Record Store Day: Interview With Founder Michael Kurtz (plus: Listen To Bon Iver)

Alex Moore :: Wednesday, April 21st, 2010 1:45 pm

Record Store Day was this Saturday, and it was a huge hit for the organization, getting tons of attention from exclusive releases by Bon Iver and Blur, and even a shout-out from Seth Meyers on SNL.

Now in its third year, Record Store Day seems to be defying all odds, lifting one of the most notoriously challenged industries to national-holiday status, if only for a day. So how did this whole thing happen?

Keep reading for an exclusive interview with Michael Kurtz, Record Store Day founder and visionary. Also, watch the SNL clip a and listen to Bon Iver covering Peter Gabriel in a special RSD release.

For those not yet in the know, can you explain what Record Store Day is?

In two years Record Store Day has morphed from an excuse to throw a party for all of the artists that record stores love to an international event. Hundreds of artists as diverse as Leonard Cohen to the Breeders to Metallica to Tom Waits to Wilco to Bjork have all either made appearances at the stores or created special vinyl, CD and DVD releases. It is now like a huge music festival that is celebrated simultaneously at record stores in cities from New York to London to Tokyo to Toronto to Rome to Los Angeles.

How did you get all these different bands and stores to participate in a singular vision under one umbrella?

It started out with Metallica—the band said they loved record stores and that they wanted to help us kick it off. Paul McCartney wrote us a really nice email talking about how much he loved record stores and how he supported Record Store Day. The Stephen Malkmus 10″ was a really huge deal on the first year too. From there it just took off.

Do you fear for the future of record stores? Is RSD one of the things record stores can bring to consumers to stay connected to music in a unique way?

One of the things we wanted to quickly do with Record Store Day was to move out the position of being viewed as “poor little record stores,” and move into the role of having Record Store Day viewed as not only a great celebration of music and art but also a celebration of viable locally owned businesses that generate significant income for artists. By our second year we had close to one hundred unique Record Store Day commercial releases. The Flaming Lips, Tom Waits, Iron & Wine, Bob Dylan were some of the most sought-after. I don’t really fear for record stores so much as I fear for the artists and labels who have lost much of their ability to make a living off their recorded music in the digital age. Of course if they fail, then there are no record stores. I don’t see that happening, but it is a concern.

As far as helping consumers stay vitally connected, we’ve got set up so the community can read artists and fans’ thoughts on record stores, watch videos, read about our latest Record Store Day related promotions and releases. This is important as many of these Record Store Day releases are essentially pieces of art with limited with pressings. They can often be found on ebay being sold by fans and collectors for big money. This helps reinforce the value of music and art, so I think that’s a good thing. When we opened our Record Store Day retail site at Coachella last year, we were stunned at the amount of artists that came to meet their fans and at the amount of stuff people bought. Over a third of it was vinyl. Our world is different and Record Store Day celebrates that difference.

If you look at a chart of national sales for 2009, one of the big spikes in sales occurs the week of Record Store Day. We moved the planet a little that day. This is good for the artists and all of the people who work in our business.

Click here to listen to Bon Iver covering Peter Gabriel’s “Come Talk To Me.”