ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
Tomorrow, for the fifth year in a row, fans will line up at over 700 independent music stores around the country. They will eagerly search shelves stocked with exclusive new albums and singles, on CD and vinyl. That's because tomorrow is the Record Store Day. For many stores it is the single biggest sales they of the year.
And as Jacobs Ganz reports, it's like a trip back in time for the struggling recording industry.
JACOBS GANZ: Josh Madell opened his small record store in downtown Manhattan 15 years ago. It was supposed to be the opposite of the CD-stuffed warehouses of the era small, where they were sprawling, curated and exclusive where they were comprehensive. He opened it right across the street from a Tower Records.
Mr. JOSH MADELL (Co-Owner, Other Music): You know, we were called Other Music. We were filling in the cracks of what may be the mainstream stores missed out on, really curating our selection for interesting, eclectic underground music that we loved from all different genres.
GANZ: The landscape has changed since Other Music open. Tower Records is gone, along with every other large chain music store in Manhattan. What those big stores promise was enough real estate that you'd likely find whatever album you are looking for, but they were bested by the Internet, where you can actually find just about everything.
Mr. MADELL: Hey, listen, if I was a ravenous teenage music consumer and I just loved hearing stuff, I mean, going to record stores does seem sort of antiquated in a certain way.
GANZ: But Madell says it's the stuff you can't find online that draws consumers out in such huge numbers on Record Store Day.
Mr. MADELL: That's what brings people in, you know, it's not some abstract supporting indie retailing. It's that we have great stuff on those days.
(Soundbite of song, "Rolling in the Deep")
ADELE (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) There's a fire starting in my heart. Reaching a fever pitch, it's bringing me out the dark.
GANZ: Here's one of those great things, a remix of a song by Adele, available tomorrow on an exclusive 10-inch vinyl single.
ADELE: (Singing) The scars of your love remind me of us. They keep me thinking that we almost had it all. The scars of your love, they leave me breathless. I can't help feeling.
Unidentified Man: (Singing) We could have had it all.
GANZ: Two things about Adele. Her album, "21," is the bestseller of the year so far. And the label she records for, XL, is an independent. In fact, the last 18 months or so have been good for independent music. It's become common to see indie bands near the top of the Billboard album chart and Arcade Fire won that album of the year Grammy in February.
But despite that success, shopping at a small record store remains tethered to two rather quaint notions - collecting physical product and hospitality and personal interaction.
Rich Bengloff has fond memories of his favorite New York City record store.
Mr. RICH BENGLOFF (President, American Association of Independent Music): Unfortunately, the store closed about 15 years ago. But in the East Village, I went to Dayton's. They knew my name. They knew what I liked. They would introduce me to new music. That experience is only happening at independent stores today.
GANZ: Bengloff has a reason to say that. He's president of the American Association of Independent Music, or A2IM, a trade group that advocates for independent record labels at retail locations, on radio and TV, and in the government. He says the rest of the independent ecosystem still depends on record stores.
Mr. BENGLOFF: People go into those stores to find out what's new, and what they should be listening to. Without the independent music stores, we'd really have a problem.
GANZ: We're talking in the conference room at the New York offices of the Beggars Group, a British umbrella company home to four of the world's best-known independent labels, including Adele's label, XL. The group's founder, Martin Mills, is on A2IM's board of directors. He says that independent music has stronger ties to the album format and to physical stores than does the pop-oriented music that dominates singles-based online stores.
Mr. MARTIN MILLS (Founder, Beggars Group): I think the kind of people who want to buy and own music tend to be more committed fans, and therefore tend to be less pop and less mainstream. So therefore, I think, what is at home in music stores is the music that's generally speaking outside the mainstream, and you tend to find that in independent record labels. Hence, the very strong connection between independent record labels and independent record stores.
GANZ: But just as indie music has crept into the mainstream, big pop acts clearly see something in the devotion of fans who still shop at record stores. In May, Lady Gaga will releases her new album, "Born This Way," and it'll likely ride iTunes sales to chart success. But tomorrow, along with special releases from indie bands like Fleet Foxes, Wild Flag and Lower Dens, you'll be able to buy the title track to Gaga's album on a collectible 12-inch vinyl picture disc at participating stores.
(Soundbite of song, "Born this Way")
LADY GAGA (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) My momma told me when I was young, we're all superstars. She rolled my hair, put my lipstick on in the glass of her boudoir. There's nothing wrong with loving who you are, she said, 'cause he made you perfect, babe.
GANZ: If Gaga's fans do make the trip to record stores, Josh Madell hopes they find something they like and stick around. He says he feels sorry for people interested in mainstream music who want their albums on CD.
Mr. MADELL: There are a lot of people who have nowhere to buy records in New York now. There is literally no place to go to buy some - a lot of new releases. There's no stores that carry it.
GANZ: Madell says in an ideal world, Other Music would be a bit more of a general service retailer, with more pop, jazz and classical alongside his indie and specialty items. It'd be a niche store of a different sort, still serving an exclusive audience, just one that's interested in physical albums.
For NPR News, I'm Jacob Ganz.
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