I want to thank Eric Levin for taking the time to answer some questions that anyone who is a fan of Record Store Day is curious about. Some questions I ask, there is no "perfect" answer for. A lot of things are in flux right now (remember RSD is run by *volunteers*), but the one thing that comes across is the passion behind Eric's answers and wanting to do the best for his customers and for fans of Record Store Day. I think that is really the "heart" of Record Store Day and why it is so successful. It is a time for fans of all ages to come together and share stories about their favorite records, why vinyl sounds better than CDs, talk about what releases they are most excited about and enjoy food/drinks with like-minded fans.
1) In your opinion, do you feel that Record Store Day has gotten too big, with the number of releases? If so, what are you and the other RSD figureheads doing to ensure that this doesn't happen next April?
Eric Levin: "I had personal fear last year that there was going to be a flood of releases for 2011, and I have loudly expressed my opinions at every opportunity. In every meeting, from the largest labels to the smallest, I've urged caution not to harm the golden goose of the vinyl resurgence by over producing. Not even considering RSD, I have concern for the vinyl movement.
That being said, and this is potentially in response to all haters, from a customer who thinks a Lady Gaga 12" is stupid, to a label who thinks their record is somehow more precious than another's, to a fan who just, for whatever reason missed out on getting exactly what they wanted, to our foreign counterparts who complain that they aren't being treated fairly, but have not volunteered one minute of volunteer time to effect a change....well, there are a lot of world-wide opinions and desires to be addressed.
In our limited capacity, however, we're doing as much as we can. There are also lots of different players out there in this game, big stores (like your commenter from Canada mentioned, Sunrise Records, a chain (but an independently owned chain who has contributed man hours and cash to help RSD get off the ground and continue to run), I'm not sure what the anonymous Canadian complainer on your web site has done, but if he made a good record this year, I'd love to know about it and have the opportunity to buy it) to the littlest store that only sells used dubstep records on alternating weekends. Oh yeah, plus the rest of the world. Simultaneously trying to celebrate, please and profit. Remember, RSD is managed by about four to five volunteers..
Complaints and opinions are always great and listened to, but folks have to understand that, well, complaints and opinions are kind of universal. I have some, you have some, everyone
2) As a store owner yourself, how do you balance obtaining RSD product for your store and attempting to make the customer happy?
EL: "Wow, great question. It's hard, it's incredibly hard. Criminal Records is celebrating our twentieth anniversary next month, I say that, because, well to show that I'm down in it. I am taking out loans to purchase extra product for RSD. I've heard many stores say that they have to do the same, and some are complaining about it and some are excited about it. I totally over-ordered last year, trying to be all things to all comers. We ordered stuff we'd never have carried in our store, like Jakob Dylan and Dave Matthews. I wanted any customer to see Criminal Records and go, "Oh, awesome, I get it now, I'm invited to come in here and have fun, even though I like Ke$sha and that dude behind the counter looks like he might like Slayer." (Ultimately, that's the entire point of RSD.)
So, yeah, I ordered too much. I've got a ton of unsold Jakob Dylan and Charlotte Gainsbourg 7's that are in the racks at half-price, I still have product from the first RSD, priced to sell, or priced fairly (no gouging at my store, ever.).
We had our busiest day in twenty years, hot damn, but I had so much left over that I probably didn't profit any. I also released my own record, which was a Rodriguez 7" that included a ticket to get into an after hours show with Rodriguez, who I had personally flown down to Atlanta, put up and took care of. I hired a local pick up band, as his backing group, and I had the best party at my store that I've ever been to! The party was day long with free beer, local businesses bringing us BBQ/pizzas, customers bringing us baked goodies to share, other record dealers and customers setting up a mini-record fair outside, and bands playing all day long. That, in my opinion, is RSD. Throwing a bitchin' party and having fun.
For all this agita, drama, complaining, whining about all this product, it's like, "get over your damn self, whoever you are, and have some fun." That goes out to everyone.
But I digress, how does a record store handle all this purchasing and merchandising? How does a customer handle all of this?
Are these questions different then an average day? New release Tuesday, or a trip to the grocery store?
