Last year Taylor Swift was the ambassador for National Independent Record Store Day in the United States.
And this year we did the largest pressing in the history of the RSD (Record Store Day) with it, it gave us an exclusive 115,000 units of Folklore (The Pond Sessions). Taylor has always supported record stores. She is very supportive of her cause because she would go to the record store in her town (Grimey’s, in Nashville). Her relationship with her record store was always very good. In fact, during the pandemic, she’s paid health bills to all the store’s employees, leaving copies of her signed CDs and vinyl exclusively for the store, and telling her fans to come and buy them.
Has your relationship with great artists always been so close?
It all started with Metallica.
I’ve heard a lot about that story. Tell me.
Metallica members were the first to authorize some titles to be pressed on vinyl.
All the discography?
I think the first three records.
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Why did you decide to ask them to do vinyl pressings?
Because no one was pressing vinyl anymore. In 2007 there were pressings of some punk bands, the occasional special edition of bands when they went on tour, and some electronic DJs were still making vinyl, but there were no longer vinyl sections in stores. The transition to the Compact Disc had killed them. On the CD side, competing was impossible because large stores had devalued the compact disc to $8 and we—the independent stores—sometimes couldn’t give those discounts due to volume issues. I wanted to celebrate record culture and show the media that said we were dead, that they were wrong. So we thought, “Let’s do something special, not necessarily cheap, but something that’s super cool for the fans, and that small stores can do differently and own that.”
What label copied them first?
Warner Brothers. Who was in charge of that label was a man named Michael Biery, who was an enthusiast and a collector. He and Jeff Bowers authorized the budget to push forward the idea of pressing Metallica records. And he helped us contact Lars Ulrich (Metallica member).
It’s ironic that we re-released the vinyl with Metallica because Wall Street and the media hit Metallica so hard for defending themselves against Napster piracy.
That was another thing they were up against, digital disruption. In fact, by this time Lars had fought Napster very hard until he had won the battle.
It’s ironic that we re-released the vinyl with Metallica because Wall Street and the media hit Metallica so hard for defending themselves against Napster piracy. They were the villains of the story and they were the first to decide on vinyl. Today vinyl represents them billions of dollars.
Very consistent anyway because Metallica has always been an independent band in many ways.
And Lars visionary enough to know that they could achieve a lot with this idea in the future. But at the end of the day, the issue is that Lars is a guy who protects his fans a lot and knows that generating profit is important to be able to give them the best.
But back to Warner. They tell you yes. What happened there?
I went to Universal and Sony to propose that we do vinyl.
And what did they tell you?
Universal said no. Sony said yes to certain things.
And the independent labels?
Most weren’t interested either. I think the only label that was interested in making vinyl was Beggars, who had about 10 exclusive releases pressed for that date. They no longer participate in Record Store Day because they market directly to their consumer.
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How many records did you sell in that first edition?
We did more or less 25 launches and 80 thousand units. They all sold out. We knew we had something on our hands.
What did Metallica do?
Metallica went to support the store where it all started for them: Rasputin Music, in San Francisco. They announced that they were re-releasing Kill’em All and Ride The Lightning and that they were going to be in the store signing autographs and performing. That day there were more than a thousand people in line waiting.
Most of them followed my lead, even though some of them insulted me for the way the big floppy disk companies had treated them all that time.
How did you convince store owners to join the cause?
Some behaved very well. Others were very upset. But most of them went my way, even though some of them insulted me for the way the big floppy disk companies had treated them all this time, giving the big box stores exclusive releases and stuff. I do not blame them. Anyway, they didn’t know me either.
How many stores were set up for the celebration in 2007?
What happened after?
After that first edition, we spoke with Paul McCartney, who had made a guest appearance at the Amoeba Music store in Hollywood. He told us that he was very excited to get his vinyl records back in stores and he did.
Who then got into the fever of pressing their music on vinyl?
