For the small but growing number of retailers who sell music on vinyl, April is anything but the cruelest month. April brings Record Store Day, which for shops such as Adams Morgan’s Crooked Beat can be bigger than Christmas.
“I’d say that Record Store Day could be about 20 percent of our business for the year. Last year it was,” said Bill Daly, the store’s owner.
The promotional event, set for Saturday, attracts buyers to independent record stores with limited-edition releases that feature rare music, unusual packaging or colored vinyl. This year, for the first time, Crooked Beat won’t just sell record companies’ featured items. It will also have two limited-run records of its own.
Crooked Beat Records has pressed 150 copies of a new seven-inch single by Mobius Strip, a local punk band. It’s also awaiting a shipment of 500 copies of a single by Daly’s group, Insurgence DC, which has recently returned to performing after a long layoff. The latter record will have a limited sub-edition: 100 copies in a sleeve that features the store’s logo.
When Record Store Day began in 2007, Daly would order most of what was offered. As the number of vinyl releases has grown, he’s narrowed his focus. “A lot of our orders are geared more toward our customer base,” he said. “The indie crowd, the punk crowd, the people who are into classic rock, classic R&B and soul, and reggae.”
The event’s popularity has limited Daly’s ability to stock small editions. In 2012, about 700 stores participated in Record Store Day. Daly estimated that about 1,200 stores will participate this year. The available records are mostly limited to 2,000 or fewer copies, so there isn’t enough supply to meet the demand. Some are pressed in editions of 100 or less.
“Some things I ordered 25 of, I’m getting five of this time,” Daly said. “For instance, ‘Devo Live at Max’s Kansas City,’ which is going to be a big one for us, we ordered 25. Orders were so heavy, we’re getting four. Fela Kuti, we ordered 35 and we’re getting three.”
To benefit his most loyal customers, Daly has instituted an early-entrance policy for patrons who buy 65 or more records a year.
Crooked Beat limits sales to one each of limited-edition items. That prevents entrepreneurial types from buying every copy of a title and rushing off to list them on eBay — or selling them to Daly’s other customers, which he said has “happened a couple of times.”
Even if the regulars are there for limited-edition material, Record Store Day also boosts other sales, Daly said.
“Over 40 percent of our regular stock sells, because people come out who go to record stores once or twice a year,” he said.
Daly, who grew up in the Washington area, founded Crooked Beat in 1997 in Raleigh, N.C., where he went to college. In 2004, he moved the store to the District, where it was housed in the 2300 block of 18th St. NW. Now it is in the 2100 block.
Prized for its warmer sound and more appealing packaging, vinyl was always a big part of the inventory. Now Crooked Beat stocks virtually no CDs. Other nearby shops also carry mostly vinyl, although some emphasize used records more than Daly’s store does. Hill & Dale, which opened in Georgetown in February, is the only D.C. record store whose stock is entirely new.
Older music is a big part of today’s vinyl trade. It draws customers who want sounds that, to Daly’s enduring frustration, he can’t sell because they aren’t available on vinyl.
“So many tourists come in and ask us, ‘Do you have Chuck Brown on vinyl? Do you have Trouble Funk on vinyl? Do you have Rare Essence? Do you have that compilation, ‘Painting the White House Black?’
“Whoever has the rights to that music is missing a whole market. Whenever we find used go-go that’s not scratched up, it sells really fast.”
There are about 100 records, now unavailable or never available on vinyl, that Daly could sell in large numbers, he said. He’s thought about issuing such CD-era albums as Jonathan Richman’s 1992 “I, Jonathan” on Crooked Beat Records, if he could get the rights.
That might be a good business plan, but money is not Daly’s only motivation. “Even if we don’t put it out, I’ll be glad to see it,” Daly said.
“Because I’ll get a copy. I would just love to have a copy of that.”
Jenkins is a freelance writer.