A store needs to purchase what they can afford, for their customers and hopefully the customers will budget and buy what they want. It seems kind of simple to me.
I'm doing what every other store is doing, paying down my bills with my suppliers, saving cash for COD orders, talking to everyone I can about terms, dating, return--everything I do on a daily business day, except there are around 300 pieces to choose from this year. I do that every day. Which records do we buy? Which comics do we buy? Which toys do we buy? Which magazines will sell?
This is what we call business, and I do sometimes want to say to the complainers, like, what do you do every other day of the year? Who do you bitch at?
As far as our attempts to make the customer happy, I have practices at my own store, I learn practices from other stores. I've learned from the prior three years, and as we'll talk about below, we've created a "pledge" to try and teach best business practices to our fellow record stores. We can't make anyone do anything, every record store is encouraged and entitled to celebrate in their own way on RSD (well, except corporate stores, of course), but the pledge that the "official" stores have signed on to go a long way to teaching best practices and rewarding those that do.
I hate to be all, Criminal Records this, Criminal Records that, because it's a level playing field. The work I do for RSD and for the coalitions includes everybody, yesterday I was lining up in-stores for a CIMS store, an unaffiliated store, my own store, all equal footing. I'm trying to get Ke$ha to stop by AKA in Philadelphia, but I don't know if Ke$ha wants to, and I don't know if AKA wants her to come, but I'm up on the Internet looking at tour dates and trying to make awesome happen. I'm trying to get the Smithereens to stop their tour van somewhere between New York and their next stop in Vermont. I have to find a store that's signed the pledge, is awesome, and wants the Smithereens to stop by and say hey. (Oh yeah, did I mention that this is the whole world now? Did I mention that we're volunteers?)
[EDIT: the below example is what *all* stores participating in RSD should do. It should never be a "free for all" once the door opens.]
So, at Criminal Records, we're there all night before RSD. We're checking in massive amounts of stuff (we ask that all stuff be shipped very late, so that stuff doesn't leak out early.), we're cleaning and merchandising, we're tweaking PA, backline, recording equipment, printing up signs and setting out parking cones and stanchions for crowd control. When the line starts forming around 5am, we start serving coffee and bottled water to the crowd, talking them up about what they're excited about, we're running back and forth trying to answer questions like: "What's on the b-side?", "Do you have the colored version?" and yes, a lot of the early dudes in line are the "collector's scum" that are racing home to eBay to rape folks.
This is when we start learning what we missed out on. "What do you mean there are no Drive by Truckers?" (This being Atlanta, this is a big deal.) Everyone's racing around trying to find out what's what with what's wrong and what's missing. These questions won't be solved until later in the week, or never, as boxes start showing up, "Oh, here are those Drive by Truckers."
To every complaining store that whines about not getting their precious item, well guess what, me too! I help run the fucking thing so shut the fuck up.
We start letting folks in ten at a time, to avoid stampedes. I have four cashiers and runners finding stuff for folks, while extra crew is warming up the PA and setting up the bands and the films we show in between. We have a limit of one item per customer, per item, no exceptions. First guy through grabs a Devo hat off the counter, we have four of them, we've been asked to take pictures of people wearing them and send back to the label and Devo, one of the hundreds of requests we receive for special quid pro quo's, i.e. we'll give you these cool hats if you post a picture. Fair deal, sure.
This dude, collector scum extraordinaire, asks a volunteer (many of our customers hung out all day, just helping where they could, so awesome) and she mistakenly told him he could have it. After he bought like, all his collector's stuff, he was walking out the door with the hat. I kindly explained, "Aw man, that hat is for us to take pictures of on people all day, may I take your pic?" He gave me an unreal rash of shit, like "she said I could have it and the customer is always right." I turned around to the rest of the watching customers who were like, "dude, what a dick" and said "guys, what do you think?"
Everybody just started screaming at the dude to be for real and share and to give me my hat back. What a way to start RSD, and we hadn't even cut the big cake yet.
For the rest of the day, for the most part, it was love, and food, and music...as customers opened up their purchases and asked us to DJ some of the hotness. At Criminal Records, my staff, myself included, aren't allowed to purchase anything until Sunday morning, when we're cleaning up. (I scored a Fela Kuti 10", yes!)
