What Goes Into Making a Record Store Day Release ‘Official’?
After performing on classical and punk rock records and collecting many more, Chris Brown settled into a career at Bull Moose, an eleven-store music, movie, video game, and book store chain based in Portland, Maine. He proposed Record Store Day in 2007 and is disappointed when he sees records sold as fashion accessories.
If there is such a thing as an "Unofficial Record Store Day" release, I am Unofficial President. Record Store Day inclusion is like being pregnant ... you are or you aren’t. The cat is alive or it is dead. Metaphors are mixed or they are not.
There are Record Store Day titles and there are April 18 releases. Those other releases may be worth your time, but they are not special enough to be Record Store Day titles. The “unofficial” moniker is meaningless because so-called unofficial titles have nothing to do with RSD.
A small group of stores advise labels to make sure RSD titles are, generally, better and more collectable than other releases; they are exclusive to indie record stores to thank our regular customers for shopping locally year round. And yes, we hope they bring in some new customers, too, because none of these releases would exist without loyal local record store shoppers.
The “unofficial” misnomer disrespects the amazing releases that could only happen on Record Store Day. I refer to the U2 12" with new songs, the Foo Fighters covers album, live EPs recorded at record stores, Jaco Pastorius’ early recordings, the Buck Owens coloring book, all sorts of insanity from the Flaming Lips, The Grey Album (just kidding, but that seriously needs to happen), resurrected psych and classic hip-hop gems, Heatmiser cassettes -- not to mention the releases that made you drool and the incredible titles that will be announced tomorrow (March 10).
We want you to know about the experimental titles, too. RSD is a chance for record labels to innovate and the successes can have a permanent effect. Ready to Die by the Notorious B.I.G. helped the industry realize that classic hip-hop would sell well on vinyl. The current soundtrack craze began with the RSD issues of Pretty in Pink, Reservoir Dogs and Dazed & Confused.
There has been a lot of speculation about how titles make the RSD list. Here’s how it works in the U.S.: Record labels give RSD a list of titles they are considering releasing. RSD collects comments and suggestions from a group of small and large stores from around the country.
(I don’t know if the other stores wish to be identified, so I’ll just say that I’m the least knowledgeable person in the group.}
We have always wanted unique releases, and our ideas about what makes something stand out has evolved. For example, Ryan Adams’ ongoing inexpensive 7" series means a label better have a very good reason for releasing a 7" for $12-$15. Sundazed earned that right with rare music and excellent mastering and pressing. A mid-tier rock artist’s 7" on black vinyl containing two currently available songs no longer excites people, so we always ask if they can find an unreleased track for the B-side.
Price is a concern as well. Sometimes we think box sets are too expensive so we request that they be simplified to bring the cost down. We usually find middle ground, but there was one cassette this year that everyone felt was far too expensive. It will be released on a different day so those who want it will be able to get it. We don’t like to actually veto titles.
Demand for colored vinyl has changed, too. It used to be a big RSD draw. Now that "every day is Record Store Day" and we have a pile of exclusive or nearly exclusive colored vinyl every Tuesday, it's a little less special.
The actual music has to be unique, too.
We also watch for overkill. One label wanted to release five 7"s by the same obscure but fondly-remembered '80s artist. We asked them to release one for RSD and save the rest for later.
Items an artist couldn’t sell on their website two years ago don’t interest us much, either.
Quantities are really hard to get right, so we carefully consider the pressing amounts. The analytics we use all year don’t apply to RSD. Long vinyl production times means that it is often too late to press more when we realize fan excitement is greater than predicted. Labels tend to aim low because the cost of unsold records is devastating. One expensive 2014 item was under-pressed because a similar release from the same label undersold in 2013.
So, in the end, if a non-RSD title appeals to you and your favorite store stocks it, please buy it. We only want you to be happy. Just keep in mind that a so-called "unofficial" title is no different than a record you could buy any day. If you are in doubt, get a RSD title instead -- a lot of work goes into making them "official."