Simmer down, music lovers… gimme the mic.
I’m filing my report on a day well spent in Atlanta, GA, tracking down cool tunes and generally enjoying the company of other music lovers all out to celebrate Record Store Day 2014 on Saturday, April 19th.
Yes, it’s a “holiday” designed to sell records, but what better agreement can we have than that the local music shop is worth fighting for?
Record Store Day is a worldwide event honoring the independent music store, reminding us where we can find new music and debate the fine points of why we love the music we do with other fans. This quality time together reignites record store culture, which has become a bit disjointed and digitized in the age of iTunes.
For apartment dwellers, there’s an issue with vinyl or any music in physical, not digital, form. Where do you keep it all with limited storage space? It’s a challenge to be considered for the fervent fan. Vinyl records, especially, need to be stored in careful conditions if they are going to stand the test of time.
But the sound! That special sound has, in fact, stood the test, and for a new generation of record lovers, is making music seem amazing again. Whether you’re a Millennial or a Boomer or somewhere musically in between, there’s mind-blowing stuff to be discovered in a record shop near you.
Retro format: Vinyl records
The vinyl record album has made a comeback in recent years, giving analog sound new exposure.
It’s a messy format, but its aficionados love it for precisely that reason. The sound of a record pops and crackles as it plays, and you have to turn the disc over to hear the rest of the album (that’s where “sides” came from, after all.) But the larger size of the record also makes album art come alive. Many fans say their love for the record album is deeper than any other music format: it’s collectible, never disposable.
The analog playback of a vinyl album uses a completely different technology than the compact disc. For one thing, it’s not computerized. The stylus on a turntable reads the sound as actual wavelengths, no digital decoding necessary. Lovers of this sound describe it as more lifelike and less sterile than the digital playback of the CD or MP3 file. You really have to experience it to understand the distinction: vinyl sounds real in a completely different way than a CD.
On Record Store Day, there is a focus on the vinyl album, although not exclusively. Special RSD products are made available in limited quantities nationwide, including rare material pressed exclusively to celebrate the day.
I listened to records growing up, but made the transition to CD along with most everybody else by the ‘90s. If anything can be sentimental, it’s sound, however, and I still heart vinyl.
Touring the city, in search of sound art…
My friend Ken and I – always on the lookout for cool music — joined the crowds and made the rounds to as many Atlanta-area shops as we could. Check out our Record Store Day city-wide trip!
Atlanta is a great music city, with thriving music shops to boot, though they are not as numerous as in the past. In diverse neighborhoods, fans support these shops, many driving across town to visit their favorites. This was obvious on Record Store Day.
Near downtown Decatur, GA, namesake Decatur CD offered vinyl and, of course, CD music to a packed house, along with free beer. Store owner Warren Hudson gave his take on the success of the day for his shop: “Record Store Day is our best single sales day all year, and has been for the past two years.”
In nearby Avondale Estates, connoisseurs were snapping up musical material at brand-new Sunbrimmer Records, where the proprietor, Mike Tyson (no, the other one), is jump-starting the store’s business by selling his own formidable vinyl collection.
In the hip neighborhood of Little Five Points, Criminal Records featured live music from bands inside, while the excitement spilled outside onto the sidewalk where other vendors were set up. Even on a rainy day, there were lots of people with record-sized paper bags roaming the sidewalks between Criminal, Wax-n-Facts and Moods Music, all an easy distance from each other.
Our last stop of the day was Fantasyland Records in the Buckhead neighborhood. The shop has a large collection of used CDs and vinyl records in all genres of music, well-organized and easy to thumb through. (That’s me in Fantasyland in the pic at the top.)
Our haul for the day?
I picked up a boxed set of six Richard Pryor albums I had been eyeing, as well as the recent reissue of Lucinda Williams’ 1988 self-titled singer-songwriter classic. Ken invested in discs of the comedian Bill Hicks, Sly and the Family Stone’s performance at Woodstock, and the documentary film, “A Great Day in Harlem,” about a famous photograph taken in 1958 of 57 jazz musicians. If I may say so, we did well!
It was great to see so many out at once looking for art. Record Store Day seems to succeed as a motivator to get people back into independent music stores. While there’s nothing wrong with a digital music marketplace, the brick and mortar shop remains, I feel, the best place to pick up recordings. Alongside live shows, these are the spots where folks acknowledge and share just how meaningful and life-giving music is.