I found out the next day a record store in Atlanta, who chose not to participate in RSD ("Record Store Day is stupid, Eric.") somehow got a hold of some RSD releases and was celebrating by charging his few customers eBay pricing the day of RSD. Wow, right? $20.00 for records that I had at $5.99. I can only shake my head and hope that the customer, I don't know, I hope they had a good time. Or something.
I think, along with the pledge and what the pledge truly says, we're going to go a long way towards teaching record stores how to be better record stores."
3) Record Stores this year had to sign a "pledge" that provided them some rules about being able to participate in RSD. Can you talk about why the pledge was created and how you plan to enforce it, if at all?
EL: Oh, the pledge. Right. I think I just described it, but here it is. http://download.recordstoreday.com/free/2011_RECORD_STORE_DAY_PLEDGE.pdf
STORES WHO WISH TO BE PLACED ON THE PRIORITY ALLOCATION LIST FOR COMMERCIAL RECORD STORE DAY PRODUCT SHOULD DOWNLOAD, SIGN AND RETURN THIS PLEDGE NO LATER THAN JANUARY 15, 2011. (US STORES ONLY)
Below are some things that Record Store Day requests that stores do or don’t do in order to be placed on the list of stores given Priority Allocation of Record Store Day releases. These are all things designed to keep customer and store disappointment at a minimum. Please read through them.
1. Product created for Record Store Day will be sold in physical retail stores.
2. Stores will not sell Record Store Day releases online, nor will orders be taken online for later shipping, prior to that year’s actual Record Store Day.
3. Product remaining after Record Store Day can be put up on a store’s website the day after Record Store Day, but stores will not hold product back from physical customers in order to post it online, nor will set prices online be markedly above in-store prices.
4. If a store uses an auction site (like Ebay or any other site where the seller can not list a firm sale price) to sell overstock Record Store Day pieces, they should wait at least one month from Record Store Day to do so.
5. Because of the limited quantity of some items and the necessity of allocating, stores are asked not to take pre-orders for Record Store Day product. In the past, this has resulted in customers not receiving items they have paid for.
If you would like to be on the list of those stores who have agreed to play by the rules and be given priority on the releases created for Record Store Day, please sign below and return to Record Store Day (See below). (Again, please understand that being on this list does not guarantee that all stores will get every piece they order. Allocations and sellouts will happen, and Record Store Day has no control over that. ) Any store on this list who doesn't follow the requests above will be taken off the list, and will no longer be listed on the Record Store Day website as a participating store.
EL: "Okay, but what kind of teeth does it have? We do our best, we coordinate with the labels, distros and suppliers, that ARE dealing with us and participating "officially" and we ask them to honor the pledge themselves, selling only stuff to pledge stores.
This is the first year for it, and I think it will have some positive results, we'll discover what works and doesn't and continue to tweak.
But there are always participants (artists, labels, distributors, one-stops, stores) that will try and gank the system, take advantage of others' hard work and generally just give a fuck all except for themselves and their bottom line. Those stores? Well, it's up to the customer to reward them with their money or not. "
4) Has there been any talk about staggering Record Store Day or having more than one RSD? And as a follow up, will there be another Black Friday this year?
EL: "Oh wow, so interesting. My reaction to Black Friday and the AIMS stance/vote was "NO!". RSD should be one day a year, let's not ruin the good name. We were out-voted and Black Friday came and went, and you know, it was a great success. Shit, we were wrong. Okay, that can happen. Can you imagine that the labels got dollar signs in their eyes and are trying to make money? Shock.
My goal with RSD is to provide an umbrella organization for Record Stores, nationally and globally. All year long, I want to offer services to indie record stores and I want us to be able to speak as a loud unified voice. To our industry, to our government and to our customers, we want to say, "hey, party over here." (We also want to say lots of other things, like, "Don't make so many shitty expensive records," "Don't whore yourselves out to Target or Wal-Mart," "Don't shit where you eat, i.e. music specialty retailers.") Now that we have an apparatus to speak to a lot of stores, we might be able to, well....help.
