Why Record Store Day Is Great …

And why it sucks (a shopping guide)

Talk to the owners of any of Austin’s participating records stores and you’ll hear a chorus: “Record Store Day is our biggest day of the year.”

End of an Ear co-owner Dan Plunkett equates the profits to roughly five Saturdays. When JuiceLand annex Exploded Records became an RSD retailer last year, it resulted in the most successful day in the shop’s history. Operator Andrew Brown noted that some new customers bought one RSD Exclusive and then a stack of regular stock.

Mock up by Zeke Barbaro

That’s the mission of Saturday’s 10-year-old consumer holiday built on limited edition vinyl releases: spotlighting independent record retailers. For some, it’s a much needed booster shot.

Encore Records owner Charles Lokey says his shop has been struggling with high property taxes, Downtown construction, and the city putting metered parking on East Sixth. He goes big on RSD, ordering as much stock as he can, and the avalanche of sales helps keep the lights on. Just as an influx of business during South by Southwest sustains live music venues during slower months, Record Store Day contributes to the survival of 11 Austin record stores.

Per previous years, there are roughly 400 RSD Exclusives hitting the market this weekend. Here’s some 2017 titles “Playback” would buy:

UGK, Too Hard to Swallow [1,000 pressed]
Texas rap royalty’s bow debuts on vinyl.

David Bowie, Cracked Actor, Live Los Angeles ’74 (3-LP) [5,000 pressed]

 Unreleased Bowie at live peak, mixed by Tony Vinsconti.

Gil Melle, The Andromeda Strain [1,500 pressed]
First U.S. issue of early electronic soundtrack with a foil hexagon cover that unfolds into a hex-shaped record.

R.L. Burnside, Long Distance Call: Europe 1982 [2,500 pressed]

 Delta blues retro-modernist’s unheard Netherlands sessions.

Iggy Pop, Post Pop Depression: Live at the Royal Albert Hall [1,200 pressed]
Live documentation of Ig’s late-career highlight.

John Trudell, AKA Graffiti Man [2,000 pressed]
First vinyl pressing of American Indian activist/songwriter’s LP that Bob Dylan called the record of the year in 1992.

Venom, At War With Satan [1,500 pressed]
Picture disc for this metal concept album. Spoiler alert: Satan wins!

Popul Vuh, Cobra Verde [900 pressed]

Florian Fricke’s German electronic space project/ Werner Herzog soundtrack’s first domestic release.

The Wipers, Better Off Dead [2,000 pressed]

 Pacific NW punk essential repress.

Sinn Sisamouth & Ross Sere Sothea, “Navy A Go Go” b/w “Old Pot Still Cooks Good Rice” 7-inch [500 pressed]
Cambodia’s greatest male and female combo – both victims of the Khmer Rouge.

Jimi Hendrix (Curtis Knight), Live at George’s Club 20, 1965 & 1966 [3,000 pressed]
Pre-fame Hendrix backing Harlem R&B singer Curtis Knight.

For all the good it does participating shops, RSD also attracts undeserving middlemen profiting off the collectability of special releases. They send groups of people into shops with lists of popular titles, purchase them, then flip them on eBay at jacked-up prices. As early as two weeks ago, there were dozens of sellers listing 2017 RSD Exclusives for auction before they’d even gotten their hands on them, including the David Bowie/Placebo 7-inch picture disc with bidding starting at $200. It’s become enough of a problem that RSD organizers have watermarked all album covers on their online listings with the phrase “Support indie record stores, not flippers!”

A testament to the enduring market value of RSD Exclusives, usually pressed in batches between 100 and 5,000, here are some of the highest priced past RSD releases currently listed on eBay:

311, 311 No. 311 [RSD 2014]: $4,000

Pink Floyd, 1965 Their First Recordings [1,000 pressed/RSD 2015]: $450

Massive Attack, “Karmacoma” Secret 7-inch [100 pressed/RSD 2014]: $420

R.E.M.Unplugged: The Complete 1991 & 2001 Sessions [2,500 pressed/RSD 2014]: $400

Flaming Lips, Heady Nuggs colored vinyl [1,000 pressed/RSD 2011]: $350

21 Pilots, The LC LP on red, Ohio-shaped wax [4,000 pressed/RSD 2015]: $250

What about the flops? Every year there’s impressive RSD releases that simply don’t sell, either because few people want it or it isn’t the right fit for the store. Brown says he acquired a copy of the AnimalsNo. 2 RSD release from 2015, which holds the record for the product that sat in his shop the longest without selling. Antone’s Records still has a copy of the Orange is the New Black soundtrack collecting dust from last year’s RSD.

“We don’t gamble too hard on what we order because you can bet heavy on something and then something else blows up,” says End of an Ear’s Plunkett. “We try to order a lot of things like the UGK record, because we want to have that in our store. If it’s a Frank Sinatra picture disc, we’ll just order enough to sell out.”

Meanwhile, a strong local element to RSD continues thriving. Austin’s the only city we know of that puts on a simultaneous Record Store Day Crawl that encourages people to shop all ATX vinyl emporiums by offering them a 10% discount if they have a receipt from another store. Austin’s official RSD participants are End of an Ear, Antone’s Records, Encore Records, Waterloo Records, Breakaway Records, Groovers’ Paradise, Exploded Records, and Piranha Records in Round Rock.

And don’t forget about other local shops that sling records year-round: Big Henry’s Vinyl & Gifts, Mindzai Art & Vinyl, Sound Gallery, and Whetsone Audio, the latter two being hi-fi boutiques that carry a mind-blowing selection of turntables and speakers.

Even though this is the first year in recent memory without a Gary Clark Jr. special release, there’s plenty of local sounds spinning on RSD 2017:

Black Angels, Death Song glow in the dark vinyl with 3-D cover [2,000 pressed]

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Live at Carnegie Hall [3,000 pressed]

Townes Van Zandt, Live at Austin City Limits (1976) [2,500 pressed]

Steve Earle & the Dukes, Live at the Continental Club in Austin [2,800 pressed]

Spoon, Hot Thoughts 12-inch single [3,000 pressed]

The Sword, Low Country [1,500 pressed]

Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson [2,000 pressed]

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