19th July 2021

Celebrating Independent Record Stores

Independent record stores, like so many others, have endured a turbulent past 18 months. But the welcome return of the Record Store Day celebrations has seen vinyl lovers flocking back in their numbers, which has provided a timely and much needed boost to the record stores that are at the heart of their local communities.

Tangible, tactile, collectible, even addictive – the vinyl record’s unique charms extend way beyond the simple pleasures to be garnered from the embracing warmth of its analogue sound, as appealing as that is in itself. As we observed in our blog here, “buying a record and taking it home can be an emotional experience” in its own right. 

Let’s face it, most of us could all do with a few more emotionally uplifting experiences right now – which is why it’s so great that, after a turbulent 18 months for independent record stores and the music industry as a whole, music lovers are starting to venture out to the shops again. Nothing like a good browse to lift the spirits on a Saturday afternoon.

Celebrating Independent Record Stores

The return of the Record Store Day celebrations in June and July has added a further shot in the arm to independent record stores around the world, thanks to a judiciously selected mix of rare, special and limited-edition vinyl releases. This isn’t music you just swipe left: it’s a collection designed to both entice and entrance the vinyl enthusiast, with a heady mix of classics – everything from Black Sabbath to Thelonious Monk – plus a raft of contemporary releases and even an exclusive Live-to-Vinyl release from Brighton-based band Squid, commissioned especially for the event.

Splitting the Record Store Day event into two ‘drops’ (release and publicity events) has worked wonders, too. Despite the various restrictions in place, independent record stores have seen a substantial increase in footfall across both drops in June and July, with thousands of vinyl enthusiasts queuing in safe, socially distanced anticipation from the early hours of the morning to get first dibs on the new releases.

(Image credit: Drift Record Shop)

Go Behind the Counter

Alongside promoting the Record Store Day success story, we like to think we’ve made another small contribution to the vinyl revival this year: we partnered with Classic Album Sundays and Record Store Day to present the Behind the Counter series, shining a light on inspirational and much-loved independent record stores from across the UK and US. All main episodes from both the UK and US series can be viewed via Classic Album Sundays here, and you can find short episodes exploring the importance of good sound to the record store listening experience on our YouTube channel here

Over the past three months, this 12-part video series has taken us on a journey across the UK and US, from Margate to Leeds and from New Orleans to Kansas City, visiting independent record stores that play an instrumental role in sharing music with fans in their local communities while also bringing to life the stories from behind the scenes.

(Image credit: Jumbo Records in Leeds)

Along the way, we’ve met lots of people just like us and, we suspect, just like you: people who live, breathe and probably dream music. And of course, it’s the passion, energy and unrelenting commitment of all of these record store owners – their determination to create an environment for people in their community to share their love for music – that brings them all together. As Cody from Jumbo Records in Leeds puts it, “I think a record store acts as a cultural hub for the community. When I visit a city, the first thing I do is look for the record store and through that you find the other places, the bars or the restaurants.” Paul Hawkins, owner of Diverse Vinyl in Newport, builds on Cody’s sentiment perfectly, saying “Through the decades, a record store has always been a place where someone who’s interested in music can come and hang out, talk about music and meet like-minded people.” 

So what are you waiting for? Yes, you can always click to buy while sprawled on your sofa – but browsing while you listen is a lot more fun, let’s be honest.

Generation Z and the Vinyl Revival

Speaking of fun, we’ll finish by celebrating a somewhat unexpected and yet altogether welcome development in post-millennial music consumption: the ever-increasing number of younger people embracing the vinyl format. Despite the ubiquity of streaming services and mobile devices among younger music fans, a recent Record Store Day survey of over 140 participating independent record stores in the UK reported that over two thirds of store owners had seen a considerable rise in the number of younger people getting into vinyl. Just as remarkably, over 60% of store owners surveyed also reported an increase in numbers of women visiting their stores. 

(Image credit: Badlands Record Store)

Jack LeFeuvre, owner of Le Freak Records in Dundee, observes that “We see lots of young people buying vinyl in our store and I think it's slowly becoming a norm in terms of how people want to listen to music nowadays. Nearly every artist will release a special vinyl edition as part of their album campaign and that is something that many music fans don’t want to miss out on.” 

Jake Holloway, co-owner of Love Vinyl in London, agrees: “I love the fact there is a generation of people in their 20s that are buying records in the same way that I did when I was their age.” 

Now, be honest: who saw that coming back in the 1990s, when CD was at the height of its popularity? Or now we come to think about it, the late 2000s, when the iPod reigned supreme and Spotify was just getting started? And yet here it is. According to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), record labels are set to earn more from the sale of vinyl than the sale of CDs in 2021 – the first time that has happened since 1987. It really does seem that vinyl, like the rock and roll recordings so inextricably linked with the format, can never die. If you haven’t sampled it for yourself, it’s high time you did –and don’t forget, you’ll find plenty of music-lovers just like you ready to welcome you at your local independent record store.

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