Smooth black discs, with indentations that serve as a path for a needle to follow, generate music that must be flipped over when the first side is complete. They can’t be easily reproduced like CDs or massively downloaded from a server, and they certainly can’t be shuffled.
Yet, there’s a whole day dedicated to celebrating their existence.
Since its beginnings in 2007, Record Store Day has grown into an international event, where labels and distributors release to specific sellers a limited amount of records, sometimes in CD form, but mostly on vinyl. This year, Record Store Day will take place in the heart of Iowa City at Record Collector, on Saturday, April 21.
Record Collector owner Kirk Walther started his Iowa City business in 1982, selling vinyl from the back of a coworker’s comic shop, Barfunkel’s (no longer in existence). From there, he moved to a house on Prentiss Street and a couple of other locations before setting up shop at 116 S. Linn St.
“Last year was the breakthrough year,” Walther said. “We had a line 20 deep waiting to get into the store before we opened.”
This Saturday will mark a special day for Record Collector and owner Kirk Walther. Not only will it be the fifth annual international Record Store Day, but the store’s 30th anniversary. From 10-6 p.m., Record Collector will have all its regular stock items on sale, plus they will be selling lots of rarities specially procured for the event.
“The music quiz will focus primarily on Iowa City related music questions, not relegated to just local acts,” Walther said. “For example, David Lee Roth performed during halftime of an Iowa football game in the mid-80s.”
First prize will be a $100 Record Collector gift certificate.
The love for music will continue to serve as the foundation for Record Store Day. Calling music lovers from all genres to come and celebrate.
“I have never heard of a Record Store Day,” Gabe Dejong said. “But I think it’s a great idea to try and breathe some life into the physical format when it seems like it could be on the verge of extinction.”
“When the idea was first conceived, I was quietly embarrassed,” Walther said. “To me it simply magnified the fact that record/CD stores were in their death throes because of internet competition, and that to have a ‘special’ day glorifying a failing entity was self-defeating.”
But the event has come to highlight the beauty of physical media, and brought attention to the unique form of listening. Dejong plans to attend the event and hopes to expand the somewhat modest record collection he has inherited from family. “I have a lot passed down from my parents and grandparents,” Dejong said. “I think it’s almost like a time capsule,” said Dejong. “I love putting on a big band record like Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman and thinking of my grandmother doing the same thing with the same record fifty years ago. You can’t do that with an MP3.”
Erica Tuke started collecting records not for the nostalgia, but for their covers. She went through a 60s, 70s and 80s album-cover art phase, collecting album covers, or artwork, a couple times a month.
“I miss the raw talent that went into marketing albums with the album covers,” Tuke said.
Never having purchased a record in his life, Ohio College of Art and Design student Donald Dunn still says he finds the format inspiring: “I love the design that goes into an albums artwork and packaging, especially with records,” Dunn said. “Records gave designers and illustrators the opportunity to get their work out there on a broad scale depending on the artist, and the size of a vinyl record made for some kick-ass pieces of art that people could own for the price of listening.”
Whether it’s the artwork or the music, purchasers all seem to agree — you just can’t beat the feeling of holding and listening to a vinyl record.
“You can hold it in your hand and stroke it tenderly,” Walther said. “It can break but not disappear when your computer crashes. You can appreciate it as art for art’s sake.”
“Romantically, I prefer vinyl,” Dejong said. “There’s something special about knowing the sound you’re hearing is produced with the needle you see right in front of you. You can turn the speakers off and put your ear close to the turntable and still hear it, because the music is being produced right there.”
“It’s not just a collection of 1s and 0s. There are the pops and cracks, and it’s all real.”
These imperfections lend character, authenticity and individuality to each vinyl record, differentiating them from from the CDs and MP3s that seem to have surpassed them in some other respects.
“But there is nothing like owning a hard copy,” Dunn said. “Especially when it comes to a vinyl.”