An Interview with Michael Kurtz of Record Store Day

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Record Store Day is an interesting topic. Some love it and some choose to pass. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, it is undeniable that the vinyl resurgence and the emergence of Record Store Day walk hand-in-hand. We simply do not see the massive uptick in vinyl production, sales and subsequently the opening of new brick and mortar stores without the advent of RSD.

Michael Kurtz is the co-founder of RSD and is also a true champion of vinyl as a medium and as a burgeoning industry that does appear to be here to stay. While COVID-19 has thrown a proverbial wrench into things, Michael and the folks at RSD, as well as Making Vinyl have been and are hard at work to make sure that the core of what makes RSD great will remain intact.

Today, I’ve got Michael Kurtz with me for a chat. We talk about Michael’s humble roots as a lover of both music and vinyl, the beginnings and subsequent success of vinyl as a medium and industry, and why we all need RSD going forward. If you would like to learn more about Record Store Day, head over to the official RSD website here. Once you’ve done that, dig into this interview. Cheers.

Andrew:
Michael, thank you for taking the time to speak with us here. It’s been such an odd time, hasn’t it? How are you holding up during this seemingly ever-raging dumpster fire?

Michael:
I’m fine. I normally live and work out of New York City, but when the pandemic hit and the schools closed, we decided to move. I’m now working out of Bozeman, MT. Living in a small town again has been nice and I’ve got my own radio show called Free Spaghetti Dinner on KGLT.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about your background, your musical origins so to speak. How did it all begin for you?

Michael:
I discovered the Beatles in the third grade. Growing up with them from 1965 through their breakup in 1970 formed the closest thing I have to a religion. Their sense of humor, fairness, community, positivity, and devotion to music and records informs everything I do even to this day.

Andrew:
How about vinyl? Where did that come into play? What got you hooked?

Michael:
Again, it was The Beatles and their vinyl releases both on 7” records and 12” records. They always made things that were special for the fans, often limited, sometimes as art statements, etc. All of that gave me such gratification and happiness that I began to consume and collect everything they pretty much did.

Image result for record store day michael kurtz

Andrew:
You’re so hooked on vinyl, that you’re actually one of the co-founders of Record Store day, or “RSD” as it’s more commonly known around the vinyl community. Tell us how it all came about
.

Michael:
I started in North Carolina working for an independently owned chain called The Record Exchange. One of the things I did there was help nurture and grow the record chain’s in-house publication called The Music Monitor Network. At the height of its popularity, it was published for eight other independently owned record chains and had a circulation of 250,000. This experience led to the creation of the indie record coalition we called the Music Monitor Network. It is now called the Dept. of Record Stores and in this capacity, I worked with the entire independent record store community to launch Record Store Day.

Andrew:
When RSD first began, what were the main goals? What were your hopes versus your expectations? Was there any singular event or a chain of events that really helped make that first year special? When did you know RSD was something that was here to stay?

Michael:
We wanted to counter the negative media coverage on record stores that arose with the collapse of Tower Records. To do that, we decided to work with artists to throw a big party. We called it Record Store Day. I knew it was successful after the very first one when we sold out of approximately 85,000 vinyl records in a matter of days. That was totally unheard of at the time.

Andrew:
Tell us about Metallica’s involvement in year one of RSD. How pivotal was their endorsement for Record Store Day? Do you think things “stick” they way they have without the help of the likes of Metallica, the Eagles of Death Metal, Jack White, Dave Grohl and more?

Michael:
Metallica was crucial as they not only launched the first RSD vinyl releases, but they did a huge in-store event at Rasputin Music in San Francisco for the very first RSD. It was massively successful. There would be no Record Store Day without Metallica. And, no, RSD wouldn’t be as successful without the help of Dave Grohl, Jack White, The Doors, St. Vincent, Paul McCartney, Chuck D, Run The Jewels, etc.

Image result for record store day metallica

Andrew:
The initial goal was always to help indie shops, as well as get the younger generation in on the wonderful experience that is vinyl, right? All these years on, do you feel you’ve succeeded in that goal, or is there still more to do?

Michael:
Yes, and we’ve succeeded. The average of people who celebrate Record Store Day is now younger than 26, with slightly more girls than boys.

Andrew:
Of course, as is the case with anything, you will always have a subset of people who don’t like what you guys do. It comes with the territory, I suppose. What would you say to those that feel RSD isn’t helping the little guy, or hurting them even?

Michael:
Find something else to obsess on. Without RSD, there would have been no huge surge in vinyl production and increased number of record stores. We did something very positive and we did it with minimal corporate backing. That is significant, not because I’m anti-corporate, but because it’s very difficult to do. If you pull it off though, you get authenticity. And this authenticity is why RSD is now the biggest music event in the world.

Andrew:
Record Store Day actually predates the current “vinyl resurgence” by a few years, I think. In your opinion, how big of a role has RSD played in the resurgence of vinyl as a viable medium for consuming music? Sub question: is the vinyl resurgence real? Or is it a fad? Long term, is vinyl a truly commercially-viable source of income for anyone and everyone ranging from the smallest indie shop, to the largest labels and distro chains out there?

