Record Store Day Australia celebrates its third anniversary this weekend with a host of instore gigs and exclusive products at independent music shops all across the nation. Overseen by the Australian Music Retailers Association (AMRA), the events are intended to remind consumers that the internet isn’t always the best place to find new music.
“I think we get lost in the world of the internet,” says Sara Hood, AMRA’s project manager. “The internet is great for convenience, but not for that serendipitous discovery you get in a shop.
Call me old fashioned, but I like the idea of local businesses, where you can go in and talk to an expert.
Hood gives the example of Russell Morris’s album Sharkmouth. Snubbed by radio stations, Morris turned to record shops for help. Instore play saw the LP “sell its socks off”, break into the top 10, and win an ARIA award.
No wonder musicians are keen to support this weekend’s event, with Marcia Hines, Dan Sultan and Adalita taking on roles as RSDA ambassadors. Fellow ambassador Tim Dalton has worked in the music industry for 35 years.
He says the decision to walk into a record store has become a “semi-political” act.
“It goes against this idea that we’re heading into this world of generic, homogenised product, bought off the internet with no human interaction. Call me old fashioned, but I like the idea of local businesses, where you can go in and talk to an expert.”
The worry for the music industry is exactly how old fashioned this idea is. The latest figures from ARIA, show the industry’s worst ever decline.
Sales are down almost 12 per cent, with physical music sales dropping by more than a quarter from the previous year.
Hood argues that the story is more complex than these figures suggest. Physical album sales remain strong, while singles are now entirely sold online.
She says the biggest threat to record stores isn’t a changing industry but rocketing operating costs.
If you care and if you love music, you are prepared to pay quite a lot of money for it.
“A lot of record stores are closing, because the rent went up something ridiculous like 50 or 100 per cent.”
Despite this, new stores continue to open. Hood identifies Melbourne outlet Title as an example of a new breed of record shop, offering a range of products that fit a particular lifestyle.
Conversely, other shops have survived through specialisation, dealing only with metal or vintage vinyl. Indeed, vinyl is the one area of physical music sales to buck the downward trend, rising by 77 per cent between 2012 and 2013.
Dalton says this anomaly is indicative of a growing gulf between music lovers and casual consumers.
“If you care and if you love music, you are prepared to pay quite a lot of money for it. For people who don’t really care about music, downloading is great, because you’re just using it as wallpaper.”
Like Hood, he’s convinced there are enough music lovers out there to save the industry.
“Music has lost its cultural value and Record Store Day is a way of flagging that. Think about the first time you drove a car, the first time you had a kiss at a school disco, and what record was playing then. There’s always going to be a soundtrack to your life.”