion still remains filled with the usual low-key and obscure releases, major names such as Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen have found themselves getting in on the act. Even Aqua's 1997 bubblegum-pop classic 'Barbie Girl' is seeing itself getting a rerelease. But is this more than just big labels taking advantage of a movement or are we seeing a trend beginning to develop toward exclusive and limited-edition releases?
As we already know, exclusivity is already alive and well amongst the highly-competitive world of music streaming services. Until recently, Prince's back catalogue was only available on Tidal and the Jay-Z supported site also attempted to keep Kanye West's latest release 'The Life Of Pablo' all to themselves before eventually giving it a full release some weeks later. Yet besides whether you personally thought it was worth signing up to a whole streaming service just to hear a few tracks, the model of the idea proved itself to not only work but be highly successful. The week 'The Life Of Pablo' was released saw Tidal generate hundreds-of-thousands of new subscribers, ushering in a new idea about how artists could preserve their assets in world of torrenting and illegal downloads.
And just like streaming services, vinyl isn't so easy to copy while keeping the musical quality intact. Making both formats an ideal choice when it comes to releasing exclusive content. But as we know, vinyl sales are on the rise in quite spectacular fashion. In 2016, the number of vinyl records bought in the UK was as high as it was in the mid 90s, before CDs began to fully immerse themselves in the market. But while this bodes extremely well for the labels behind those releases, most new artists are finding themselves priced out of the movement. Not only from the cost of producing vinyl records, but also the fact that this resurgence seems to be largely focused on the true classic releases. Look at the vinyl chart at any given time and you'll find 'Sgt. Peppers', 'Rumours' and 'Dark Side Of The Moon' nestled in their somewhere (I actually guessed those names and then checked. They are in fact in there!) So Record Store Day not only provides an excellent platform for newer artists to be discovered side-by-side with the big boys, it also gives them a chance to push out some real gems when it comes to aesthetics.
But let's get on to the main selling point of Record Store Day (and the point of this feature), and that is the idea of exclusivity. There are approximately 500 releases coming out on Record Store Day this year, each limited to roughly 500 copies of each. And while those numbers seem very pleasing to the perfectionist in you, they also conjure up the desire to want. If you found out that your favourite new artist was releasing a new album, but it was only on vinyl and there were only 500 of them, how hard would you try to own it? I'd say quite a lot given the amount of effort it currently takes to hear your favourite song. A quick internet search and you are there. But this brings out the initial love of music that we all have. Not only the quest to find it, but also the happiness we feel knowing that we have it. And while exclusivity by its very nature will exclude many that try and purchase something, it has a very real place in today's music market.
Now to dispel any doubts to those that think that I'm heading down a puritan road, I'm not suggesting all music become exclusive. We don't want to end up in a world where we need to sign up to dozens of streaming services just to hear want is available. But if the music industry continues to lose money, and people stop actually buying the music that is for sale, we are just going to end up with a world of sure-fire bets. Asinine and benign artists who make nothing but boring and easy-to-predict music that eliminates the need for any financial risk. So the least we can do is get involved in things like Record Store Day, because not only to they help benefit the small town record shops of the world, but helps to breathe new ideas into an industry that needs its confidence back.