Friday, 25 March 2011

Interview with Spencer Hickman, UK coordinator of International Record Store Day

Its four years now since international record store day was conceptualised by a group of store owners in the USA. In that time it has changed significantly - from participation by a handful of stores through to one of the key events in the music industry’s year. The record labels increasingly recognise the day as an opportunity to open the vaults and unearth rare and unreleased tracks onto vinyl or CD and thousands of stores from around the world participate. It has its critics, many of the rarer items (most notably an unreleased Blur track last year) are soon found on eBay where they command a premium but the simple fact is that the day brings thousands of people into record stores who might otherwise shop online. For one day at least people can experience the joy of combing through the racks, chatting to fellow music lovers and buying something that they might not of otherwise discovered – a simple but profound joy.

Spencer Hickman of Rough Trade Records is the UK face of the day. Responsible for overall co-ordination plus organising some of the very best events at the Rough Trade stores in London. Last year he hosted thousands of record buyers with a number of acts instore including an excellent set by Caribou. I was lucky enough to speak to Spencer as this year’s event approaches on Saturday 16th April

So, how are preparations for the big day going?

Yeah, good though a bit hectic. There are so many releases this year – over 200. We’ve got about 170 announced and another 60 to be listed in the next week or two. We’re finding it easy to get bands and labels on board. The first year we just persuaded Piccadilly Records, Spillers and a few others to sign up and we didn’t have any special product. We just got a band in to play and had a bit of a celebration. This year, in the UK alone we’ve got 177 stores involved already – more than ever before. I’m already doing lots of interviews and hopefully we’ll get some TV coverage set up this year.

My only worry is overkill. We have no control over what the labels put out on the day. It’ll be interesting to see what sells and what doesn’t. For small stores it’s such an outlay on product which they might then not sell.

What are the notable vinyl releases you’ve got lined up?

The Queen one is the big one – two unreleased demos. We’ve already got Queen fans emailing us. We’ll be limiting that one to one per customer. The Vaccines are releasing a live bootleg. There’s a sort of New York legends tribute to Franz Ferdinand with LCD Soundsystem, Debbie Harry and ESG doing covers of Franz tracks. The first track on the Wild Beasts album comes out on the day too.

Why is the day so important?

The whole point is that I know that once you get someone inside a record shop and give them that experience they’ll come back. We all use blogs to find new music but you can’t have that real interaction – a chat.

What have you got lined up in the stores on the day?

At Rough Trade West we’ve got Pete and the Pirates. At East we’ve 90% confirmed Soundtrack of our Lives, Wild Beasts and a Chilly Gonzales piano recital! We’re actually having less in-store appearances this year. We’ve learnt a lot from last year and we want to make it a more pleasant shopping experience. Instead, when the store closes at 8pm we’re having a free party at 93 Feet East with Gyratory System, The Mazes and Soundtrack of our Lives.

We had people almost fighting over releases when the store opened last year and we’ve learnt a lot since then. We’ll have a street party outside and face painting and that sort of thing to entertain people in the queue.

How does a record store survive in these days of digitalisation and internet shopping?

You need to widen your horizons. Gone are the days when you could expect people just to walk in and buy. We hold film nights, screen painting classes, in-store signings the list goes on. It’s important not to be afraid to fail sometimes. We did a Saturday morning kids club to enable parents to shop in the store but it simply didn’t work.

Also, concentrate on stocking great music and provide great service. People don’t mind paying a bit extra for that experience. One of the great things about the day is that it gets the stores enthused as well. One owner said that last year he had queues like he hadn’t had for 15 years. It gets stores thinking about things they can do the rest of the year too.

How do you feel about people buying rare stock and then sticking it on eBay at a profit?

Its really unfortunate and no-one dislikes it more than me. We had a situation last year where we looked on eBay at 8am on the day and there were already people posting up the Blur single with our sticker on it. The thing is though that short of questioning everyone who comes in you can’t really stop it- it’s just another example of how people use eBay . We’ll be limiting sales of the rarer items to one per person.

Can you see vinyl surviving?

Well its only a small part of the market but vinyl sales have increased in the last four years and it’s still growing. Bands like the Mystery Jets will release a song on 7 and 12 inch and 12 and 13 year old kids will buy it, see the band play and get it signed. People still want a physical product.

Well, I’m really looking forward to the day. I wish you all the best of luck and keep the dream alive!

Cheers man.

To find out where your nearest Record Store event is and to find out more about the day go to

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