The Foo Fighters were next. After that, the artists started going to the stores. Iggy Pop would come to celebrate his birthday at a store in Miami, or you would see Neil Young buying records in a store in Virginia.
And then what did they do?
The other thing we did when we saw that artists were going to buy records and also promote them, was we opened a huge store at Coachella, the music festival in California. We opened it up during the festival and filled it with exclusive releases from the artists playing that weekend. We invited them to come by the store and sign records, meet the fans. No one knew, but at the time we were selling up to 35 percent of the RSD’s exclusive releases at Coachella. By then we had evangelized people enough to inflate the number of copies we were pressing for releases over the next three years. And there the vinyl fever broke out.
And that’s where the record companies came?
That’s when they began to arrive, in the third year, when everyone began to participate. The event has taken different forms. At first it was more of a classic rock and “indie” rock theme, but today it has exploited great artists like Taylor Swift and Foo Fighters. In fact, another thing we did with Metallica was give jazz a new lease of life, because the group’s bassist, Robert Trujillo, is a huge jazz fan, and he helped me develop the line of exclusive releases in that genre. We currently make between 20 and 30 unique jazz releases each RSD and they all end up at the top of the charts for the genre. Many jazz record labels were launched for International Record Store Day.
How did they spread?
It never occurred to me that we were going to have the numbers and attention to internationalize record store day. We went to London and from there, they started contacting us in Spain, France and finally Japan. The Toyokasei company made us a huge event in the latter country. I’ll give you an example: the vinyl business in Japan grew 70 percent last year.
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It never occurred to me that we would have the numbers and attention to internationalize record store day
And are they everywhere?
Everywhere except Antarctica. Although a few days ago they sent us a photo where they were playing records and it said: “there are no stores, but we still celebrate Record Store Day (laughs)”.
What are the downsides of your idea getting so big, now that vinyl is huge again?
That people have taken the record store model and dedicated themselves to selling them on-line. That doesn’t support record stores.
How do you know if what you buy in those exclusive releases is going to be valuable, or if it’s going to go up in price?
(laughs) There’s no way to know. Some things are valued and others are not. Look, for example, a year ago we did a special pressing of an EP with Melanie Martinez. Nobody knew it, and nobody wanted to buy it or receive it in stores. They were 300 units. Today each copy of that disc costs $300. You don’t know how collectible it is that you end up buying.
What have been the most successful pressings in the history of record day?
The Taylor Swift thing this year is probably the biggest thing. We also did a special pressing of Led Zeppelin’s Rock N Roll a few years back, which includes a B-side from Friends, that was very successful. And this year we think the Pearl Jam record is going to be a very important record.
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What started out as an effort to keep stores alive is now the cause of much contention, as the major record labels returned and took over the vinyl business to supply the big box stores. What do you think of that? That the vinyl explosion has meant that the factories cannot cope and once again the small artists are the ones left out.
I try to keep an open mind and believe with my heart that they don’t do it with bad intentions. But that is the nature of corporations. That is what always happens. Before the pandemic, we had a lot of image problems because we were blamed for the fact that the big record labels were pressing hundreds of thousands of copies for WalMart and Target. And the truth is that the corporations, by pressing for these companies, leave us with only 2 percent of the vinyl that is pressed in the year. But since we are the visible face of vinyl, many musicians and journalists say that it is our fault. In the age of social media, it’s impossible to explain to them that it’s not our fault. And in the age of networks, it’s time to take the beating.
They started with 80 affiliated stores. How many are there now?
There are 1,400 in the United States and 2,500 worldwide.
Twenty-five titles the first year, 16 years later, how many titles do you press?
Three hundred. But the UK makes a much bigger list.
In the first edition they sold 80,000 vinyl records. How many units do you plan to sell this year?
About two million records.
listen to the podcast
Listen to Alejandro Marín in the Bilingual Podcast on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts and on La X, Más Música, and watch it on Channel Thirteen every Monday at 10:00 p.m.
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