Record Store Day: Meet Spencer Hickman

As the fifth annual Record Store Day looms, we speak to its UK organiser and self-confessed vinyl junkie Spencer Hickman

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 19 Apr 2012
  • min read
With the fifth annu
al Record Store Day looming large, we speak to its UK organiser and self-confessed vinyl junkie Spencer Hickman.

He brought the grassroots movement to the UK in 2008, overseeing an initiative that involves more than 200 independent record shops and hundreds of limited edition rare vinyl and CD releases. He also manages the Rough Trade East store, Britain’s largest independent record shop.

Spencer, an underground music aficionado, opened the flagship premises five years ago, after a spell at regional independents and larger chains like HMV. To celebrate the fifth anniversary of Record Store Day on Saturday 21 April, Rough Trade East and West will have in-stores throughout the day from the likes of Keane, Cate le Bon, Johnny Flynn, Little Boots and Smoke Fairies.

How did Record Store Day get started here in the UK and how has it evolved?
I’ve been involved since the start, and it’s a weird role really! It’s not really defined. The day has grown organically and it’s got a lot bigger, which is brilliant. We’ve got a lot better as the years have gone on; we’ve got better at planning releases and making sure everything’s right quantity-wise, things like that.

Why is the day so important?
It really highlights the importance of independent stores and, while the event remains really grassroots, we’ve got a lot more shops involved over the years. This year there’s around 280 stores, which is great. There’s an upsurge in vinyl and that ties in with Record Store Day too.  People want to own a piece of music, which is really cool. They want it as an art form, an artefact.

The range of releases seems really diverse this year, from obscure DIY re-releases through to big records from the likes of Parlophone and Warners. Has that always been the case?
Those big record labels have always been supporters of Record Store Day. A few years ago Parlophone got Blur to record a single, and it was the band’s first new recording in years. I think the major labels always have supported shops. The independent shops support artists and help build fans and sales and can also help on those second and third albums as well. Sometimes it’s after the artists have gone multi-platinum that we can really help.

I’ve noticed a large number of reissues in the Record Store Day release schedule over the past couple of years. Does this reflect the changing market for records?
I would say there are a fair amount of reissues in there this year. But here in the UK it’s great because 60 percent are releases by new bands. The fact that Animal Collective are issuing their first new material in quite a few years and Arctic Monkeys have a new single also speaks volumes. The reason why David Bowie’s Starman picture disk single is interesting is because that version has never been released before. Even though Bowie is considered a heritage act this single is something that has not been heard, it’s unique.

Yes, it definitely appeals to your geeky collectors, the ones that queue up outside the store for hours before it opens!

You mentioned the surge in demand for vinyl. Do you see that continuing in the long term?
Yeh, I don’t see why it wouldn’t. It’s the only physical format in music that is continually growing and loads of stores now sell vinyl players and even HMV has put records back in its stores – that speaks volumes.

Record Store Day is obviously perfect for a larger independent like Rough Trade. How do Saturday’s activities fit in with all the more regular things you do, such as in-stores and promotional events?
For us it’s kind of just another day! We’re not doing anything different than we would do on another day, we’re just doing it on a much bigger scale. We have in-stores nearly every day, we have exclusives throughout the year. People have been using the phrase, ‘Record shops are for all year round, not just Record Store Day’. We’re just carrying on doing what we do, but with more pressure and bigger queues!

We’ll be opening at 8am on Saturday and we’ll be working late on Friday night. Today we’re packed out with loads of new stock. It’s a really rewarding thing to be involved in. Especially when people come to the store for the first time, like this year with Keane playing, there will be loads of fans coming down that haven’t been to Rough Trade before. They’ll be saying, ‘Oh, wow! I never knew stuff like this happened’. For us that’s really exciting.

What are you most looking forward to?
Saturday evening. It’s such a good day. The doors open and then the mayhem happens, it’s a blur. We take more money in that one day than we do in the whole Christmas week. It’s not a joke when I say I’m looking forward to Saturday night though! We close the doors at 8pm, have a chat with all the staff, have a few beers, it’s a nice feeling. You can get really drunk then fall asleep, that’s what normally happens.

Planned in-stores at Rough Trade, 21 April 2012:
Rough Trade East
Johnny Flynn
Becoming Real
Wet Nuns
Little Boots

Rough Trade West
Stealing Sheep
Cate Le Bon
Tom The Lion
Allo Darlin'
Smoke Fairies

Record Store Day began in 2007 when more than 700 independent stores in the US came together to celebrate their unique culture. The UK followed suit and 2012 will see the fourth celebration of the UK's unique independent sector. This is the one day that all of the independently owned record stores come together with artists to celebrate the art of music.