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Record Store Day, the Resurgence of Vinyl, and How a Small, Independent Record Store is Surviving a Pandemic
Record Store Day is, like many beloved pastimes of music lovers, experiencing a weird year.
Usually, the country-spanning celebration of independent music shops is held on a given day each spring.
The world did not have a usual spring.
So this year, Record Store Day is technically Record Store Days, unfolding over three monthly installments: August 29, September 26, and October 24.
Mark Logan, longtime owner of Encore Records in Kitchener, Ontario, says Record Store Day will have special resonance in 2020 — the year we suddenly couldn’t go to record stores.
Logan stocked more than 150 new titles for last year’s Record Store Day, and experienced the communal appreciation for record stores that persevere in difficult times.
Now in its 12th year, Record Store Day has become a boon for artists and labels as well, with albums slated for exclusive release on the occasion. Rumored releases for 2020 include new or re-released music from U2, Lucinda Williams, The Who, Paul McCartney, Prince, Pink Floyd, Eminem, Johnny Cash and more.
Logan is optimistic that he and his fellow record sellers across North America will experience a Record Store Day that rekindles the connection between music lovers and the tangible output of their favorite artists. And it’s a time for people to emerge, safely and responsibly, to enjoy tangible experiences like seeking out a favorite record.
Rock Cellar spoke with Logan to chat about Record Store Day, the resurgence of vinyl, and how a small, independent record store has survived a pandemic.
Rock Cellar: What did Record Store Day look like when it first began?
Mark Logan: Record Store Day, it wasn’t all that different, just very much a smaller scale. And it seemed to me to focus more on independent labels than major labels, so indie labels would give us some exclusives for that day. And I don’t remember it being super huge. We would just put everything out in bins, a few dozen items maybe, not much more and there was a lineup, but it wasn’t massive like it is now.
There are so many more people buying vinyl now than 12 years ago. When CDs came out, we didn’t start carrying CDs until ’86, but they were the thing for the longest time and we kind of gave up on selling records, as it was a really small part of what we did. But I remember the first CDs we’d sell were Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms and Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. We just had them in the showcase under the cash register at the front of the store.
And 12 years ago, the vinyl thing was just on the cusp of coming back in a significant way, but it was indie labels who never stopped pressing vinyl. And it was the indie labels who would give us an exclusive version of one of their records for Record Store Day, and the people who cared came in and each year it got slightly bigger.
Rock Cellar: So when did the major labels start participating in Record Store Day?
Mark Logan: About five years in, the major labels noticed because the vinyl resurgence was underway by then, and they saw independent record stores starting to mean something. I mean, we always did mean something, but they never really acknowledged that. So once they saw an indie label selling 500 copies of whatever, I think the major labels realized they could take some old title, throw it on colored vinyl and blow through a run without very much work.
The major labels really started flooding the Record Store Day lists with a lot of not terribly interesting titles, it was mostly “here’s a catalogue item and we put in on red vinyl, and here’s a thousand records for the world and go have at it.”
Rock Cellar: Colored-vinyl wasn’t as common as it is now …
Mark Logan: Yeah, so it was pretty neat for people to get something like Dark Side of the Moon on red vinyl, for example, that wasn’t really one of the releases but something like that, and that got people interested. And then the major labels started really coming at Record Store Day in a big way.
This year, most of the major labels have I’d say easily 50 titles that they’re offering, and they’re really expensive. And 80 percent of them aren’t anything super exclusive, just a different color variant.
Sony’s been doing mono releases of Pink Floyd albums, they didn’t this year, but they did Piper at the Gates of Dawn in mono and then A Saucerful of Secrets, and those were hugely in demand. Both those albums were black vinyl but they recreated the original UK cover design with the flaps. And god bless them they weren’t super expensive, because some of the shit is super expensive.
Rock Cellar: How else has Record Store Day grown over the years?
Mark Logan: Each year there’s more titles coming in, and each year it’s more expensive. And we’re really seeing some interesting titles now, like this year the soundtrack to the movie Dune is huge, there’s a lot of people who want that until they find out it’s 50 bucks and then they’re less interested.
And there’s no guarantee I’ll get a particular title, but we do really well. A lot of titles get allocated, so because we’re in Canada and most of the releases come from outside of Canada, Sony U.S. or Warner U.S., or whoever will get maybe 1,000 copies of a particular title, they’ll distribute 900 of them throughout U.S. record stores, and then send 100 to Canada to be divided up among our independent record stores. And if we have 100 independent record stores in Canada, then each of us would get one copy.
So it’s a challenge, as I’ll order from a couple of different places to try and get more stock. There was a Tragically Hip seven-inch single for Tired as Fuck that came out, I think it was the year after Gord Downie passed, and there were a thousand for Canada. And I thought, well there’s 100 independent record stores in Canada, so if everybody orders 10 then they’re gone. So I ordered 150 of them thinking I’d get 30 or 50, and we ended up getting the entire amount which was a colossal amount of Tragically Hip seven-inches, but we sold them all.
