As threatened, throughout April - in celebration of Record Store Day - I offer up a daily post related to all things record shop.
And if any of it sounds like a Manifesto, consider it good practice for my election campaign next year.
Day Twenty Nine of this steaming pile of japery, kinghell boring bullshit and contentious nonsense...
Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes Turn And Face The Strange
As we approach the final days of April and the end of this particular volume of claptrap, I think it would be remiss of me not to mention what I would like to do to improve Record Store Day so that it might survive and remain an important day in the record store calendar.
Before I do, I want talk about CHANGE.
As a species, most of us don't like change. We don't like changes at work and we don't like changes at home. Paradoxically, as a species we are supremely adaptable to change, particularly negative changes to our lives and circumstances. We have an extraordinary ability to normalize negative changes. Our response to the Covid pandemic for example.
The governments and bosses of our World understand this very well, and as long as they 'finesse' the changes that negatively impact our lives, they know we'll quickly adapt, no matter what the cost to our mental and physical well being. This is why we can 'tolerate' the rapacious capitalism killing our planet, even as we struggle with the existential crisis of being Human in the 21st century. Going Underground, just like Weller's manifesto...
And so much for all that eh?
Changing gear, when I was a manager arriving at a new shop I had a routine for my first week. I did this in every shop I managed, and did it as an assistant manager a couple of time too:
First day, I'm meeting my team, familiarizing myself with the shop. I identify part of the shop floor that needs remerchandising. I tell my senior staff members to continue running the shop and I go to work CHANGING stuff. Over the next couple of days I'll spend time remerchandising or changing the layout of a section of the shop.
This achieves a number of things, some obvious and some less so.
Firstly, I'm making CHANGES to something many of the staff will have lived with for months, maybe years. I'm stamping my identity on the shop and preparing them for CHANGE. Secondly I'm going to be making the shop more money through the CHANGES I'm making. This will become apparent in future P & L reports. This builds trust that I know what I'm doing. Thirdly, being on the shop floor allows me to observe how customers are interacting with the shop and how my team is interacting with the customers. I'm also observing my senior staff members; is the store running smoothly? Are they delegating tasks and decision making or do they need to ask me for direction?
Over time I'll make more changes to the shop as and when they're needed, and I'll encourage my team to challenge conventional wisdom if it makes us a better and stronger team; I once worked with a stockroom guy whose 'unconventional' methods became the template for successful stockrooms across the region, even if his taste in music did not.
In 2019 I took a second job in the care industry, a part time support worker for adults with learning disabilities and in a couple of instances serious physical disabilities too. I found all of the clichés about the care industry to be true - emotionally rewarding, undervalued, underpaid, unprofessional and (as a result of the above) understaffed, with a ton of mental and physical stress for good measure.
Managing people and systems is a transferrable skill set, and while this was identified at my interview, once I got on site any opportunity to effect positive change was met with total resistance, and if the question was, 'why do we do it like this?' then the answer was always, 'because we just do'. Imagine a job done poorly and/or inefficiently, week after week, month after month, year after year, because of a) the lack of imagination and/or experience of the people doing the job and b) a corporate/management culture wholly resistant to change...
END OF INTERLUDE
At Rise I worked with a guy who is now the Director of Research at Autonomy, the think tank researching and implementing the four day working week (among other things). Studies have shown that the four day working week improves productivity and profitability. It improves employee mental and physical health. People working like this have more free time to spend with family, enjoy hobbies, pursue further education, living David Cameron's Big Society dream...
But there is enormous resistance to the four day working week project (maybe it was mentioning Big (society) Dave - ed) and work house ideology politicians gain traction far too easily amongst the very people that the four day working week would benefit the most. Why? Because we don't like change, especially if it sounds too good to be true; we'd find it much easier to adapt to working six days a week with a pay cut. We'd moan like hell about it, 'but we'd find a way to make it work'. Remember last week's class about Misery Porn?
In Elizabeth Goodman's Meet Me In The Bathroom book about the NY music scene, she makes an excellent point about the 'outlier' bands who paved the way for later bands who were more commercially successful because a) not enough people were yet ready for the outlier bands, and b) because the later bands were able to study the outliers, copying what worked and jettisoning what didn't work. It's tough being an outlier.
Which I'm not of course. I'm too old and way too cynical to 'waste' my energy sticking my neck out about anything. Tutting from the sidelines is more my thing nowadays.
Which is why I'm doing so much tutting these days about Record Store Day. The guys who started RSD in the US, and the guys who successfully brought it over to the UK, they're genuine outliers, and while RSD has commercially gone from strength to strength, what has followed on in recent years is a diminishing of the original ideals of the day, to the point now where many shops (and customers) are worried for the future. If we ask the question, 'why do we do it this way?' the answer will invariably be, 'because we just do.'
It's only my opinion, but RSD now seems more about the major distributors release schedule than it does about genuinely supporting the indie record shops; bands recording specifically for RSD are few and far between - nowadays RSD is an excuse for the majors to raid the vaults for records recorded years ago. At some point the vaults will be empty and what then? Re-releases of previous RSD records celebrating 10 years since the last RSD?
Which brings me sprawlingly back to my opening gambit, the CHANGES I'd make to RSD:
Less RSD releases.
More new and exclusive material.
Less 'legacy' reissues.
More parity of allocations for shops, to encourage the growth of small/new accounts.
More shop input on RSD releases.
More rewards and recognition for all-year-round supporters of local indie shops - I think we can all admit that 99.9% of the Taylor Swift singles went to people who won't set foot in a record shop again until the next under-priced quadruple-your-money-as-soon-as-you-leave-the-shop Taylor Swift single hits the racks.
More shop-managed 'loyalty point' schemes.
More consideration to the ideal of RSD being about the shop and industry partnership - even the smallest account will spend tens of thousands of pounds during the year. That's GOT to be paying someone's salary, right?
'Course, all of this is just an insomniacs keyboard ramble that won't go down particularly well with anyone, so I would bring this to a close by pointing out that every song about CHANGE is about change being a positive and uplifting thing and something to be embraced, but then I just remembered that that miserable Brummie Ozzy Osbourne wrote a song called Changes and it put me off CHANGES for absolutely yonks...
Face the Strange aaaiight!