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Music

Record Store Day: 18 April 2009, Shake It Records - Cincinnati, Ohio

Kevin Ott

In Store Performance by the Breeders

Record Store Day: 18 April 2009, Shake It Records - Cincinnati, Ohio

If Saturday, April 18th unfolded as beautifully sunny and spring-like as it did in Cincinnati, and the rest of the over 700 independent record stores in the USA were as crowded and vibrant as Shake It Records on Record Store Day, then there is good reason for optimism in the industry. By “industry”, I don’t mean the broad definition of the music industry, but instead, the small-but-no-longer-practically-obsolete corner of the world frequented by the true music junkies and ephemera aficionados -- the jumbled and cramped old storefront operations that are packed with racks of CDs and vinyl, old and new, obscure and popular.

The independent record store appeared to be headed for the same dust heap as the independent bookstore several years ago, but the tide may be turning. Part of that may be due to the realization that the big box chains provide no expertise and little enjoyment for the shopper. Ironically, after nearly killing the independents, it is the big box retailer that has imploded. Another part is the atmosphere -- something no big box chain could ever lay claim to. And a big part is just the importance of the hunt to the serious record addict: The unfolding of the origami-like musical family tree as the buyer searches deeper and deeper into an artist’s history and output. The back catalogs, the side projects, the side projects of the side musicians, the influences and influencers, the reissues and re-masters, the extra cuts and live bootlegs -- all this is available in many independent stores, with the help of your trusty guide, the independent record store clerk or owner. Much like John Cusack and his buddies in the movie High Fidelity, these owners and clerks have near perfect recall of every track they’ve ever heard. Their knowledge and opinions are vital in the stocking and sales of music that is very often on independent labels. And maybe these times demand that if your going to spend money, it better be an experience, it better feel like you have touched something, hit the nerve of a culture and walked away with something of value, and at minimal cost.

In the early afternoon, Shake It was teaming with record buyers. The aisles were crowded and the lines at the two cash registers were 8 and 10 people deep. People had armfuls of product. Of course, some of this was fueled by great variety of EPs, singles, and albums released especially for Record Store Day -- Flaming Lips, the Breeders, Tom Waits, My Morning Jacket, Iron and Wine and many other bands made available exclusive releases for the day. And according to Darren Blase of Shake It, they all sold out.

A steady stream of people flowed through Shake It throughout the day, propelling sales to a record for a single day, topping the previous sales high by 35 percent. Darren Blase started Shake It a little more than 10 years ago, and each year has seen an increase in sales. “Record Store Day sales were roughly equivalent to a full weeks sales,” he said. It helps that Shake It’s customer base extends beyond Cincinnati. “By noon, we had seen a bunch of people from Columbus, Dayton, Louisville -- the regulars who come here, but they came early to get the Flaming Lips or Tom Waits or whatever.”

The evening proved even bigger, as a stripped down version of the Breeders made an in-store appearance. The Deal sisters were joined by another woman on acoustic guitar. They entertained the crowd of roughly 250 people with a playful and loose set of tunes. After the 45 minute set they signed about 125 of their specially released EP for almost two hours at the counter for a gleeful group of happy independent record store shoppers.

Record Store Day’s web site says that the day is “a celebration of the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned stores in the USA.” The managers of this undertaking (Eric Levin, Michael Kurtz, Scott Register, and Carrie Colliton) have created an event that, while maybe not bring in droves of new shoppers, reinforces the ideals of the independent record store: Unusually good service, great ambiance, a nearly inexhaustible supply of possibilities for the music seeker and culture hound, and that sense of place so unique to the independent record store. Whether you were at Shake It or the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis or Newbury Comics in Boston or Ear X-Tacy in Louisville or Waterloo Records in Austin, I’m sure you felt the same great vibe and walked out with an armful of treasures.

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