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Remember when Tower Records filed for bankruptcy for the second time in 2006? The media-at-large pointed to “industry changes” as the reason for the record superstore’s demise. The newfound convenience of digital downloading, they reckoned, marked the beginning of the end for traditional music retailers. But according to Michael Kurtz, co-founder of Record Store Day, nothing could be further from the truth.

Kurtz said the media’s non-stop coverage about the “dismal state” of the music industry was a misnomer. ‘That wasn’t the independent record store experience at all,” he said. “We were opening stores and having a great time.”

In an effort to mitigate the backlash, Kurtz helped form a think tank called “Noise in the Basement” which mobilized a bunch of record-store owners. The group liked the idea of Free Comic Book Day whereby publishers produce special editions exclusively for comic book stores. “We thought it made sense to try something like that with music,” said Kurtz.

Enter Record Store Day

Kurtz decided to sell the the idea of Record Store Day, designed to celebrate the culture of music by offering special edition vinyl records, CD's and other items that are only available at participating retailers. It was not an easy sell at first. Many stores he approached thought the name was inaccurate, since many record stores also sell video games, books, apparel and more. Kurtz was also challenged with seeking participation from popular artists like Metallica who, until recently, were signed to Warner Music Group (an SAP customer). Metallica loved the idea and officially kicked off Record Store Day at Rasputin Music in on April 19, 2008. Warner and a few other labels agreed to release 10 different records, worth about $35,000.

Today, that number has grown to $7 million, making Record Store Day a bit of an industry phenomenon. This is the one day that all of the independently owned record stores come together with artists to celebrate the art of music. Special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products are made exclusively for the day and hundreds of artists in the United States and in various countries across the globe make special appearances and performances. Festivities include performances, cook-outs, body painting, meet and greets with artists, parades, djs spinning records and more. Record Store Day's impact on vinyl records cannot be denied.

“Vinyl manufacturing plants are bursting at the seams,” said Kurtz. “We took a nascent industry – vinyl – breathed life into it and now we can’t even handle the amount of business we are creating.”

An Inconvenient Truth

The success of Record Store Day turns a lot of things on its head. The notion that everything has to be cheap and convenient – something we are taught over and over again – is thrown out the window. “It’s an anomaly,” as Kurtz puts it. “There’s nothing convenient about going to Record Store Day. It’s like going to a rock festival. Stand in line, hang out with other music fans and hear music all day.”

Philip Anselmo, front man of the multi-platinum metal act Pantera, and now owner of indie record label Housecore Records, can relate to the fact that more people are taking the time to visit record stores. When he was younger, Anslemo used to constantly scour underground record stores and to this day still believes in the vinyl format. “Record Store Day promotes this type of passion of having the actual product in your hand instead of just a download,” said Anselmo. “I love having the full album, art, lyrics and I think vinyl sounds better. And as a label owner, it makes me happy to see that people slowly but surely want to have this tangible copy in their hands instead of a free [expletive] download, which is driving me [expletive] bananas.”

Sponsorship Speaks Volumes

Beck’s Beer (an Anheuser-Busch InBev brand) is a sponsor of Record Store Day and is working with Universal Music Group to distribute 2,000 special edition vinyl recordings featuring tracks from several Universal Music Group artists. “We’ll hand these out at a bunch of record stores,” said Chris Curtis, Brand Manager, Beck’s Beer.

“We chose to sponsor Record Store Day because it’s a cool movement that deserves to grow. Record stores occupy a unique place in our culture.”

Curtis believes the transition to digital music puts pressure on record stores and Beck’s has elected to sponsor Record Store Day to honor the irreplaceable institutions.

“There’s something magic about vinyl that digital music has not been able to replace,” said Curtis. “This is not a slight against digital music, but more of a testament to the enduring value of vinyl.”

Pump up the volume and follow me on Twitter @TClark01.