Record Store Day Roundup: 2023 Edition

Record Store Day is the annual celebration of indie record stores that is paired with special vinyl releases across all genres that get fans of the music format excited to join in the party in hopes of obtaining the release(s) they absolutely need for their collection. In this article, I’ll be outlining some of the special releases that brought music fans to the stores in droves, what I was noticing from the in-person and online feedback from attendees of the event, what was working well as well as a few recommendations for future years, and the aftermath of purchasing RSD leftovers online from various indie record stores.

Special Releases:

Every year there seems to be at least one (or two) extremely popular releases that gets vinyl fans excited to line up as early as the evening before Record Store Day. For the 2023 version, that honor goes to Taylor Swift’s Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions. The set was, by far, the largest pressing quantity of any of this year’s releases at a whopping 75,000 copies worldwide. From my local shops that I follow on social media, the copies obtained ranged from as few as 50 copies to a staggering 400 copies, to ensure that almost everyone who lined up would have a good chance of walking home with it. I thought that I had a decent chance of grabbing the copy at my local store by showing up an hour after the store opened, but apparently a lot of other shoppers had the same idea. I overheard an employee of the store I attended say something that I agreed with, “We could have ordered five times as many copies of the Taylor Swift release that we originally ordered, and it still may not have been enough.” Well, damn. The power of Taylor Swift was on full display this Record Store Day as the lines were much longer than I’ve ever experienced in past iterations of the vinyl celebration.

The other release that got plenty of love was The 1975’s Live With the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra that was released on double vinyl LP (2,500 copies), cassette (400 copies) and CD (2,000 copies). From what I was hearing online, as well as my shop’s experience, was that this was the fastest release to sell out that morning. This release was highly sought after, with most indie record stores only receiving 5-10 copies (on all formats), so it’s easy to think that the pressing numbers were a little too low for this release given the astronomical price it’s currently going for on the secondary market.

Other releases that tended to be popular were Soul Asylum’s MTV Unplugged set (3,050 copies) from their 1993 performance that included four songs not included in the original broadcast, The Wonder Years’ Burst and Decay: Live From New York (3,000 copies), and Bastille’s MTV Unplugged (2,500 copies) as well. Soul Asylum’s MTV Unplugged set did surprisingly well by being its first-ever release on the format, paired with a bit of nostalgia for longtime fans of the band. The Wonder Years was a popular release given it’s relatively small pressing numbers for a hard-working band in the scene that has a loyal following, while Bastille seemed to have no trouble moving units of their MTV Unplugged performance, even with the hefty $50 retail price tag.

The “Day After” Sales Rush

One of the most stressful parts of being a vinyl collector is trying to complete your collection with a “white whale” or something that is invaluable in your eyes. The pressing numbers of recent online releases like New Found Glory’s Sticks and Stones to Coheed and Cambria’s The Second Stage Turbine Blade have led to bands and their management adapting to the way they roll out new pressings. The most popular, and arguably fairest, option is to have a 48-hour open pre-order to ensure that all fans who want a copy of a certain release are able to get their hands on it. This approach could potentially be used on Record Store Day releases that were extremely popular during the event, with a different variant option for fans who would be offended of the pressing numbers changing on the fly for these “limited” releases.

The day-after Record Store Day is a mad rush of vinyl fans setting their alarm clocks early on a Sunday morning to give themselves the best chance of obtaining the leftover RSD stock from stores across the country. My experience of logging onto the Zia Records storefront at exactly 8 AM was a rollercoaster, to say the least. I had Taylor Swift’s RSD release in my sights and refreshed the page at exactly 8…only for the page to crash for a good 10 minutes before it eventually re-loaded itself and I was able to secure a copy of this year’s most sought after release. Many others were not so lucky, as they turned reluctantly to Discogs and Ebay to be gorged on marked up releases. It’s something that has been going on since the very first Record Store Day, 16 years ago, and I don’t expect it to change anytime soon given the popularity of the format.

Observations & Recommendations for Future Record Store Day Observances:

Overall, this Record Store Day can be seen as a rousing success, as people of all ages made their way to record stores across the country to take part in the vinyl celebration. Some of these record shoppers may have been making their first trip to these indie stores, in hopes of developing a relationship with these brick and mortar locations that have knowledgeable and helpful employees that I’m sure would love to have their repeat business very soon. Yes, the lines were longer this year, but the conversations I had with others in line about their music tastes, what they were hoping to get their hands on once they were in the store, as well as what keeps them coming back to the celebration year after year is what it’s all about. I overheard plenty of nervous chatter, too, about wondering if there would be enough copies of their most highly sought after release on their list, but that’s part of the fun (and possible detriment) of collecting this format.

My main recommendations for the organizers of Record Store Day is use the feedback from the sales of this year’s list to determine what artists are making the biggest impact on the vinyl community, and try and press the “right amount” of copies of these releases accordingly. It’s an inexact science trying to determine what will sell, and what might sit on retail shelves for the foreseeable future, but by listening directly to the owners of these indie record stores, the organizers of the celebration would get very valuable feedback on what’s working and what’s not. The Taylor Swift impact should not be disregarded as a “blip on the radar” either. Getting other key artists to buy in to the celebration would only help with the sustainability of the celebration and ensure that fans of this music format are getting the most out of partaking in the event.