These days it's so easy to just jump on a computer -- or in many cases even one's cell phone, depending how fancy-pants it is -- and purchase nearly anything online. That includes music, either digitally or in a physical medium. But what fun is that?
As sort of a call-to-action, a few years back some folks involved with independent outlets founded Record Store Day, a national date to celebrate brick-and-mortar music stores, and spur music fans to visit those local retailers. Since then the date has solidified annually on the third Saturday in April, falling this year on April 17. The concept has been adopted by a growing roster of stores across the nation, and was also quickly embraced by both indie and corporate music labels as a good promotional opportunity.
This year's list of special releases are largely vinyl (but with some CDs and DVDs), and seemed to have grown exponentially from last year. There's exclusive vinyl reissues of material from the 1950s and '60s, first-time vinyl releases from the modern era, plus newly available material from many artists, including oddities like a split 7-inch of Bon Iver and Peter Gabriel covering each other's songs.
The trick to these special releases, though, is that they're often limited to a few thousand copies or less, so the competition for some titles among serious fans may be fierce. And, of course, these limited editions are spread out among the hundreds of participating stores across the country.
Here in Madison, we're lucky to still have quite a few independent music stores, defined officially by Record Store Day organizers as "a physical retailer whose product line consists of at least 50% music retail, whose company is not publicly traded and whose ownership is at least 70% located in the state of operation." Makes sense. Along with the limited edition releases, there will once again be giveaways/goodie bags featuring CDs, records, posters and other items, at least while supplies last. (If memory serves, these went fast last year). Also, many stores are hosting performances by local musicians or DJs. What's happening (and available) is different at each location, so prepare for a hunt if you have a certain title in your sights!
Details on some of the special events follow by store.
600 Williamson St.; 251-8558; open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday
MadCity will host acoustic busking in front of the store, including Asumaya at 10 a.m., Meteorade at 11 a.m., El Tin Fun at noon, Mike Behrends at 1 p.m., and Bob Koch, Erika Zar, Aaron Scholz and Matt Joyce at 2 p.m. (yes ... that's me playing again). In addition to goodie bags, MadCity will also feature a drawing for various LPs and CDs. Dollar bin aficionados who haven't visited the store for awhile should prepare to set aside some extra time, as both the LP and 45 bins have witnessed a lot of turnover in recent weeks.
2301 Atwood Ave.; 256-7155; open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. on Saturday
Sugar Shack will feature "lots of newly added records and CDs, and there'll be a sale going on," relates owner Gary Feest via email. The store will be open a few extra hours as well.
For music fans who collect vinyl records, and particularly used or vintage items, buying online is a real crapshoot. The Internet has made it far easier for collectors to find many longtime want list records at the click of a mouse, which is a real plus. But without the chance to actually inspect in person what one is buying, it's not uncommon to receive an unpleasant surprise in the mail if the seller doesn't know the difference between a playable record and a piece of junk. And if the genre or artist you collect is currently popular, forget about finding any bargains online very often. Tracking down an out-of-print CD can actually be almost worse than vinyl these days, as in demand items can go for ridiculous prices when they do turn up.
Those are just a few reasons why it's important for music fans to support their local sellers and keep them in business. In my experience as a bargain hunter, it nearly always ends up being cheaper to buy something locally, even though the hunt may be a longer-term process. But that's part of the fun!