Rock Cellar: Do your customers have insight into what titles you’ll have available in the days leading up to Record Store Day?
Mark Logan: I put a list up on our website as the stuff comes in, so the week of Record Store Day, our Record Store Day page on our website has a list that will continue to grow until Friday night where we’re not going to see anything else coming in. And people are aware of that, so the last few years I’ve done a walkthrough video where I start at the front and basically walk through the store and tell people where everything is, because if we’ve only got one of something, somebody’s going to want to know and try to pole vault to get to that record.
Last year, I posted that at midnight once I had everything set up and by the morning it had 800 views, so people are aware of it and they’re looking to see what we have. And people are starting to come from out of town to us for Record Store Day.
Rock Cellar: You must have customers who ask you to hold titles for them?
Mark Logan: Record Store Day is really strict about shit, and I can’t hold anything for anybody. I can’t. For example, if I held an Ozzy Osbourne record for you and somebody else found out about it and complained to Record Store Day, then I’m out. I’m not a Record Store Day dealer anymore. It would be as simple as that. So there are no holds.
Record Store Day is not a lucrative day for us financially because we have to spend so much money and try to guess what people want. This year is going to be different, as last year there were 100 people at each door waiting to get in. We opened both the front and back doors of the store and it’s chaos for hours, but then we’re left with a certain amount of product that didn’t sell. Then we open on Sunday so the people who couldn’t make it in on the Saturday come in to see what’s left, and they’re hunting around trying to find a title that they’re hoping is still there.
A few days later we’re allowed to put those titles up on the website and open it up, so that’s what we’ll do with the leftovers. But I’ve got three or four hundred records from over the years that didn’t sell, that I’ve paid for that I can’t return and are just collecting dust. Some of them over the last 12 years will sell eventually, but there are some we’ll never sell.
Rock Cellar: What have been some of the most popular Record Store Day releases?
Mark Logan: The Pearl Jam (MTV) Unplugged record was a big deal, and we managed to get quite a few. They could have pressed 10 times as many and sold them all and I’m a little surprised they haven’t reissued that album that on black vinyl, because that’s fairly common. That was one of the insane ones that everyone needed.
And Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets in mono was pretty insane and we were lucky to get a lot of them. But until the box shows up in the store, I have no idea what I’m going to get. And it’s kind of frustrating in a way because there’s a lot of little record stores popping up that are now part of the pie.
I won’t see the shipment until the Wednesday before because they don’t want people to sell the records. So on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of that week leading up to Record Store Day on the Saturday is when our product arrives.
As I said, they’re pretty strict about everything and the drag is, if you go on eBay the night before Record Store Day, there are people selling virtually every title for a hundred bucks. It doesn’t matter what is, it’s a hundred bucks and people are buying it because wherever they live they either don’t have a record store or they want to be absolutely sure they get it.
And a lot of these people selling these records actually don’t even have the albums in their hands, so they go out on Record Store Day and grab it, wherever they live. And that’s sort of a drag and kind of defeats the purpose of the whole thing. I mean, if I wanted to maximize my profit business-wise, I would just order all the stuff, not open on Record Store Day and throw it all up on the internet for sale.
Rock Cellar: It sounds like Record Store Day is a gamble for you business-wise?
Mark Logan: It makes sense financially because every year I spend way more money than I have and just hope people buy it, and so far it’s gone okay. Last year we had over 150 titles and multiple quantities, so we probably spent about $30,000 on Record Store Day product that I’m hoping people want.
And I ask people to send us lists on Facebook and through email so I can get a sense of what weird things people are interested in, because there’s always oddball things that I probably would order one of or none of, and suddenly 10 people tell me they need this. And then I order maybe five or six because they don’t realize it’s probably going to be $60, and certain people will just bow out at that price point because a lot of the really cool stuff is imported, and at the same time we’re not making a whole lot of money off it.
Rock Cellar: Are most of the new vinyl records you sell classic rock albums?
Mark Logan: Bob Dylan, they’ve released a bunch of his stuff on vinyl, and the Rolling Stones have released a bunch. For the Stones they’re doing a Goat’s Head Soup box coming up, which is going to be really interesting for people. We sell a lot of classic rock on CD and vinyl to old dudes, but the cool thing is, the 20-somethings, that’s all in their wheelhouse as well.
Whether the twentysomethings are influenced by their parents listening to the Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! or I think the one positive with the streaming services is, and probably the only positive with Spotify is the fact that if you’re interested in a group you can listen to it. And I think teenagers and twentysomethings are interested in a vast amount of music, probably more so than any generation before, so they have no trouble listening to death metal, then K-pop, and then Blood on the Tracks. It’s all valid to them.
Rock Cellar: And young people are buying turntables, right?
