Words and photos by Alex Capper
Record Store Day is any audiophile’s favourite day of the year. It is the celebration of music and music production in the purest form. Every year, on the third Saturday of April, music lovers and artists across the globe support the vinyl industry with this annual shopping bonanza. The day sees new and rare releases made available on vinyl, which can be savoured by music punters for a lifetime.
It goes without saying that the phenomenon of the internet and the digitalisation of media have fundamentally affected the music industry. Any artist’s music can be accessed on an infinite number of platforms by anyone. As a result, the days of the CD are dying. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a Sanity store?
But today’s music industry is simultaneously progressing in two contrasting directions. Record labels and artists primarily rely on the relatively new-age wonder of streaming platforms (Spotify, Pandora, Soundcloud) and digital transactions (Bandcamp, ITunes) to sell their music directly. In fact, 2013 was the first year in Australian music that more albums were downloaded than physically purchased since ITunes launched in 2005.
Running concurrently alongside the digital music revolution is the market’s renewed interest in the production of vinyl records. The vinyl record represents the culmination of the art in the aural and visual medium. This fact is undoubtedly a key reason for the increase in popularity of vinyl in the MP3 era. According to Digital Music News, from 2007-2012, Vinyl sales in the USA increased from 988,000 to 4.6 million. In that same span, the net worth of the vinyl industry grew from $55 million to $171 million. On our own shores, total vinyl sales were up 77 per cent in 2013 compared to 2012, according to ARIA.
With this increased attention towards records and vinyl music shops, a syndicate of Record Store owners conceived a special day to celebrate vinyl and independent music stores in 2007, aptly named Record Store Day. Since then, there are now stores participating in Record Store Day from every continent on earth.
Simon Karis, co-owner of Fitzroy’s Polyester Records, believes the day is all about a “fun and exciting way to celebrate music”. While he acknowledges that the increased support is nice, the day is by no means driven by financial incentive. Karis deems that the rise of vinyl pre-empted and catalysed the inception of Record Store Day, which has only reinforced the growing popularity of vinyl and independent music stores.
Karis values the aesthetic difference vinyls offer, stating they are simply “nice to collect and treasure”. MP3s, which he notes offer the same aural quality as CDs, have become the new throwaway, saturating the market and almost becoming worthless in sentimental value. Karis added that vinyl records are the “boutique alternative for the mass music market”, citing the rising statistics possibly to the fact that music lovers favour quality over quantity and are seeking distinctive and retrospective avenues to enjoy and appreciate music.
While Karis believes the vinyl market has always been an underlying presence and that vinyl will continue to expand, he does feel that this surge in popularity has a ceiling and will eventually plateau. However, for whatever new form of musical listening emerges in the future, Karis is a strong believer that vinyl will always remain a valuable and retroactive presence on the music industry.
When 19 April came around, I decided I better make good on this unique opportunity and personally check out what Record Store Day has to offer.
I discovered that the day was, as Karis described, simply dedicated to the art of music. Special and rare releases coming out on vinyl and cassette; live music from artists in-store; and a jam-packed rush by music junkies to grab their favourite record before it was snatched up. Record Store Day had achieved its wider aim. A flurry of people flocked to their favourite record store to show that adoration for quality music and independent music stores was at an important and resurgent high.
While I was heartbrokenly deprived of some of my desired releases (absolutely gutted I missed out on the reissue of MGMT’s Congratulations and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969 Singles), Record Store Day demonstrated in abundance that music is more than throwaway MP3s, a YouTube video, or solely a commercial entity. It is an art that can be a reminiscent portal to your memory, taking you to experiences etched with nostalgia. Or a form of art that purely grasps you in a moment that perfectly captures your present feelings. It is these irreplaceable experiences through music that Record Store Day ultimately celebrates the most.
Polyester Records is located at 387 Brunswick St, Fitzroy. Get around it.
