RSD organizer Eric Levin on the turntables.

This year, Levin and his team created a three-tiered list on RSD’s website outlining all of the releases for 2011’s event. The result is a collector’s dream, providing fans with locations of limited release vinyls as well as new albums and other swag. Rhode Island duo Javelin‘s 10-inch vinyl release of Candy Canyon (Luaka Bop) takes on a western theme exclusively for RSD. Rise Records has also decided to commemorate the holiday with releases from Piebald, whose 3-by-12-inch triple gatefold vinyl combines three of the group’s best albums into one release limited to 1,000 copies, and Transit, whose seven-inch of two songs recorded specifically for RSD will also be limited to 1,000 copies of colored vinyl. Cambodian music enthusiasts Dengue Fever will release a premature vinyl of its Cannibal Courtship album exclusively for RSD, with the chance to receive a golden ticket in your copy for free admission to any Dengue Fever-headlined show till the end of 2012.

The commercial aspect of the event is just one chunk of what RSD is about, and it happens to be the portion over which the RSD team has zero control. “We are a volunteer organization, and there’s not very many of us, and we all have our own record stores to run,” Levin says. The team has no say as to what the labels or artists release for RSD, and Levin compares managing the event to “herding cats.” For his own part, Levin devotes his time to getting free goods for attendees, speaking to labels about giveaways and also trying to rig some in-store appearances for the stores that can handle them. And at his store, Levin’s strategy is to “let people in ten at a time, limit one per customer. My staff doesn’t get to choose any of their stuff till the next day.”

No set rules exist for how each store will run its RSD, but they are all asked to sign a pledge, which is a new addition to the event. It’s not mandatory by any means, but in Levin’s words, “It’s like a, ‘Hey, I’m not gonna screw you.’” This mantra goes not only for customers but also for other stores. RSD is meant to unite independent record stores, not encourage competition among them. Lucky for those involved, the big box retailers have yet to try to be a part of the celebration, though if they did, the RSD team couldn’t do much to stop them. “It’s a concept, you know?” Levin says. “We can’t control the words ‘record store’ and ‘day.’”

But for now, RSD remains one for the little guys. It has helped to improve the image of independent record stores, and Levin has received the feedback to prove it. “The most gratifying e-mail or communication I’ve received has always been, ‘That was the best year we ever had’ or ‘The best day we ever had,’ and ‘I was gonna go out of business, but this gave me inspiration,’” he says. Levin has actually seen more stores opening, particularly vinyl-only retailers, that are bringing what some feel to be an antiquated format back to life. “Record stores are, in my humblest opinion, holy temples and community centers and important on so many levels,” he says. “Any size city should be able to have a temple.”