Arts Desk

Record Store Day: Do Hipsters Hate iTunes?

This Saturday, hipsters nationwide will saddle up their fixie riders and head down to their local vinyl outlet for Record Store Day. The holiday, created two years ago by a coalition of well-connected romantics (presumably while smoking a peach hookah and watching Empire Records), celebrates the culture of indie record emporia in the face of encroachment from "corporate behemoths." In order to participate, a store must be a "physical retailer whose product line consists of at least 50 percent music retail, whose company is not publicly traded and whose ownership is at least 70 percent located in the state of operation."

The event is a fine idea. It promotes community and a healthy disdain for corporate homogenization, which is what a lot of good music is about. But big-box music retailers aren't exactly going gangbusters these days. Trans-World Entertainment Corporation, the exquisitely evil-sounding conglomerate that owns Sam Goody, F.Y.E., and Strawberries, has seen its stock price fall by 92 percent in the last five years. Really, these stores and your local Championship Vinyl analog are similar inasmuch as they share a common foe: the iTunes Music Store.

Record Store Day implicitly condemns iTunes, and official event ambassador Jesse Hughes (from The Eagles of Death Metal) even goes so far as to liken buying music online to playing Guitar Hero instead of guitar. But as New York Times blogger Verlyn Klinkenborg notes in a 2008 post, iTunes, with its vast catalog of far-flung artists and user-generated reviews, is far from an indifferent, imperial merchant. Local bands can get their self-recorded album on iTunes just as easily as they can get it on the shelves of their local indie shop. Even artists are grateful for iTunes's astounding ability to lure customers away from free-download sites, which seemed destined to cripple not only indie music stores, but musicians as well. Sure, a lot of them are using Record Store Day as an excuse to put out a bunch of b-sides; but how much you wanna bet those go right to iTunes, with the bands' blessing?

Those who bemoan the decline of the indie music stores shouldn't villify iTunes. If anything, they should be thankful, on an aesthetic level, that it has driven many of the big chain stores out of business. Indie shops, meanwhile, will always be around, just like vintage clothing stores and antiques dealers. They serve a niche market, and that market is entirely justified in gathering to celebrate them. But celebrants should not be too hard on iTunes: It may be a huge corporation that wants your money; but it may let you hang on to your soul.

Be sure to check out Jason Cherkis' upcoming roundup of local Record Store Day events.

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  • TomHandy

    Seriously - it's bad enough to hear the major labels complain about iTunes and digital music stores, but now the hipsters and indies need to complain too? Guess what - I don't have a lot of cool hip music stores around me, so the avenues for finding and buying a lot of cool indie music are limited for me. Even if I do hear some cool band or read about it somewhere, it is much easier for me to open up iTunes and buy it and have it right away then think about the next time I'll be at some cool record store and hope they have it.

  • Dscprlnt

    funny, i worked at a record store in DC for about 5 years and not a single record store owner that i know, rides a fixed gear... most record store owners (as in vinyl records) and collectors are out of shape nerds like myself.

    Here's where your wrong:
    1. Hipsters don't really care about music, they just go to shows to "look cool" and get laid. Therefore, they rarely buy music.
    2. Fixed gear/single speed riders are for the most part either messengers, hipsters or sporty people, not record collectors.
    3. i-tunes has a very limited scope of music, mostly major label or bigger indie label artists.
    4. Indie stores will not be around forever unless people continue to buy records. If an entire new generation is raised on iTunes and iPods and other iCrap... indie stores will disappear. Luckily there are "snobs" like me that love the sound/look/smell/feel of a vinyl record.

    itunes sucks, mp3s suck.. they're good for travelling, but any serious music fan understands that records are where it's at, as do most decent musicians.

  • DJStylus

    I'm a DJ, I ride a fixie, I'm not a hipster, and my vinyl collection is in the mid four figures.

    The main thing that will keep me from hitting up Record Store Day this year is that I'm running out of space.

    And I prefer Amazon over iTunes for paid downloads.

  • Tuyet

    I might have better respected your argument had you not in the first sentence reverted to shallow generalities about people who buy records and/or are supportive of locally owned record stores. Also your phrasing of "fixie riders" makes you sound like a fucking grandpa. "Darn those kids and their fixie bi-cycle machines!"

  • Gazubu

    I have a nice vinyl collection and ride a mountain bike.

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  • nw dc

    Record store day is great and everything but I couldn't stomach digging in a store crowded with DC hipsters who came out of the woodwork to get the new limited edition beardrock 7". Still, kudos to the stores participating and the people who put all this on.

    Viva la Vinyl!!!

  • the ferd

    "Here’s where your wrong:
    3. i-tunes has a very limited scope of music, mostly major label or bigger indie label artists."

    unintentional hilarity? i think so. granted, itunes is vastly inferior to the amazon store, as pointed out above already.

    and steve, methinks your offbeat sense of humor is lost entirely on these people. c'mon, people. you know you take yourself too seriously when...