For example, every single advertisement you see, in a print magazine, on-line, anywhere, will encourage the music consumer to shop at either Amazon or iTunes (where no tax revenue goes to where you live, btw) and now, we're begging our label partners to consider putting the RSD logo on those ads, too. Seems like a simple idea, right? Let's advertise music the way movie companies do, they don't say, "You must go to AMC theaters," they say "This movie is out, go see it at any theater."
If you take that notion further, it gets pretty exciting."
5) The "Record Store Day" logo/stamp/sticker that is put on releases, lets the consumer know that this item is OFFICIALLY tied to RSD. However, there are many labels that are releasing items on the same day without the logo/stamp/sticker. How do you feel about that and is there any way to try and curb that in the future?
EL: “Yeah, what a pain, right? Like last year, I had this regular customer in the store on RSD, and she had a great stack, but was having to pick and choose for budget reasons. She had the Modest Mouse Moon and Antarctica LP reissue, but she also had some stuff that was definitely not going to be available in the future and I ensured her that I'd have the MM for her and she should buy the rare stuff. She actually decided to go ahead and get the MM, because she wanted to go home and play it. Who am I to argue? I'm there to educate.
This is hard though.
As I've stated, the labels will not listen to our advice and we truly can't blame them for wanting to take advantage of the amazing increase in traffic on that one day. So, yeah, in some ways they're abusing the system, but they're businesses and you know, someone out there might want what they release.
An example from last year that has caused a lot of controversy, which you mentioned, was the Flaming Lips Dark Side of the Moon. For me, I was into it all the way and was bummed out when it came out on iTunes, because I don't use that method and figured I wouldn't get to hear it. So when I heard that there was a vinyl release coming in large quantities with a CD inside at a fair price, I was excited. We ordered and sold a shit - ton. We still have it in stock, and I like showing it and selling it to customers.
Other folks, I guess they're upset, since it was supposed to be limited and made just for RSD.
Multiply that notion times three hundred and you kind of can see the dilemma. We're trying our best? How's that?”
6) Why are labels so hesitant to let you guys announce releases on the website? I find it very odd that releases are already announced on the RSD UK and RSD NL websites and there are no updates on the US website. In addition, you constantly see labels offer press releases of their RSD items before you've announced anything. How can there be better communication between RSD, the labels, the stores and the fans on how items are announced?
EL: “Another huge issue, internally and externally and the never ending question: “What is the list?”
Wow, I can hardly begin to address this question because we're still struggling with it and trying to define it.
We want the RSD "Official" list to be the official list. Like, really solid, no rumors, no innuendo, no mistakes, no missed street dates. We want UPC codes, quantities produced, regional availability, artist availability and whereabouts, pricing and all of this has to collected, organized and programmed on the RSD website.
We also have every single release, every artist, manager, label, mom and dad demanding that their release be the most special and highlighted and shouted about first, before any others.
Every manager wants to release his own press release, so they can gain blog buzz.
Honestly, I kind of like the way the information trickles out, I use Google reader and get information off sites like yours. I get surprised constantly when I hear about a release, because a lot of labels haven't talked to us, either, didn't know they were supposed to talk to us, or they're just handling it on their own, DIY, which is totally cool.
AND, what is what, really? We're making this up as we go along. To the point of you question, should windowed releases be included on the "official" list. Should regional releases, and super limited releases be included, if the majority of folks reading the list can't have access? Take my own Rodriguez 7" that was only available at Criminal Records, day of release, should that have been included on an official list? What about the overseas stuff? (An entirely huge question in and of itself.)
Wow, so many questions. Frankly, I like the slow roll out of titles approach, it's a necessity, sure, but it's fun. It gets people excited, like your blog post listing releases and your commentary; yeah, the commentary bummed me out, but it was totally drowned out by the flood of awesome release news that came out yesterday. Not a dis, I really enjoyed your blog post, and that's why I'm answering these questions, but sometimes, I do realize that, "yeah, RSD has some problems, eBay jerks, some lame releases, the list comes out late," but the vast majority is excited about releases, e.g. ("Awesome, I want that Superchunk split 7"!"). So, I sleep at night, you know?”
7) Why did you start AIMS and how well do you and the CIMS group get along?
