The problems with Record Store Day have been well-documented. What started out as an event to promote independent record stores is still that — in theory — but, in practice, it feels like, over the past few years, the organization has been losing its independent spirit. Increasingly, Record Store Day releases seem to fall into two categories: large production runs of vinyl from artists with major label backing, or extremely limited edition box sets that are scooped up immediately and flipped on eBay for inordinate prices. Neither is necessarily the fault of the Record Store Day organization, but it sure does feel like there’s a problem with where things are heading. Major labels and gimmick releases have seemingly co-opted the event as another way to cash in on the oft-inflated importance of the “vinyl resurgence,” while leaving record stores out to dry the other 364 days of the year. (363 now, if you count RSD’s newer Black Friday event.) As Record Store Day grows bigger, it increasingly feels like the little guy is getting lost in the shuffle.
For example, take Father/Daughter Records. The San Francisco-based label put out their first RSD release last year, a fun compilation called Faux Real, which rounded up smaller artists like Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis, Radiator Hospital, and Potty Mouth to cover songs by fake bands from movies and TV shows. They planned to follow it up this year with a second iteration of the compilation, and started work on it, assuming that it would be part of Record Store Day 2015. But when it came down to it, the release was rejected for being “not compelling enough.” It’s only one story from one label, but it’s also not the first time that smaller independent labels have spoken out against RSD.
Record Store Day isn’t blind to the problem. Participation from indie labels has been increasing over the years, and RSD has joined the American Association Of Independent Music, a trade organization, to help reach out to indie labels and help them along in the process for submitting a record successfully to RSD. But rejections still happen, and the reasons are largely unclear, mainly due to fuzzy criteria for what makes for an “acceptable” Record Store Day release. “Managing the releases that we accept on our list is actually similar to booking a music festival,” RSD co-founder Michael Kurtz told us over email. “We’d like to let as many bands participate as possible but, in the end, there is only so much room on the stage. This year we’ve had over 550 submissions, of which we are hoping to include about 450, which is about the same number as last year. There is some amazing stuff being offered by indie labels so it’s really hard to narrow it down.”
We reached out to Father/Daughter’s co-founder, Jessi Frick, to talk about her experience with Record Store Day, and how she’s releasing the next Faux Real compilation outside of the event. We’re also premiering the first song from the compilation: It’s from Brooklyn rockers LVL UP, who cover “Somebody Kill Me Please” as originally performed by Adam Sandler (aka Robbie Hart) in The Wedding Singer.
STEREOGUM: How did this compilation come together?
JESSI FRICK: David — husband, Father/Daughter quality control, and all around rad guy — and I were brainstorming ideas for a compilation for last year’s Record Store Day. After our idea of a Jimmy Buffet covers record got rejected, I started to think about how I’d love to release the That Thing You Do soundtrack on vinyl because, as far as I know, it never was. Needless to say, I couldn’t find a contact for Tom Hanks, so this was the next best thing. And for last year’s, we pretty much just asked bands we liked if they wanted to participate, and they did. It was pretty easy to put together.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a huge list of a bunch of fake movie and TV bands, or do they come up with it themselves?
FRICK: They get to pick their own. There are a shitload of fake TV/movie band databases on the internet. Only stipulation is that the same song can’t be used twice. Proud to say that there were two weirdos who wanted to cover Adam Sandler songs this year.
STEREOGUM: In terms of Record Store Day, do you have to have mostly everything put together and ready by the time you submit it for consideration?
FRICK: Yes. The vinyl plants are a nightmare during that time, so you want to get everything into production by like Thanksgiving. We started working on this last summer.
STEREOGUM: What’s the submission process like?
FRICK: I don’t know how labels without distribution do it, but basically we had to gather everything — artwork, masters, details on the pressing — and submit it to our distributor in December. Our distributor solicits the title to RSD. Never had direct contact with the RSD folks, it was always through our distributor. So I guess they bring everything to them and RSD has a panel that goes over everything, and then chooses what to accept/reject for inclusion.
STEREOGUM: Does the organization give you any specific criteria about what the content of the release should be?
FRICK: As far as I know, there isn’t criteria to follow. Just make it an interesting release that people will want to buy on this one day. I’ve seen repressings of records that no one cares about, limited to like 5k copies. That doesn’t feel special to me. Since I wasn’t involved in any of the talks with RSD, I can’t really speak to what they said other than what our distributor told us, which was: “They ran this past the panel again and they have decided to pass. Overall feedback was that the release was not compelling enough.” It’s basically like someone dumping you but not telling you why.
