Every April, hordes of music fans queue outside their local record shop in an effort to pick up the year’s exclusive releases, available only on that one day. And for the week or so leading up to it, the debate once again rages over whether Record Store Day is in fact any good for the music industry. There are valid points to be made on both sides – sure, it does benefit stores up and down the country, many of which struggle to stay alive month to month, but it also sees the world’s limited quantity of vinyl factories overtaken by the major labels, who largely only use them to repress albums for the umpteenth time anyway (“you don’t understand, I have to buy it again because this time it’s 180grams and translucent green!”). This shuts out smaller, hard-working bands and labels for several months every year for the sake of reissues and picture discs, effectively flying in the face of the event’s own purpose by hindering the distribution of physical music and penalising the indie labels who sell records year-round.
But beyond the major label hijacking of a day that should be all about DIY music, and away from the thinkpieces and social media arguments, is a more humble alternative. Cassette Store Day has been going since 2013, and ever since then, its focus has been on helping out distributors of the format. Despite being clearly inspired by its vinyl-focused counterpart, Cassette Store Day has maintained its integrity and stayed focused on supporting small labels, bands and stores where it can. The seventh annual UK rendition of the event takes place this Saturday, the 12th October, and among the releases you’ll find Astral Noize Records’ own tape of Hundred Year Old Man’s Rei.
Though seemingly a flawed concept – there aren’t many “cassette stores” about – the day is nevertheless a celebration of a format that’s been sorely overlooked despite the resurgence of vinyl. Sure, tape sales have grown considerably in recent years, piggybacking off the growth in record sales, but consumers still largely prefer the collectibility of vinyl, due at least in part to their size, which makes them seem like more of a tangible product in an age in which there is so much emphasis on digital media consumption. What tapes lack in size (and indeed sound quality), however, they make up for in accessibility and portability. The nostalgic crackle of the sound, the inability to skip a track and a lack of durability would all seem like flaws, but they give the format a unique personality, and owning a release with an unspecified expiry date makes it feel more special, more alive, as a result.
Like the format itself, Cassette Store Day is cheaper, simpler and more accessible than it’s vinyl equivalent. It costs just £5 for a label or artist to enter their cassette, and that list of tapes is then sent to participating stores who can pick and choose which releases to stock. This simple setup has worked quite literally the world over – with versions of Cassette Store Day also operating in the USA, Japan, Hungary and the Philippines – and it allows the sorts of labels and artists long since excluded from Record Store Day to celebrate their music in a way that’s just as fun but much more straightforward.
The strides Record Store Day has made in terms of supporting record shops and uniting their fans is no doubt worth celebrating, but its structure means that it doesn’t support every music community in the way that an event of that type should surely strive to. It is a music-based event that has forgotten one of the key reasons it was initially formed – to aid in the creation and distribution of physical music. So if you’re fed up of queuing for four hours to pick up albums you’ve already got anyway, why not give Cassette Store Day a shot? At least you know it won’t have the ticket tout-esque grifters who plague Record Store Day, buying up all they can and reselling it at inflated costs.