Mark Logan: They are, and for me the interesting thing is, when somebody gets a turntable, every year post Christmas there’s people with new turntables, and I always joke that we could probably get away with stocking 20 records: Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt. Peppers, the White Album, Beggar’s Banquet, Let it Bleed, Who’s Next, and Rumours — Rumours, Rumours, Rumours.
Everyone is buying the same records, the self-titled Boston album, things that are classic. I’m talking mostly younger people who are getting a turntable and they’re building the core collection which is pretty much those titles I mentioned or some variation of that. They’re buying Highway 61 by Dylan, Blonde on Blonde, Are You Experienced by Hendrix, we sell those records over and over and over again.
Rock Cellar: How about popular Canadian bands like The Tragically Hip? Are people buying those albums on vinyl?
Mark Logan: The Tragically Hip’s Up to Here along with Fully Completely we sell over and over again. Fully Completely is probably the record we’ve sold the most of anything on vinyl.
Then there’s Metallica and AC/DC. We’ve been selling a lot of AC/DC and not just Highway to Hell and Back in Black, as people are buying Flick of the Switch and Fly on the Wall. The first two Ozzy records always sell, but we can’t get them right now. And the first five Black Sabbath records, Warner has been out of them for months, but the first Black Sabbath album, Paranoid, Masters of Reality, Vol. 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, those sell all the time.
The first five Led Zeppelin albums sell really well, and I think Physical Graffiti would sell more but it’s $50. Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road sells a lot because it’s fairly affordable for a double, and we sell Tumbleweed Connection and Honky Chateau, but not so much the others.
All the Beatles’ albums on vinyl sell, and we have all the Iron Maiden and all the Judas Priest records. Maiden sells more than Priest, and weirdly when it comes to Maiden, Powerslave and Somewhere in Time are the ones we sell more of, and Number of the Beast would probably be the third-best seller. But Powerslave, for some reason we sell over and over again lately. It goes in spurts, where there’s something in the air where suddenly everybody decides they need a particular album from decades ago.
With the band Yes, Close to the Edge, along with Fragile we haven’t been able to get in a year, but we sell those, and they did a three-color version of 90125, and those all sold out.
Rock Cellar: What did Encore Records do when you had to close up your store due to COVID-19 back in March?
Mark Logan: We were spending a lot of time working on our website. For the last few years I decided finally to do the E-commerce thing. We had a website that was informational but you couldn’t shop on it, and I decided to give it a go. And because we had to upload every single item manually it took a long time. So we got the vinyl done just at the end of February, and we got the A-Z CDs done, and now we’re working on the metal and fringe stuff. So two thirds of our inventory probably is up when March hits and then we’re closing due to the pandemic.
And that’s when the website took off, as people from all over Canada were, I’m assuming, home and wanting to buy music. And they searched maybe for a specific thing and they found our website and they bought stuff, so suddenly people started buying records and some of it was local people but most of it was people across the country who had never been in the store but had found our website. So I ended up being extremely busy.
The labels all shut for a couple of weeks but because they use a warehouse that isn’t strictly a music warehouse — something in that warehouse was essential — they were allowed to be open still because they shared warehouse space with and essential business and they found that loophole. So suddenly, I could get stock.
That’s when Pearl Jam came out with their new record Gigaton in the midst of all this and nobody had it to sell, but we had it, and we sold a ton of them. I mailed copies of Gigaton all over the country. So in a weird way, we were okay being closed. And I was busier than had we been open, I mean, we made less money because everybody takes their cut in the E-commerce world and we had to buy packaging, but I wasn’t worried about paying rent. And we’ve kept a chunk of those people now that things have opened up again as they like what we have they like our prices.
Rock Cellar: What do think the future holds for independent record stores selling vinyl?
Mark Logan: It depends honestly how long people are going to be intrigued by vinyl. One of the major labels desperately wants to get out of physical product, they are making buckets of money streaming and they don’t want to deal with mailing records anymore. For them it’s a really small part of what they do, so they want out, and if the majors all got out of physical distribution, we would all be very challenged.
And while there are some important independent labels, where Encore Records is located, there’s not enough people to sustain us doing that. We could continue to sell used CDs and used records, but people aren’t selling records very much right now. They’re all looking for records, so there aren’t huge collections coming into the store with people looking to sell anymore, really.
But we’ll see what Record Store Day looks like this year, spread over three dates, because it’s always a crazy day and we were starting to get people coming from out of town, even Toronto, seeking coloured vinyl, alternate versions, and exact replicas of classic albums – even right down to the style of the cardboard cover.
Record Store Day was initially started to support independent record stores and get people shopping in real stores again, while bringing music fans together.
Encore Records, Ltd is located at 301 King St E #206, Kitchener, ON N2G 2L2, Canada
Phone: +1 519-744-1370
Support your local record store.
April 9, 2021
March 30, 2021