EL: “AIMS started because I wanted my own store to be in CIMS, so CIMS helped me start AIMS. It's as simple as that. In some territories, there are AIMS/CIMS stores that do territorial battle, but for the most part, we're all in love with each other, because we all love record stores. It isn't hard to find common ground and get along and do fun business with each other, like creating Record Store Day. Music Monitor Network belongs in that sentence, too.
And when I say CIMS helped me start AIMS, literally, the president at the time, Don Van Cleave, spent five days with me, teaching me everything and helped design and set up everything from our marketing programs to our legal operating document. That's record stores helping record stores.”
7a)How much influence do these groups have with the labels and driving RSD product?
EL: “I think I've answered this, but some labels listen to us and heed our valuable advice, some will do whatever they want, or whatever their bosses tell them to do regardless of logic or sense. Think: music industry.”
7b) Some stores I've talked to, frankly, seem to be scared to vocalize or complain about the fact the owner has to put out a 2nd mortgage on his house just to get the RSD releases, for fear of not being part of the "club"....? Do stores truly have an even/open voice to complain about how things have been decided?
EL: “My email and phone numbers are published and I talk to record stores all day long. They might want to talk to me, I'm scared too (Daily).
But not being part of the "club", that makes no sense at all. Shit, I'd love it if one store offered to volunteer some of their time and energy to help us run this thing, that'd be interesting and welcomed. Everybody has opinions, very few have desire to actually put words into action.”
8) Who determines how/when an item is going to be released? I mean this is like the XXth pressing of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. I know Warner Bros. has been there since day 1 (and provided most of the 10 releases the 1st year), but who fights back or pushes back to the label and ask "do we really need another version of this?" Why don't the labels understand that most fans want *unique* products and not re-hashed versions of existing ones?
EL: “Ha! That's all I do all day long and as I've said, some folks listen, some folks don't.
When WB met with my group, we just laughed and laughed about the Fleetwood Mac, just ripping them apart (in a funny way, because they are truly record people, and can take a joke).
We told them we'd send them all our dollar copies if they'd stop production, but you know? That thing's going to sell out. There's actually a lot of interest in the re-mastering job and the audiophile nerds are more excited about that release than, like, well...some lame Lady Gaga picture disc. Truth be told, and I'm not ashamed to say it, I kind of want that 45 RPM version. It was one of my old man's favorite demo discs, and I'd kind of like to hear "The Chain" on my big new speakers, that my old man never got to hear. Shit, I think he'd have liked the 45 RPM version, and I'm going to buy one just for him.
One man's trash being another man's treasure, after all. Caveat Emptor.
9) Who determines how much product is released in the US v. UK (e.g. a 7" where 900 copies are for the US and 100 are for the UK)? Is that why you are seeing more UK/EU exclusive releases for them, so labels don't have to break up shipments (plus I am sure the shipping costs for vinyl are high too)?
EL: “Oh wow, what another nightmare, but a fun nightmare. The first year, like, the first meeting when we sat down to cook RSD up, it didn't occur to any of us to even consider overseas.
It just didn't come up. When the first overseas stores started calling, it was so exciting, like, really the second year when cool products started to take off. Man, it was crazy.
The sense of entitlement, like, "how dare we make something somebody wants but they can't seem to find it" and I said at the time, as I was trying to identify our volunteer counterparts overseas, "You know, one day, there's going to be a bunch of UK and Japanese and French stuff that we're not going to be able to get and that's going to be awesome."
Last year, my counterpart in the UK, Spencer Hickman (of Rough Trade Records), secured me a copy of Paul Weller's limited 12", I traded him for a US Grinderman 12" that he couldn't get over there. That Weller thing is amazing and I just love it. Um, that's called record collecting.”
10) Where do you see Record Store Day 3 years from now and what do you hope to change, if anything about it?
EL: (As Charlie Sheen says now): Winning!
[NOTE: Are you a store or label that agrees or disagrees with what Eric has to say? Do you want to add your two cents to the debate/discussion? If so, let me know]
[NOTE: Are you a fan who has a question that you'd like me to get answered?? If so, please leave the question in the COMMENTS section and I will start to compile them and have a follow-up interview with your questions!]