Words by Alex Capper
Infographics by Kevin Hawkins
Music festivals are an undeniable highlight of the summer calendar, igniting unparalleled feelings of excitement among thousands of young Australians. Despite this, the festival industry is facing an uncertain future, with some reputable live events coming dangerously close to financial ruin and closure. While it would be hasty to write the epitaph for all Australian festivals, the times are certainly changing and the stewards of the music industry are failing to grasp the demands of a new audience.
The sensation of Australian music festivals began with the first Big Day Out in January 1992, an event that by all accounts succeeded through sheer luck. The Violent Femmes were named to headline the festival, which otherwise featured several up-and-coming acts. One of these was Nirvana, who were booked just prior to the release of their LP Nevermind. Nirvana’s fame skyrocketed after the album’s release, helping them to fast become the world’s biggest band. Pandemonium ensued as new fans tried desperately to get hold of a ticket, sparking a live music transformation within Australia. Fast-forward to 2014, and Big Day Out’s existence is now in jeopardy.
2014’s first problem was its dated line-up. Blur and Pearl Jam are exceptionally popular bands, but are no longer able to magnetise today’s festival audience demographic. Having one nostalgic headliner can potentially work wonders for a festival, but two? When Blur pulled out just two months before the event, Big Day Out’s reputation was left in shatters.
Coupled with an exorbitant ticket price ($185) and overpriced drinks ($8 for a tinnie), Big Day Out was destined to fail.
And fail it did.
In an interview with Triple J, Big Day Out co-owner AJ Maddah said the festival lost somewhere between eight to 15 million dollars. He acknowledged the line-up was the major problem, believing that promoters had lost their connection with the current music scene. To add to his woes, Maddah was forced to cancel Harvest festival last year. Meanwhile, several top acts pulled out of Soundwave—Maddah’s rock-metal festival—which subsequently failed to sell out.
Despite his poor recent record, the beleaguered promoter is arguably all that stands between the Big Day Out’s prolonged existence and its extinction. Maddah co-owns Big Day Out with American company C3 Presents, whose portfolio includes Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. With C3 unlikely to come to Big Day Out’s rescue, the onus remains on Maddah to save some of Australia’s best-loved festivals.
It’s unclear whether cheaper tickets or more relevant acts will be enough to keep Big Day Out and Soundwave alive. But one thing is for sure—these recent disasters are not indicative of the vitality of the Australian festival scene.
It appears that the one-day festival has been superceded by its multiple-day counterparts. Where Harvest has failed, Falls Festival has triumphed with sold-out campsites in three locations across Australia. Meanwhile, dance festival Stereosonic extended its show to two days and a rise in ticket sales followed. These festivals, along with Splendour in the Grass, Meredith, Golden Plains, and Future Music Festival routinely sell out in a matter of minutes.
So what have these festivals learned out about today’s audience?
First of all, it’s a simple matter of supply and demand. Stereosonic and Future satisfy the younger generation’s hunger for electronic/dance music, whereas Falls, Splendour, and newcomer Laneway have tapped into the 18-30-year-old Triple J listener demographic. Maddah believes this is why younger festivals are succeeding, for they know “what’s going to break, when it’s going to break [and when] to book bands at the exact appropriate time”.
To thrive in a market with an exhaustive range of festivals, you also need to offer your audience a truly exceptional adventure; a good festival is more than a good line-up. Falls is the perfect example. At what other festival can you sing-a-long with Vampire Weekend or MGMT at the strike of midnight on New Year’s Eve? Moreover, its village is packed full of art, craft, theatre, and stalls to keep festival goers busy between set-times.
Festivals everywhere are buying into this concept. Indeed, an industry member from a leading festival notes—with specific reference to dance festivals—that a line-up means ‘almost nothing anymore unless you have someone like Daft Punk playing’. This explains the snowballing popularity of bush festivals such as Rainbow Serpent and Strawberry Fields, which often have relatively underground artists on their line-up.
Festivals need to be able to cater to an ever-dynamic audience, who demand an evolving sound and experience. While Big Day Out and Soundwave may sit in a vulnerable position, the Australian festival scene is otherwise thriving. And I think that is something for which we can be excited.