On the charts: Record Store Day is 'more important' than Christmas
The holiday season comes in April for independent retailers. Sales for the third-annual Record Store Day were reported to be their highest ever, with a large uptake in vinyl and single sales reflected in Nielsen SoundScan's weekly numbers.
About 990 U.S. stores stocked with new, rare and exclusive content, including titles from John Lennon, Elvis Costello, Them Crooked Vultures, MGMT, Pavement and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Eric Levin, one of Record Store Day's key architects, declared the event "more important" than Christmas or Christmas week, in terms of boosting sales at independent outlets.
Levin runs Atlanta's Criminal Records and overseas the Alliance of Independent Media Stores (AIMS), a group of 28 indie stores around the country. "Every single AIMS store has reported that this was the best day they ever had, whether they were a 5-year-old store or a 15-year-old store," Levin said.
Overall album sales in the independent sector were up 12% over the prior week, according to Nielsen Entertainment's vice president of merchant services, Chris Muratore. "It definitely is a significant impact," said Muratore. "When you look at configuration, vinyl is the area that has the largest impact. From what I saw and heard from record companies, there was a lot of new content out there, and a lot of it was content on vinyl."
Vinyl sales were up 119% for the week at indie stores, according to SoundScan, and single sales at indie retailers experienced a whopping 529% charge. Many Record Store Day exclusives are singles, such as MGMT's 12-inch picture disc or the Rolling Stones' "Plunder My Soul" 7-inch.
"It’s a celebration and a reminder that local business is important and awesome," Levin said of Record Store Day.
All Record Store Day items, such as a 10" picture disc from Them Crooked Vultures or a limited vinyl-only release of the Hold Steady's new album, "Heaven Is Whenever," which will be released on CD on May 4, are non-returnable. The latter was one of the fastest albums to go, and even sold out early at a pop-up record store at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival run by the small chain Zia Record Exchange.
"Heaven Is Whenever" has already turned up on eBay, with the going price around $200. Only 700 copies of the Vagrant Records album were released.
Yet one of the most sought-after Record Store Day titles wasn't even released in the U.S. -- a new single from long dormant Brit-pop band Blur. The act's "Fool's Day" was limited to 1,000 copies, and exclusive to U.K. outlets. It's also going for more than $100 on eBay.
"Every one asked for Blur," Levin noted. His Atlanta store had more than 200 people in line by 9 a.m., he said, and he bested last year's sales total by 4 p.m. Levin said participating stores had been instructed not to sell the items on eBay or in advance of the event. Those that did, he said, "are done," and will not be allowed to participate next year.
Indie outlets also bring in big-name performers on Record Store Day. Here in Los Angeles, Billy Corgan's new-look Smashing Pumpkins performed near Amoeba Music in Hollywood, and the store's San Francisco outlet boasted France's Gainsbourg.
The increase in foot traffic was reflected in Nielsen SoundScan's weekly charts. Muratore said SoundScan tabulated 573,000 sales at indie outlets this week, compared with 568,000 during the week of Record Store Day in 2009. While no album sold more than 100,000 copies this week, overall album sales were up 3%, and chain outlets saw a 7% gain, said Muratore.
The overall week-to-week gain in album sales could lead one to conclude that Record Store Day is fueling sales at all music retailers, even those not stocked with exclusive content. The sales promotion has become such a nationally recognized event that it was even referenced on "Saturday Night Live."
"It’s just too bad this kind of thing can’t happen all the time, where you get people really excited to go to physical stores and pore over records," said Billboard's chart guru, Keith Caulfield.
Sales at indie stores were also boosted, no doubt, by the release of a new album from MGMT. The latter act debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with its "Congratulations," a challenging psychedelic synth-pop effort that represents a shift in direction from its debut, "Oracular Spectacular." "Congratulations" sold more than 66,000 copies, MGMT's best-ever sales week.
"Oracular Spectacular," which has sold 606,000 copies to date, never topped 17,000 in one week, according to SoundScan data published by Billboard.
At Coachella, MGMT, who performed, were a hot seller at Zia's pop-up shop, said the store's general manager/vice president, Brian Faber. The title led Billboard's "Tastemaker" tally, which collects sales figures from a few hundred indie outlets, including Amoeba Music.
One of the notable Record Store Day titles on the indie-focused chart came in at No. 14 with Flaming Lips' take on Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" with Stardeath and White Dwarfs. The title sold out of its available 1,000 copies.
Yet all the excitement at indie outlets is still no match for Bieber Fever. Justin Bieber's "My World 2.0" continues to lead the U.S. pop chart, having sold an additional 92,000 copies this week, bringing its to date total to 768,000.
-- Todd Martens
Photo: MGMT's Andrew VanWyngarden. Credit: Associated Press