Eric Levin is one of the most pleasant guys of all time—modest, funny, truly passionate about his work—but he’s ready to break down the doors of the legislature to demand some changes. “I’m way more excited about yelling at congressmen about shitty stuff,” Levin says. “Kinda neat cause I’m not that guy.”
What’s driving this easy-going owner of Atlanta, GA’s Criminal Records to stick it to the man is Record Store Day (RSD), an event he helped to found in 2007 to commemorate the community centers where people of all ages gather to purchase their favorite albums as physical CDs and vinyl records. Based on an idea originating from Free Comic Book Day, RSD was started at the Noise In The Basement convention with about an eight-month lead time before its actual launch. “It’s not something that was manufactured,” Levin tells CMJ. “It was something that really happened organically, nationally and internationally.” From its humble beginnings of trying to change the dialogue in the press regarding record stores, RSD has become something beyond its founders’ wildest hopes. “We had no idea that we would get any press or that anyone would care,” Levin says. “This year, you know, every country’s got their own stuff happening.” Not bad for an event that was prone to High Fidelity references and was jabbed by Ivory Tower loyalists.
Having worked with RSD counterparts overseas, Levin has become aware of how foreign governments help their small businesses and wants to encourage our government to do the same. “France and Sweden have adopted [RSD] as national holidays, and their governments are helping their indie record stores,” he says. “We learned in France the students get music credit so that they can go to record stores and buy music. What?!” These counterparts have shown Levin how to speak to his own government in order to find more funding for arts in the U.S.
“I’m really excited about the political potential,” Levin says. “Now that it’s established and it is a celebration, now we have a voice for all these American independent retailers, a way to communicate with them, a way to help them, a way to message to and from them.” As RSD continues to grow, the potential to help other small retailers does as well. RSD has proven that record stores still have something to offer, even at a time when digital proponents doubted the event’s ability. “There seemed to be a perception that record stores were passé,” Levin says. “Record stores are alive and well, thank you.”
But the wide appeal of the celebration stirred up by RSD has risen concerns over the years. With current export laws in place, exclusive releases in Europe are not available in the U.S. and vice versa. The issue of the number of releases has also been argued, as approximately 300 are expected for RSD 2011, offering more than most avid fans will be able to afford. “The stores need to buy what they feel they want, can afford and can sell, and the customer needs to get what they want,” says Levin, adding that this applies to any other day of the year. “You choose what you want to put in front of your customers, and they choose to buy from you or not.” Even Levin’s own Criminal Records has missed out on some limited edition product, like last year when customers came in wanting the new Hold Steady release, and Levin had to reply with, “’Yeah, us too.’”