Record Store Day: keeping the vinyl spinning through boom and bust
On Saturday, six Dublin record stores will set out to prove that the vinyl revival is still valid
All City Records in Temple Bar will be stocking vinyl special editions on Record Store Day, including the debut by New Jackson, David Kitt’s alter-ego
The recent revival of vinyl as a format was said to be a passing fad, a fleeting fetish for a format that was about to become obsolete. A sales pitch driven by nostalgia. Vinyl sales are currently at a 25-year high. The volume doesn’t match the number of CD sales. Those are the headlines. Beneath it all, there are record shops who have been selling vinyl records all through the ups and downs.
Olan O’Brien, the proprietor of All City Records, a shop and label based in Dublin’s Temple Bar since 2001, has been through the boom and bust and boom again of vinyl records. The shop has been a hangout place for music enthusiasts and DJs ever since.
When Dublin shop Road Records closed in 2009, a death knell was sounded for independent bricks-and-mortar shops. But it is the entertainment megastores which are in flux. HMV reappeared and disappeared once more. Golden Discs has expanded (and even opened a vinyl shop in Cork last week).
Yet, the small record shop manned by knowledgeable staff has held firm. There are currently six such shops in Dublin city centre by my count: All City, Tower Records (two locations), The R.A.G.E./The Record Spot, Spindizzy, Freebird and Sound Cellar.
“For the size of the city, that’s actually quite a lot,” suggests O’Brien. “When you can go on to the internet any time, day or night, and buy anything you want. It’s difficult to compete with that. Each shop at the moment has its niche and then, being the way it is now, everyone does a bit of everything as well.”
Know your niche
All City’s niche includes graffiti, street art products and vinyl records. Musically, the shop caters to an audience interested in electronic music, DJ-friendly 12-inches, hip-hop, scene compilations and the “more collector weirdo end of things”, is how O’Brien puts it.
As a label, All City have released music by the likes of Hudson Mohawke, Onra, Knxledge, Krystal Klear and The Cyclist. Musicians drawn from disparate places around the globe and locally. The label has split into two: All City and Jheri Tracks, with a third, Pear, on the way later this year, that will focus on house music releases. The next All City release will be the full-length debut from New Jackson, David Kitt’s electronic project.
This Saturday, the album will be released in a limited run of vinyl and T-shirts package three weeks ahead of the release date, to coincide with Record Store Day.
Record Store Day has got a lot of flak over the years for clogging up pressing plants with inconsequential records from major labels but O’Brien, who has been releasing records for 15 years and has four records at the pressing plants at the moment, supports it and thinks the problems at plants are overstated, and that the delays are minimal – at most a few weeks as opposed to months.
It’s very difficult when you’re young to know what to look for
“A guy goes to the pressing plant three or four times a year and then gets very indignant that the pressing plants are busy. Yeah, they’re busy, they have bills to pay and Record Store Day is a good thing for them. The reality is, they used to be busy, they stopped being busy and now, they’re busy again. You can’t be giving out to people because they’re busy – that’s a bit much.”
Much of the criticism around Record Store Day is aimed at major labels cashing in on vinyl trends with unsubstantial new releases, and O’Brien concedes that there is an issue there but is pragmatic about its outcome.
“What the majors do is buy up x amount of hours at pressing plants, so that does leave less time for smaller labels. There is no doubt that that’s true. The reality is records have become more popular and if you’re selling records, that’s a good thing.”
As for the records O’Brien sells in All City, he says it’s a bit of a golden age for releases in terms of quality and admits that vinyl has become more expensive across the board – “a little bit pricey”.
“People are trying to put a normal profit margin on them and it’s making them feel very expensive for something you can get for free digitally if they didn’t want to pay for it. You’re charging for a sense of ownership and some nice artwork.”
While All City is a welcoming spot for a browse, the lifeblood of a community built around records has to have new blood regularly in order to survive. O’Brien says that records’ rising costs have meant the entry-level age for those buying vinyl is in their early 20s as opposed to teens. And to any young person, walking into a record shop with little knowledge, armed with scant information gleaned off the internet can be intimidating.
“It’s not just intimidating but also confusing. It’s very difficult when you’re young to know what to look for. Even though the internet has opened things up so the kid might know who the artists are, it’s not the easiest thing to know what’s available. No one wants to ask the stupid question.”
O’Brien is conscious of steering them into buying some long-playing, long-lasting records.
“The first 50 to 100 records you buy will probably be your worst ones. I try and be a bit Jesuit about it. I want this guy to keep coming in and not buy 10 crap records and go home after a couple of months and realise he’s spent €1,000 and not like anything he’s bought. So you try and push them into the ones that are built to last, the more classic type that’ll have a better shelf life.”
O’Brien is playing the long game with new customers as he wants them to become old customers. Over the years, he has seen the regular customers’ tastes change as they get older.
“That’s the interesting thing, seeing the cycle, seeing the guys that used to buy dancefloor 12s, house and techno, or jungle. As you get older you just naturally start to morph into the Afro comps, soul records and all the kind of things that are more specialised and for home listening.”
There is a Facebook group set up this year for Record Store Day
With the 10th edition of the annual celebration of the record store happening on Saturday, and with a vinyl shop industry as stable as it can be, allowing six shops to sustain themselves, does O’Brien ever visit the other shops in the city himself?
“I speak to Dennis from R.A.G.E. but I always feel now that someone would think I’m snooping, but I like second-hand records so I’d always like to go in and have a look. There is a Facebook group set up this year for Record Store Day so maybe we’ll all become pallier now.”