Countdown to Record Store Day: An Interview with RSD Co-Founder Michael Kurtz
We've been looking forward to Record Store Day (or RSD) for awhile now. For one, it provides a welcome diversion for those of us not going to Coachella. Also, we are looking forward to all of the limited-edition vinyl releases, in-stores, and sales that come along with RSD.
We keep hearing about the death of vinyl and physical formats but the growing popularity of RSD throws a wrench in this hypothesis.
In order to kick off the week, we spoke to RSD co-founder Michael Kurtz about why he started this day, and why we should still care about vinyl:
We are constantly hearing about the death of the physical format. But
the growing popularity of Record Store Day challenges this assertion.
What do you think about this prediction that physical formats are dying?
MK: It's like predicting that movie theaters are going to die. It's nonsense. I live in Silver Lake and every time I try to go see a movie at the Vista it is either sold out or closed to being sold out. People want experiences other than sitting in front of a computer monitor.
Is it important that music is available in physical formats?
MK: Yes, and I think the main reason is because artists want music in a
physical format. In fact, some of them don't really feel like they are really launching their record until they see it in a beautiful 12" vinyl package. Beyond that, their fans want the physical experience as well. Both vinyl and CDs are fantastic way to experience music.
How do you think a music fan's relationship with the music is shaped by
his or her interaction with it through a record vs. an mp3 vs. a tape?
MK: For the most part mp3s, and the way that folks get and experience them, is the equivalent to radio. It's more or less free and it's convenient. The experience of buying a 12" vinyl record, opening it, feeling it, looking at the artist's artwork and finally dropping the needle on the record requires a certain amount of attention and focus. The listener ends up being drawn in to the experience that the artist worked so hard to create. I have no opinion on tape other than the defunct 8-Track: besides the weird clicks when the tape ended and started on another track, the sound quality of 8 track tape was actually really good with lots of bottom end. There are some metal-heads that like getting their music on cassettes but I don't have an opinion about why that is.
What role do you think the indie record store has in nurturing the
local band or artist? Why do you think that the local record store
does (or does not) have a role that differs from, say, iTunes or
Barnes and Noble?
MK: Indie stores have always been a bastion of employment for musicians. Many artists, like Jeff Tweedy from Wilco for example, have said in so many words that without record stores their music wouldn't exist. Because a lot of our stores are mom and pop stores, owned and operated by real moms and dads or future moms and dads, they are more sympathetic to musicians' need to have flexibility in their work hours due to touring, recording and whatnot.
How do records stores themselves shape a music fan's experience with an album or artist?
Record stores are also fully embracing Facebook in a way that corporations can't. We are more a part of the local community as we often sell tickets to local shows, we do fund raisers for local charities, and host intimate live music events with artists. It makes the Facebook experience more rewarding and timely. You can get a nice jolt when your local record store Facebooks to tell you that your favorite artist is stopping by to meet you and play some songs for you.
Beyond that when someone spends money at a local record store more of the tax dollars stay local. I guess you could say that if there is any hope for getting those pot holes fixed, it lies with record stores! Okay, not just record stores but independent, locally owned businesses like record stores.
What did you envision for Record Store Day originally? As in, it appears to have caught on nationally. Did you think it would take this long?
MK: Record Store Day came out of a discussion between me and a guy named Chris Brown (who runs an indie up in Portland, Maine called Bull Moose). The indie comic shops do an event called "Free Comic Day," and Chris wondered if record stores could do something similar. I took Chris' idea to a indie record store meeting of the minds called "Noise In The Basement" and the indies in attendance loved and embraced it. Right after that Metallica said that they loved record stores, and would help us kick off Record Store Day with an event at Rasputin up in San Francisco. At the time, Paul McCartney had recently done an in-store @ Amoeba in Hollywood and he sent us a really nice email saying how much he loved this experience and that he fully supported Record Store Day. I also ran into Billy Bragg at the airport in Austin, TX and Billy said he'd heard about what we were doing and that he would help us by playing in his favorite hometown record store back in the U.K. for the first Record Store Day. Which he did! After that we kind of knew that we were on to something amazing.
What are your five favorite record store day releases of all time?
MK: That's hard to answer, there have been so many. I guess I'll go with the
Tom Waits "Mule Variations" vinyl EP, the John Lennon "Bag" 7" set with the 7" vinyl, postcards and little RSD spindle,the U2 live EP that we released for Thanksgiving last year, and the Foo Fighters' "Medium Rare" LP from this year.
I'm a big Clash fan so I'll finally go with the reissue of Joe Strummer's and theMescalero's "Global A Go Go" album from last year. The two Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros albums are fantastic records and are meant to be heard on vinyl. I also think that if Joe were still here he would have been right there with Billy Bragg kick starting and breathing life into Record Store Day that first year.
What is the craziest thing you've ever heard about happening on record
MK: Record Store Day releases are made in small quantities, often limited and numbered. They usually bring the best out of people much like Christmas cookies bring a smile during the holidays. But, unfortunately, because of Record Store Day we are witnessing the birth of a a new sub-species of human called "Ebay Guys." These humanoids are almost always male and aggressive. They lurk in dark corners, are rude to nice people, and try to buy as much Record Store Day releases as possible to resell on ebay for large amounts of money. I think it's crazy that these guys exist but they do. We're not into 'em and wish they would go away.
What are you most looking forward to this particular record store day?
MK: I'm travelling to New York to help set up and run a very special event we are doing with Regina Spektor on Record Store Day. At 2pm, that afternoon, Regina is going to perform at Other Music. We're going to record it in hopes of catching the magic of Regina's live performance and the excitement of Record Store Day. If it goes well it will possibly be released for Thanksgiving later this year. After the performance is over we are trucking up to the Lincoln Center for a screening of Regina's "Live In London" film. Regina and Adele Petty (Tom Petty's daughter and the director of the film) will come out to meet fans and talk a bit about the making of the film. After this, "Sound It Out" this year's official Record Store Day film, is going to screen. "Sound It Out" is a documentary film that tells the story of a little Teesside record store in the UK. It's a film that is as much about being human as it is about a record store.