Right now, I’m sitting on my porch sipping a cup of coffee and listening to the latest release from Brandy Clark – Live from Los Angeles. I’m especially happy to be doing this because this record is one of the 8 things I picked up while visiting my 10 favorite record stores on Record Store Day 2017. While Record Store Day is always the only singular holiday I really celebrate or get into each year (I celebrate the NBA and WNBA playoffs, but those go on beyond a single day and I celebrate other holidays with friends and family who find those days important), this year offered more releases I wanted than any other to date. As I do every year, I spent the entire day roaming from shop to shop, watching all the people and celebrations and musical performances, and blowing up the phones of family members who are kind enough to let me do so with endless details about what they often call my day.
As I was strolling around looking at records this time, I also thought about the symbols and meanings that emerged throughout the day. One of the most common questions I receive when I say I celebrate one holiday, and then tell people what it is involves something along the lines of “what is that about.” I usually just answer by saying what it is about for me – a day surrounded by other music lovers, and hours spent collecting special releases and memories in stores I spend a lot of my time in throughout the year. This year, however, I started paying attention while I did this in hopes of picking out some of the things this day means to others. Like any other holiday (or holy day, whichever you prefer) interactionists have studied over the years, there are multiple meanings for Record Store Day, and I had a surprisingly good time learning some of them from the sixty or seventy people I spoke to about it this year.
For some folks, the day is almost entirely about the releases. Many of these are the people that get up in the early morning or late night hours, wait in long lines for especially rare and sought after collector’s items. These people talk about the importance of their collection, and the chances they get on this day to share that collection (and the love and passion it represents for them) with other people who have similar tastes and passions. It was interesting for me because I’ve never been willing to get up early or wait in the long lines, and as such, I long guessed why people did it, but had a lot of fun hearing the memories and examples of not only why, but how people did it (i.e., for some it’s a family or long time friend ritual), and what people remembered from doing it over the years (the most fun example was a lesbian couple who met in one of these lines a few years ago and continue to do it together now).
For many of the business owners, the meaning of the day revolves around two things. First, record store owners typically invest a ton of time, energy, and money to operate such places, and this day often represents a big cushion or carry-over of operating expenses due primarily to the fact that people coming in for the events or special releases will buy a lot of other things in the process. Second, record store owners generally see the day as a celebration of their passion (i.e., the store they invest in) and a remembrance of the time where it looked like such stores would become a thing of the past. In such cases, the store owners talked a lot about the ups and downs of owning and working at record stores and with other musical enterprises. For them, it was more of a celebration than anything else.
For a lot of the artists who perform at these events, however, it was primarily about a combination of promotion and possibility. Many of them talked about the importance of quality gigs throughout the year, and the ways that playing at a crowded record store (even only a small set on a makeshift stage) could turn people onto them that they may not reach otherwise. Some of them also talked about hope – the idea that the ability of the stores to bring in so many people at once even if only on special days told them something about the ways people still did appreciate music. To my surprise, though I think I should have guessed it, this was also the pattern I found in the responses of local businesses who serve food and drinks at the events (often for free to us customers or for donations to local charities). The day represented an opportunity to maybe catch new customers, and an illustration of people caring about local and independent businesses and arts.
While I could offer a wide variety of meanings from different groups, the other largest contingent of people offered similar interpretations to my own. These were customers, more casual record collectors, and music lovers who went to the events because these are the places they normally go, these are the places that matter to them, and these are the places where they generally shop, get to know others, and have important memories. Many of these people were after this or that release from a favorite artists (like the Brandy Clark record I just flipped to side 2 a few minutes ago), but were primarily interested in seeing the stores full, hearing what the local bands were up to, and checking out the discounts, promotions, and same cubbies and stacks they look through fairly regularly (though often with much less people around).
As an interactionist, meaning represents a lot of what I study and seek to make sense of in my work. This year, primarily due to the curiosity generated within me by others asking about it, I translated that interest into my Record Store Day adventures. In so doing, I found what I expected – a day that means a lot to different types of people as well as different things to different people who approach, experience, and interpret it from varied positions.