STEREOGUM: But they approved the first Faux Real compilation last year. Do you think it’s because you did the same concept twice? Or do you think it’s more indicative of how RSD has been changing over the past few years?
FRICK: I doubt that’s the case. I have a feeling it has to do with Soundscan numbers. I feel like we got great press for the last release. But there were things like “exclusive Record Store Day release” stickers that weren’t applied to our records, even though we were told they were. Placement in some stores was kind of wack — I’m not talking badly about the stores at all, I know RSD is a crazy day and they do the best they can. But I definitely think RSD is changing. I am all for the independent spirit of it but, kind of like SXSW, the major players have a bigger stake. Money talks. And the entire point of it all gets muddled.
STEREOGUM: So you feel like you’re at a disadvantage as a smaller label?
FRICK: For sure. At RSD and in general. I don’t have the marketing and advertising budgets that majors have. I can’t afford to have our records stocked on endcaps [displayed at the end of the aisle] or do promo mailings. I don’t have a staff that can call around to stores all the time. Brick and mortar retail, and even digital for that matter, is really hard to crack if you don’t have the budget.
STEREOGUM: How do you think RSD can help smaller labels with the whole process? Or what do you think they could do better?
FRICK: Man, I wish I had the answer to that question. There are so many moving pieces to the whole thing. It’s hard to say if it’s just something that RSD needs to be doing to make the process helpful for real indie labels. I mean, transparency would definitely be helpful. For one, I had to pay mechanicals on these songs, royalties to the original songwriters, and mastering, artwork, getting vinyl into production … Costs I fronted under the assumption that people don’t get rejected from participating. And for a label my size, run on my day job budget, it’s a big hit to take. So I guess being more transparent about the selection process and dates and whatnot.
STEREOGUM: So how are you releasing the compilation now?
FRICK: Luckily, we were able to catch the vinyl before it went to press. So we had to redo the jacket artwork and shift a few things around, but we’re still releasing the compilation on vinyl. Except it will be available in the Father/Daughter webstore, webstores of participating bands, and some of the labels of said non-F/D participating bands. Even got some friends with indies in the UK and Japan to stock some copies to make postage better for peeps overseas. Basically, these bands put a lot of time and effort into this. I stand behind the concept, and I’m not going to let RSD tell me I can’t release something.
STEREOGUM: Do you think there’s space for something RSD-esque that could act as a friendlier point of entry for smaller labels that may not have the funds to front for an RSD release?
FRICK: Definitely. And I think it’s something we as indie labels need to create for ourselves. A strength in numbers sort of thing. We are the people going to these independent record stores, buying records, keeping them in business. We want to help them as much as they want to help us. I have been thinking for a long time about how I could do something at retail that no one else is doing, like exclusive release with certain stores. As smaller, independent labels, we have the ability to do things differently, so I think that gives us a major advantage in creating something special at retail.
STEREOGUM: Anything else you want to touch on?
FRICK: I want to thank the bands, because they really knocked it out of the park. And support local record stores (all of the time, not just on Record Store Day).
01 Chumped – “Threshold” (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World)
02 Krill – “Billy Madison Victory Song” (Billy Madison)
03 Quarterbacks – “You Painted My World” (The Adventures Of Pete & Pete)
04 Running In The Fog – “Killer Tofu” (Doug)
05 Allison Crutchfield (of Swearin’) – “Special To Me (Phoenix Audition Song)” (Phantom Of The Paradise)
06 LVL UP – “Somebody Kill Me Please” (The Wedding Singer)
07 Sharpless – “Franz Kafka” (Home Movies)
08 Rivergazer – “Fever Dog” (Almost Famous)
09 Paint Sepsi – “I Must Be In Love” (The Rutles)
10 Small Wonder – “Margerine” (The Simpsons)
Faux Real II is out 4/28, and will not be released digitally. You can pre-order it from a number of different labels: Father/Daughter, Exploding In Sound, Double Double Whammy, Anchorless, Art Is Hard, Stupid Bag, or Team Love. It will be available for purchase from Japan’s Jet Set Records, Brooklyn’s Deep Cutz, Kingston’s Rocket Number Nine, and New Paltz’s Team Love Ravenhouse Gallery.
There will be a record release show at Palisades in Brooklyn on 4/28 featuring performances from Bellows, Small Wonder, Rivergazer, and Sharpless. Tickets are available here.