Record Store Day is a great example of the difference between music collectors and music consumers. People who ripped some of their CDs to their iTunes library and dropped the rest of them off at the Salvation Army don’t typically participate in the festivities on the third Saturday in April. Streaming and MP3ing are for consumers. Fixed disc formats like vinyl and (yes) CDs are for collectors.
I don’t know anyone who stands around a 2 TB hard drive savoring a pint of their favorite craft porter admiring a friend’s play lists and scrolling through a collection of two million digital track titles. But we love to peruse record collections. The tactile sensations and the associated smells, sounds, graphics and liner notes give a record collection presence.
Now, computer-based music is beginning to fall prey to the overload of data infecting so many of our lives. In the same way that I have 4,075 unread emails clogging just one of my many email accounts, I also have thousands of songs saved somewhere that I will never hear again unless they come up as part of some serendipitous shuffle convergence. I don’t have a curated digital collection, I have a morass of accumulation alphabetized by first letter.
The renewed interest in vinyl is not just about nostalgia; it’s about collecting. Young people who weren’t born in 1987 when I bought R.E.M.’s Document, my last vinyl purchase before switching to CDs, don’t have the same formative connection to the format that I do. Yet those were the majority of people standing in line outside of UHF, my local record store here in Royal Oak, Michigan. They’re into grabbing these limited editions and quirky releases because they’re cool and they’re scarce. And I’m right there with them, because computer music does not satisfy the collector in me.
When everything is available to everyone at any time, it all begins to lose its cultural cache. There’s a thrill in finding a record for which I’ve been searching for months or years. For me on RSD it was a reissue of The Kinks’ Muswell Hillbillies that moved my needle. For some young fans I was with it was Neko Case’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood because very few copies had ever been pressed.
So, bring on the 7” purple vinyl special editions featuring Syd Barrett and R.E.M. each doing a version of “Dark Globe.” God love Record Store Day. I’ll just have to go to IKEA and buy another Kallax shelving unit.