You might not know it, but Saturday (April 17) is a bit of a holiday for music nerds like myself. It is the annual Record Store Day, a day the music industry celebrates independent record stores.
Record labels big (Universal) and small (Barsuk) are offering exclusive limited-edition releases, mostly on vinyl, from artists big (Tom Waits, Dave Matthews Band) and small (David Bazan, Band of Skulls). Along with exclusive goodies, many stores are also featuring in-store performances. If you plan on digging through the crates Saturday be aware that not every record store will stock every exclusive offering, since these are limited-edition albums after all. Check out this list of locally participating stores and this list of what’s being made available for Record Store Day for reference.
I caught up with Richard Liang, head of retail for Sub Pop Records, and asked him a few questions about the significance of Record Store Day, Sub Pop’s relationship with the Alternative Distribution Alliance and his thoughts on the future or music distribution. Here’s what he had to say via e-mail:
Travis Hay: Why is it important for a label like Sub Pop to participate in Record Store Day?
Richard Liang: The bread and butter of Sub Pop is artist development. In order to develop bands, you need people who are willing take a chance on something new. Independent record stores have been and continue to be advocates for so many of our bands in their communities. They are a vital part of keeping music vibrant and helping new artists find an audience. Record Store Day is an opportunity to put the spotlight on record stores and celebrate what they do.
Hay: Explain Sub Pop's relationship with the Alternative Distribution Alliance and Warner Bros. and give a brief description of what the alliance is and how it benefits independent record labels and shops?
Liang: ADA is Sub Pop's distributor and is part of the Warner Music Group. Along with Sub Pop, they distribute the Beggars Group (XL, Matador, Rough Trade, 4AD), Merge, Touch and Go, Domino, Comedy Central, Anti/Epitaph, among many others. ADA has been a really important piece of the success of independent labels in the past few years. Having ADA as a partner allows us to efficiently distribute records to a wide range of retailers. It's a convenient service for labels and stores to set up things like advertising, discounts, and other marketing promotion and the reliability of getting records in stores on time.
Hay: In your role as head of retail where do you see the record industry shifting toward in the next five or ten years and what will that mean for indie labels and smaller record shops?
Liang: I think the ways that people acquire music will continue to diversify and the marketplace will reflect that. As a record label, we'll need to be dynamic and be able to promote and distribute music across a wider range of platforms. For smaller record shops, the challenge is to stay competitive when other options are often cheaper and more convenient. In order to survive and hopefully thrive, the record store has to provide an experience that can't be found anywhere else. Things like in-stores, listening parties, promoting local artists, special events, and just the experience of going to a record store have to be valuable to music fans.
Hay: Sub Pop has offered plenty of cool freebies and exclusives in the past (the "cybersex samplers," the singles club, etc.), why not celebrate Record Store Day every day by offering exclusives on a regular basis?
Liang: We offer free MP3's for all of our releases and post them on our site and make them available to blogs and music sites to feature. That's been a really successful way for us to promote our artists; we push out those free tracks out as far and wide as possible and help that artist find an audience. Creating the Record Store Day items is definitely time consuming and it's definitely important not to overload ourselves and give our regular releases the proper attention they deserve.
Hay: Who do you think benefits most from Record Store Day: the labels, the artist, the fans or the record shops?
Liang: If independent record stores are doing well, the labels and artists can only benefit. If record stores are doing well, that means they have proven themselves as valuable to music fans.
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