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Rescuing record store day
IT'S that time of the year again when the ailing music industry finds a lifeline and tries to get fans to buy music instead of illegally downloading it. No, it's not One-Direction-Free-Kisses-Day this weekend but Record Store Day (RSD) instead.
Established in 2007 in America and now celebrated every third Saturday of April worldwide, the independent movement has grown into a global phenomenon and is now one of the most important dates in the music calendar for industry players, musicians and fans alike.
Vinyl collectors' haven
The concept is half marketing genius and half collector's dream that rides largely on the vinyl revival: press limited-edition titles on wax (and a handful on CD), sell them exclusively at indie record stores, and music-buyers will be lured back into these shops for a change instead of just merely shopping online (or worse, file-sharing through bittorrents).
RSD has become so successful that the major labels have also jumped on the bandwagon in recent years; now it is also celebrated twice a year, with a smaller-scale one coinciding with the Black Friday sales period in late November.
The first local retailer to mark the date here was Vinylicious Records at Parklane Shopping Mall on Selegie Road back in 2013. The first year, a long queue formed outside the shop hours before it opened for business as fans waited eagerly to get their hands on RSD collectibles that were on sale in Singapore for the first time ever. That scene was repeated last year when Vinylicious upped the number of exclusive titles it imported for sale - from 101 in 2013 to more than 200 in 2014. Local band Monster Cat, which was launching its debut album, The Violet Hour, also played an in-store gig to keep customers entertained.
Fans looking for more of the same on Saturday might be slightly disappointed though, warns Vinylicious owner Eugene Ow Yong. He notes RSD has become a victim of its own success and there will be only about 80 titles - out of about 250 which he actually placed an order for - on sale this year because of the severe vinyl shortage that has plagued the industry of late as the format resurgence continues to gather speed.
To make things worse, new record shops have also been mushrooming but the number of pressing plants remains almost the same. So there simply isn't enough vinyl to go around.
"In Jakarta, for example, five stores opened in the last six months. And even more have sprung up in the US, UK and Europe," says Mr Ow Yong.
Because of this, the allocation of stocks has been spread thin as the major markets - the US, followed by the UK and Europe, then Japan - get the bulk of the choicest cuts, with leftovers (if any) making it to other retailers outside those territories.
Case in point: Vinylicious did not receive a single copy of the Whiplash vinyl soundtrack, of which Mr Ow Yong ordered 20 pieces because he was expecting it to perform well.
Likewise, demand will most likely outstrip supply for The White Stripes' Get Behind Me Satan - available on vinyl for the first time to mark the record's 10th anniversary. "I placed an order for 40 but only 10 arrived. I was expecting that to be this RSD's best-seller," Mr Ow Yong laments.
It's no surprise some retailers are sitting out completely - like Retrophonic Records, who went all out last year with its own weekend-long Phonographic Day event that featured a pop-up store selling exclusive RSD releases and a rock photography exhibition. Its owner, however, declined to comment why he has decided not to re-stage the celebrations this year.
New kid on the block Curated Records in Tiong Bahru, which opened late last year will also be sitting out because owner Tremon Lim feels Vinylicious has already been "doing a great job for the past few years".
But, muted or otherwise, Mr Ow Yong says there are still collectibles to look forward to, especially for the nostalgic baby-boomer music fan.
For instance, there will be a seven-inch picture vinyl of Norwegian pop trio a-ha's debut hit Take on Me, reissued to mark the song's 30th anniversary. And metal-heads can look forward to a faithful vintage reproduction of Metallica's 1982 demo tape No Life 'Till Leather on cassette, another long-lost format that has been staging a quiet comeback of late.
To make up for this year's shortfall of exclusive RSD titles, Mr Ow Yong will run a sale to make the trip down to Vinylicious worthwhile: a store- wide discount of 40 per cent off used titles, and 10 per cent off new ones.
A stone's throw away on Bencoolen Street, Hear Records at Burlington Square will be offering the same deal for its new titles; as will Curated, which will also throw in an additional free "mystery record" for every S$120 spent. Mr Lim says each wrapped-up album will be labelled with a short description to give customers a hint of what's within so they can pick something that will appeal to them most.
"Other than a tinge of surprise, the purpose of doing this is to let our customers open up to more music, which has always been Curated's motto," he explains.
A Singapore affair
This year will also mark the first time Hear will be observing the date with its own line-up of in-store events.
Owner Nick Tan has previously resisted taking part because he feels RSD has slowly become over-commercialised and there is too much attention only on the limited editions being released. He had a change of heart after seeing that he could do his part as a record store owner to promote local music. Hence, the main attraction at Hear on Saturday will be two local bands it will be hosting.
Synth-pop soul group Riot !n Magenta will be playing a mini set to mark the recent release of their highly acclaimed Voices EP; while instrumental post-rock combo I Am David Sparkle will launch their debut EP Apocalypse of Your Heart on clear vinyl - a Singapore-exclusive RSD release limited to just 100 copies - to mark the recording's 10th anniversary and treat fans to a preview of their forthcoming album Art is Blood.
Mr Lim lauds the effort: "It's good to see other record shops doing something else to celebrate this day . . . I believe every store can celebrate RSD in its own way, be it in an event or album launch or listening party; I feel that's the purpose of it. Whether or not we carry the RSD titles doesn't really matter."
Like I Am David Sparkle, folk pop outfit Hanging Up The Moon will also be observing RSD by specially launching its new album Immaterial on vinyl this Saturday at Hear, Curated and Vinylicious, ahead of the global and CD release next month.
"We've always liked the vinyl format because it's got a warmth that suits our music. So we thought: why not put it out on Record Store Day?" shares its founder-frontman and principal songwriter Sean Lam.
The Singapore office of major label Universal Music, which started participating last year will also be releasing about 20 titles this year: a mix of singles and reissued albums from the back catalogues of an eclectic roster of acts ranging from Frank Sinatra to Herbie Hancock and The Sex Pistols.
"A lot of thought has been put into selecting what to release, and the fans' response has been overwhelming so far - which is why every year you see more and more labels and artists participating," notes Lim Teck Kheng, marketing director of Universal Music Group (Singapore/Malay- sia), "It will continue to get bigger over the years."
But he stresses the movement's objective of bringing people to the stores and keeping the record shop culture alive in the digital age must not be forgotten during the buying frenzy. "The habit must continue, and if every weekend after that can be RSD, that would be the best," says Mr Lim. "You could say the original intention of RSD is like SG50: it's great but hopefully it doesn't stop there, and there will be SG51, SG52 and so on."