Vinyl Record Collectors A Dying Breed In Digital Download Age: National Celebration Brings Communities Together In Cities Like Los Angeles
Once the doors opened, the line that stretched from the door to the alleyway in the back of the building turned into a free for all inside Canterbury Records in South Pasadena on Saturday morning.
After spending a few late night hours filling bins with the latest and most exclusive vinyl records to come out this year, the store's employees anxiously awaited the army of eager music lovers who quickly snatched and grabbed as many albums as they could, emptying the recently filled bins.
Thousands of records stores across the U.S. opened its doors to similar lines in what is called Record Store Day, an annual event that has occurred every third Saturday of April since 2007.
The annual event was created as a celebration of record stores in the face of the digital market that has reduced the need for shops and physical products. On RSD, several musicians and record companies release exclusive albums with rare tracks and this year, more than 400 titles are being released.
Canterbury Records co-owner Rusty Gordon said RSD has grown from being just a day of observance to a national movement that has gained the support of many artists, record companies and vinyl lovers -- both new and old.
The love of records has "never gone away and people may have thought it disappeared but it never did," Gordon said. "Lately it's been expanding. There could be a variety of different reasons. Some people like the sound. I think there's also a certain trendy aspect to it. But there still was this demand and love of vinyl, even before that."
He said RSD has grown substantially in the last few years as the store saw the number of its customers on RSD 2013 double from the year before.
"Last year (the line) went up to the parking lot part way, it didn't make it all the way to the alley," Gordon said on the eve of this year's RSD. "So we're curious this year to see what it will look like."
Greg Palacias got to Canterbury at 4:30 on Saturday morning and was the first in line. The 49-year-old Alhambra, Calif. resident has been collecting vinyl albums since he was 13 years old and said he prefers the experience of going to a record store rather than shopping for music online.
"It's just a habit. You go there, you spend time, you hear the music, and you're fingering through things, the whole experience!" Palacias said. "Shopping online is just not ... there isn't any fun to it. There's nothing to do about it. You don't even have to leave your house."
For Palacias, RSD is an opportunity for vinyl collectors to show record companies and artists that there's still a market to produce physical products whether it be vinyl, CDs or even cassettes.
"For a while it was really rare to get a record ... it was almost considered a dead medium," he said. "As long as they have Record Store Day and they keeping bringing (records) out, people will come in and purchase them, showing the record companies and the artists that were interested in this ... they'll keep it alive.
The Doors' Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine album and the 10-inch vinyl of Creedence Clearwater Revival singles from 1969 were two of Palacias' items he wanted to pick up. He also said he wanted to grab some special picture discs but was quick to not mention which specific ones, fearing that anyone in line wanting the same one would overhear and make the competition worse
After filing into the store, hordes of people hovered over the bins, searching for all the albums on their wish list.
Amid the appearance of chaos, confusion and fury that is finding the coveted albums, however, is a sense of camaraderie, which is unlike the annual scenes played out on the news every Black Friday, where millions of American shoppers push, shove and even sometimes cut people just to get the best deal on items.
But on Record Store Day, many shoppers, who often times had trouble getting through the seemingly impenetrable force field surrounding the bins, could shout out what they're looking for and others were generous enough to find the album and hand it off to the person.
In the past, Gordon said, people would form friendships in the line outside the store and help each other find their desired albums.
"(Customers) really get along, they make friends in line, help each other find albums," Gordon said. "It's not like Black Friday. It's very friendly."
Gordon's father opened Canterbury Records in 1956 in Alhambra before relocating to the Pasadena location. He ran the store until the 1970s when Gordon and his two sisters Jessie Mitchell and Jennie Freedman took over the family business.
Their father stayed around to manage the shop's paperwork before his passing in the early '90s, Gordon said.
The start of Napster and other illegal downloading websites online created a stiff competition for Canterbury and many other record shops in the U.S. Even the larger chains weren't immune to the rise of the digital market.
When iTunes came along at the turn of the century, it became increasingly popular, especially with Apple's iPod bursting on to the scene. Downloading music on the computer and purchasing albums became one and the same with iTunes, but it meant the record stores now had a much larger giant to face.
"The initial big competition were illegal downloads. iTunes kind of legitimized it with legal copies where the artist gets payment," Gordon said. "iTunes is now just a legitimate competitor. They're legal but it's a powerful competitor."
To stay above the fray, Gordon said the store has just continued selling physical products the way it had done in the past. He said several stores began evaluating its profits and adapting new business strategies but many couldn't cut it.
"You know, we pretty much do what we always did, which is just try to have a whole lot of stuff," Gordon admitted. "There's some big companies that have analyzed every possible aspect of a business and their demographics and all these things and most of those people are out of business. I'm not saying they did anything wrong, it's just the competitive nature, how things changed in the record business."
For a few select shops, however, the challenge the digital market poses on physical record sales is almost nonexistent.
Just a few miles away from South Pasadena is Mount Analog, a specialty record shop that mainly sells dance, psych and world music on Figueroa St. in Los Angeles. The shop's owners, Zane Landreth and Mahssa Taghinia, opened their store two year ago as way of bringing the certain type of music they loved to the U.S. and L.A.
"For all intents and purposes, we're a left field shop, like most of the stuff we carry is a little off the beaten path," Landreth admitted. "It's a little more niche, I suppose. Just kind of weirder, more experimental stuff."
The need to open the shop came from the lack of a market in the U.S. for the type of music they sold. Landreth said the two of them used to buy their records from Europe but would pay double the price for the shipping.
After meeting a lot of Angelinos who shared their passion for that genre of music and had to purchase their records the same way, the duo decided L.A. needed a record shop to sell those records.
"Instead of all of us spending collectively all of our money on shipping, why don't we open up a shop where everybody can get the kind of stuff that they're into and create a community center and a home for all of these people," Landreth said.
He added that the their shop could also be a place for customers to "hang out and freak out over good music."
Despite the recent trend in buying records, Landreth boasted that he and most of his friends never stopped buying vinyl.
He said he's glad that RSD is around because it's a way to get people to continue buying vinyl while also getting new users interested.
"I'm glad that Record Store Day is around. I think it's a really fun time. I think that it does turn on a lot of people to our shop, to other shops to get them out starting their collections, building their collections and just getting involved," Landreth said. "I think that it's grown really big and taken on a life of its own for sure.
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