Saturday, 22 April will see the celebration of the 10th international Record Store Day. This was established to highlight the cultural and economic importance of record stores in an era of online shopping, file sharing and downloads. In Australia, more than 180 independent record stores will mark the event with live music, DJ performances and other in-store activities, as well as fundraising for various charities. We all know independent record stores are important in our communities as small businesses, generating economic activity and providing jobs, but the importance of independent record stores extends well beyond economics. It goes to our culture, our lived experience and the way we understand and engage with the world. That is because, in the words of the late, great Chuck Berry:
Music is an important part of our culture and record stores play a vital part in keeping the power of music alive.
We have all spent time in record stores, maybe looking for something specific or maybe just thumbing through the racks, killing time. In 2017, you can download or stream the latest song by your favourite artist without leaving your lounge chair. But you do not get the experience of seeking it out in a record store, thereby opening yourself to a world of music you might never have heard. You do not hear that song on a full album with a collection of tracks chosen by the performer to be heard in a particular order. You do not get to feel the CD or record in your hands, read the liner notes, or admire the pictures and artwork. Grinderman, a side project of Australian singer Nick Cave, put this concept this way:
Do yourself a tremendous favour and go to a record store today. The relatively mild exertion of getting off your fat, computer-shackled [backside] and venturing out to find the object of your desire, the thrill of moving through actual space and time, through row upon row of records, and the tactile ecstasy of fondling the quested treasure—all this will augment and enrich the mental associations the music invokes in you for the rest of your life.
The record store subculture is perfectly described in Nick Hornby’s awesome novel and subsequent film High Fidelity. Record stores bring people together. Back in the late 1970s, two young men were browsing in a record store in the US state of Georgia and stopped to chat: Michael Stipe and budding guitarist Peter Buck, who became friends and went on to form R.E.M.
Independent record music stores are critical to the music industry and to our communities. You will not find many recordings of local emerging bands in the big chain stores in your city, but you will find them in independent record stores. I am proud to be an ambassador for Record Store Day on 22 April.
As Tom Waits said of music stores:
Folks who work here are professors. Don’t replace all the knowers with guessors. Keep’em open. They’re the ears of the town.