Michael:
There was always a culture around vinyl, but the business of vinyl died in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. RSD brought it back from the dead. It is now over a billion dollar a year business. It is not fad. It is the way that real music fans consume music when they want to completely submerge themselves in the artist’s vision of how the music should be listened to and with what accompanying artwork and vibe.

Image result for record store day michael kurtz

Andrew:
Unfortunately, a side effect of the limited nature of these releases is flipping in the aftermarket, also known as “scalping” which is perpetrated by “scalpers.” What are your thoughts on the situation regarding flippers and scalpers? Is there anything that can be done, or is being done to help make things a bit more readily available for those that truly want the record versus those that want to take advantage of hungry collectors?

Michael:
Flipping and scalping is, and has been, a big thing for decades. Whether you are talking about concert tickets, collector’s tennis shoes or whatever. I think it’s fine that RSD releases go up in value after they are released. I don’t like it when con artists trick music fans into giving them their money when they don’t have the records, selling them as “pre sales” at exorbitant prices, hoping they will score them later at a record store and ship them to the unsuspecting music fan after the big day. That sucks.

Andrew:
Record Store Day is a founding partner in the Making Vinyl conference, right? Tell us more about RSD’s involvement with Making Vinyl.

Michael:
Making Vinyl filled the void of no music industry trade group/conference for people and companies who are into vinyl. RSD was involved with four of them: one in Berlin, Germany; one in Los Angeles, CA; and two in Detroit, MI, where Jack White came and spoke.

Andrew:
My understanding is there is an official Record Store Day book in the works, and it is being penned by Larry Jaffee. I know you can’t divulge too much now, but what can you tell us about the upcoming book? How did it come about? What are the goals for it?

Michael:
I considered writing the book myself but decided that I was too close to the subject. I’d worked with Larry on the Making Vinyl conference and he’s a great writer. I decided that he was the right person to tell the story. The goal is to tell the story of how a bunch of misfits changed the world and the music industry by launching Record Store Day.

Image result for record store day

Andrew:
COVID-19 really threw a massive wrench in the gears of RSD this year. As most of us know, we ended up with three RSD “Drops” rather than one typical RSD and a forth for RSD Black Friday. How did that all shake on your end? I know that some people loved the drops and others felt a bit fatigued after the forth day. What are your thoughts? Are the RSD “Drops” something that may stick going forward, or can we expect things to go back to “normal” once COVID stops ruling our lives?

Michael:
RSD is celebrated world wide on every continent. We held extensive Zoom calls with RSD organizers around the world and worked through a myriad of issues before deciding on the three RSD Drops worldwide. It was hard but very successful. We will consider doing this technique every time we are faced with a calamity like the pandemic.

Andrew:
Here is an easy one. Do you only collect vinyl? Are you into cassettes? Regardless of format, where do you like to shop for music?

Michael:
I collect vinyl mainly but I love concert T-shirts too. I own one sealed John Lennon cassette but that’s about it. I shop for music at two local Bozeman record stores called the Wax Museum and Cactus Records. I also order online from Silver Platters, The Sound Garden, Gallery of Sound, Bull Moose and a few other independently owned record stores.

Andrew:
What are some of your favorite albums and why?

Michael:
Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything, Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold As Love, David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, Bob Dylan’s Shot at Love. Any album by The Beatles, Bowie or T-Rex. I also love most of Beck’s albums, Stevie Wonder’s albums, Jack White’s various incarnations and his albums. It’s hard to quantify but I like music that gives me a sense of possibility and freedom, so I also have a lot of love for albums by Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, and anything Jaco Pastorious plays bass on.

Image result for michael kurtz records

Andrew:
Maybe piggybacking onto my last question, but who are some of your favorite artists and why?

Michael:
Again, it’s the expression of creativity and freedom, the vibe of the albums. My favorite artists are the Beatles, Hendrix, Todd, Bowie, Jaco, Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa, and John Prine.

Andrew:
Tell us about your set up. Are you an audiophile? What type of turntable, receiver and speakers do you have.

Michael:
In NYC, I had an incredible handmade stereo setup that a music exec sold to me super cheap. He clearly had money! I don’t and I’m not really an audio snob, so I don’t even know the name of the company this amazing sound system. Right now I’m listening to records on an excellent Crosley C8 turntable, powered by an Andover Spinbase. It sits right under my computer and does a great job with spatial placement of sound.

Andrew:
Last question: For you, what is it about physical music that makes it so special? Streaming is easier, right? What is it about vinyl that keeps you engaged? Why do we need RSD and what does the future hold for the event?

Michael:
The experience of dropping the needle on the record, opening the album jacket, checking out the artist’s vision for artwork, the lyrics, etc. All of that. Record Store Day honors and celebrates all of that and as long as music fans want to have local record stores, we have a future.

Image result for record store day michael kurtz

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.
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