When Chris Brown first put out an e-mail to other indie record store folks more than five years ago, he knew he had a good idea.
He proposed a day, once a year, that celebrated the idea of a physical record store. The place where people come -- and have come for generations -- to browse, talk to other fans and music experts, and buy the next great work from their favorite artist.
With more and more people getting music online, it made sense to Brown, head of marketing for the Maine-based Bull Moose Music store chain, to try to play up all the positive aspects of the record store experience.
So he's not completely surprised that Record Store Day will be entering its fifth year this Saturday around the nation. But he is surprised with how fast it's become big. Huge, in fact.
This year, more than 1,000 independent music stores nationwide will participate with giveaways, live performances and other events. That's more participating stores than ever before.
And record labels have prepared more than 300 exclusive Record Store Day releases, including everything from old country and classic rock to punk and pop, and by everyone from Ralph Stanley and Dave Brubeck to The Black Keys and The White Stripes. Last year, there were about 188 special releases.
But what surprises Brown the most, and what he loves the most about Record Store Day, is the incredible vibe the day creates for everyone involved.
"Even bigger than the special releases, I think, is the fact that it just feels really, really good to be in a music store on that day. It's like a wedding reception or something," said Brown.
"The music store is always a unique experience, but on Record Store Day, it's intensified. It's like opening day at a baseball park; you've got all these complete strangers who are glad to be together sharing this experience."
On Saturday, Bull Moose stores will be celebrating Record Store Day with more than a dozen performances by local bands at 10 locations. Bull Moose and other independent stores will also be selling special Record Store Day releases, though not necessarily all of them.
With all the special releases by artists large and small, Record Store Day has become the most important day of the year for independent record stores. Therefore, it's a big day for artists and labels as well.
"Record Store Day has become the biggest sales day for indie retail stores -- bigger than Christmas and any other holiday, period," said Alex Brody, associate director of independent marketing for RED, a Sony Music company that handles sales and marketing for independent record labels.
"Why has it grown? Because everyone -- artists, managers, labels, distributors, indie record stores -- have all banded together for a common goal: Driving consumer traffic to independent retail and purchasing physical product. Chris Brown and company took the idea of celebrating record stores and turned it into a movement that everyone has noticed."
Record Store Day has become a day to celebrate local music as well. All the bands playing Bull Moose stores this year are local, and several of them are releasing music on that day. In years past, Bull Moose has landed national acts to play Record Store Day along with the local acts, such as Grace Potter and The Nocturnals. But the scheduling didn't work out this year, so the line-up is all local.
Because Record Store Day draws tons of music lovers to stores, it's an important vehicle for local bands to get their names and their music out to a wider audience.
"It's a great opportunity to connect with fans of all ages in a more personal and intimate setting than a normal show," said Mark Sayer of the Maine band Whitcomb, which will be playing Bull Moose's North Windham store on Saturday. "(Record Store Day) is a tremendous idea that's been embraced by customers, retailers, labels and artists as a way to help promote what it is we all do and love.
"The fact that it's homegrown and Chris Brown helped get it off the ground makes it extra special."
Portland musician Zach Jones, who will be playing the Scarborough Bull Moose on Saturday, said he'd go to Record Store Day events even if he wasn't trying to sell his music.
"I enjoy Record Store Day not just because I'm a musician, but because I am a record enthusiast," said Jones, 30. "Living at a time where a lot of people are streaming music from the Internet, it's important for us to be reminded of what an experience visiting the record store and picking up a physical copy of an album by your favorite artist can be."
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