Photo by: Robert F. Bukaty
Tomorrow, April 20th is RECORD STORE DAY. Ya’ll know what that means. We are super excited to talk to Chris Brown of Bull Moose and founder of RSD.
nXs: When did you get switched on to/start collecting music?
CB: I had a record collection before I was potty trained. Both of my grandfathers and my father had large classical collections It was obvious that I loved music, so it was natural for people to give me records. Even though I showed a very early preference for Bach, the first records I owned included The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, and The Band.
nXs: Do you remember the first record you bought?
CB: The first record I bought with my own money was The Monkees “I’m a Believer” b/w “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” I was five and it was in a department store outside Utica, NY.
nXs: Were you collecting music before you started working with Bull Moose?
CB: My main stores before I could drive were the Record Giant chain and the Woolworths in Utica, NY. Once I could drive, I became a huge fan of Record Realm and the Last Unicorn, sadly both gone, but Off-Center Records has some of Record Realm’s bins. I also got to know the stores in Syracuse and Rochester, including Record Archive, and a crazy place that had a unique filing system. They filed by catalog number, so if you wanted a Stones album you had to remember if it was on Abkco or Virgin.
nXs: How did you come to be at Bull Moose?
CB: I came to be at Bull Moose the way a lot of people get jobs. I was a regular customer and told the owner, Brett Wickard, that I would love to work there if he ever needed anybody. I was the first person he hired and I worked on-and-off for two years until I graduated and left Maine. A few years later, Brett called and told me that Bull Moose was starting to take off and asked if I would come back. I have been back ever since.
nXs: Around how many records do you have in your collection?
CB: I own around 2000 records.
nXs: For many music is a life long passion. What record would you want played at your funeral?
CB: There are a number of records I’d like played at my funeral starting with “For Those About To Rock, We Salute You.” That won’t happen unless my wife dies before I do. I’d also like “Let It Be,” the Sanctus from Faure’s Requiem and Randy Newman’s “Old Man.” That will get the tears falling.
nXs: How did Record Store Day come about?
CB: The history of Record Store Day starts in the mid 1990s. Indie music stores began forming coalitions, which were half marketing cooperatives and half peer groups. As time went on, the coalitions started working together. I was the Chariman of the Board of one of the coalitions in 2007. I suggested the idea to our president, Michael Kurtz, who spoke with his counterparts at the other coalitions. Ten weeks later, nearly 200 stores committed to Record Store Day.
I wanted Record Store Day to do two things. First, I wanted to do something fun for music fans. I thought they deserved something special for keeping their local indie store healthy while chain stores were struggling. Good stores hold cool events all the time, but I thought it would be more meaningful if we made a holiday.
I also wanted to spread the word that indie stores were truly thriving. Most indie stores were selling more music every year, but nobody knew it. Music fans needed reassurance that the stores they loved would be there for them. The press was only reporting bad news. I hoped the mainstream press would spread the word about all the great stores in almost every community.
It’s very easy to participate in Record Store Day. Whether you are fan, an artist, or a store, all you have to do is be your usual awesome self. We can all be awesome and celebrate together.
nXs: Are you involved in selecting releases each year for RSD?
CB: I am a little bit involved. Someone else handles most of those conversations, and I am one of a handful of people he occasionally goes to for advice. Most of the time the idea is there and they want us to help figure out how many to produce. That being said, many labels are very open to suggestions.
I get nervous when I think about stores being involved in the creative process. It reminds me of department stores censoring cover art and I don’t ever want to go anywhere near that. Record Store Day gives artists the freedom to do something that they couldn’t do the rest of the year. I don’t want to mess that up.
I prefer to be more of a cheerleader and make sure people know when the fans think they did a great job. Someone asked me what I thought Phish should do this year. I said that their fans were knocked out by last year’s Junta release and suggested that they might do the same for Lawn Boy.
The Live at Bull Moose releases were my idea, but Ani Difranco, The Decemberists, and Mumford & Sons all wanted to do something anyway. Recording something for record stores in a record store made perfect sense to them. The day Ani was here is the highlight of my career. She is a huge inspiration to me.
nXs: Limited run and color variant records are extremely popular, how do you feel about “flippers”? (Those who buy a limited record in order to resell it for a higher price)
CB: In general, I see flipping as inflationary and efficient. People who do buy and resell to finance their collecting habit may not realize that they are buying from other people who do the same thing. I bet all those old MSFL gold discs would go for $30 each instead of $75 if they didn’t have to pass through so many hands. In the end the only people who benefit are the USPS and the auction websites that take a cut.
Some collectors/resellers don’t understand why flipping is OK every other day but not on Record Store Day. Carrie Colliton, who is Record Store Day’s secret weapon, has done a lot of work to limit flipping. She set up “The Pledge,” which US stores must sign to get any of the releases. That has done a lot to limit it. All stores know they should try to curb flipping. The Pledge also gives us the power to kick out stores that take advantage of people.
Also, we are getting better at predicting quantities needed, so things are becoming less scarce. It’s much harder than you realize.
If you look at the eBay listings that appear before RSD, you’ll often see that the seller says that he/she will try to buy the record on RSD and that you might not get it. Check the day after RSD and you’ll see that the number of copies up for auction is actually pretty small. Less than 1% of what is sold on RSD is even posted to eBay and some of that stuff never sells. We are going to keep trying to limit it.
nXs: With the rising cost of postage do you think flesh and blood record stores will gain popularity over online retailers?
CB: I’m sure that will help stores that are in walkable neighborhoods. Real stores are getting better at using the web and I think that will have a bigger impact than rising postage. We just started showing our store inventory on bullmoose.com. Lots of people browse online and ask us to get move what they want to their favorite Bull Moose. They could buy online but they prefer to come to the store. Department stores are complaining about showrooming, where people browse a store and buy online. Our experience shows that people will choose your store over the internet if the store is worth visiting.