High fidelity: Audiophiles celebrate the joy of music on Record Store Day

Amy and Jay Smith of Orange shop at Analog Record Shop on April 19 in Tustin.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

For audiophiles, Record Store Day is better than Christmas. In fact, in the 15 years since its inaugural celebration, many cities like Los Angeles, New York City and Las Vegas have made it an official holiday.

Record Store Day began in 2008 as a way for independent record stores and their communities to celebrate vinyl music. Special vinyl and CD releases drop on the third Saturday in April, and pledged shops get exclusive releases in store. It isn’t uncommon for music fans to line up early to snag copies of the latest album from their favorite artist. Along with records, special promotional merchandise and in-store performances and sales happen too.

“There are hundreds of exclusives that come out that day, people are lining up for all kinds of stuff,” said Alex Forsythe, owner and founder of Analog Records in Tustin.

This year, new music will come Saturday from the likes of Beach House, Billy Joel, Carole King, Madonna, Mars Volta, Nas, Norah Jones, the Cure, the Rolling Stones, Wilco and many more. The most anticipated offering comes from Taylor Swift with the vinyl release of “Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Sessions.”

Orange County has been home to many independent record stores over the years, and shops like Analog still spin and keep the love of vinyl music alive (R.I.P Licorice Pizza in Huntington Beach).

Analog Record Shop is having a sale on Saturday in recognition of Record Store Day.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“When we started, we were only about 900 square feet. Now we’ve got about 3,000,” said Bill Michelle, owner and operator of Left of the Dial Records, which moved from its small space on French Street in Santa Ana to 508 N. Tustin St. in Orange in late 2021 and sells new and used LPs, as well as equipment.

“We do everything from repairs to new and used gear to live bands playing,” said Michelle. “It’s just a wonderful space.”

While Left of the Dial offers records from a variety of genres, other shops have a more specialized focus.

Mr. C’s Rare Records on 148 N. Glassell in Orange, for example, deals exclusively with used records with many rare pressings that attract serious collectors. Mr. C’s also has a large selection of 45s, which were more popular in the 1950s.

Bionic Records on 6012 Ball Road in Buena Park, on the other hand, is a favorite for hardcore music fans and is known for carrying underground, metal and punk records, although the shop also stocks rock and hip-hop.

Analog Records has been open for 11 years and, besides records, carries vintage equipment like speakers, turntables and receivers.

“We kind of started as a smaller, used record shop and we have morphed into carrying a lot of newer stuff too,” said Forsythe. “Our specialty that sets us apart is our vintage equipment.”

Resident Vinyl is a newer shop that began as pop-up but opened a store earlier this month on 222 N. Bush St. in downtown Santa Ana’s live/work lofts.

“It is a tiny space. It is really only about 200 square feet. So therefore our stock is hyper-curated,” said Resident Vinyl owner, Owen Ela. “Resident Vinyl is about the resident, the person that lives here curating the music of the shop. It is really about quality, not quantity.”

Twelve-year-old Asaph Dougherty, 12, shops for records at Analog Record Shop.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

That means a lot of indie, punk and hip-hop albums and a focus on new music. Ela has a background in the music industry and isn’t so much a collector as he is a music lover.

“I am always looking for new music, local artists,” he said. “I still go to a lot of shows, and I like discovering new bands.”

He also stocks the store with local bands and music, like Ali Coyle’s latest album, “Songs for My Therapist.”

Resident Vinyl also boasts a large online shop.

“The mail order stuff separates us from some of the records stores out there,” said Ela. “So there are two ways to shop. You can come in or you can browse our shop while you are sitting at home.”

When it comes to vinyl music, record sales have been gathering momentum since the mid-aughts. In 2013, record album sales increased by 30%, and Michelle said his store only saw that grow during the pandemic.

“The pandemic led to whatever resurgence was going on to triple,” Michelle said. “People were like, ‘Fix my turntable or give me a new one. I can’t have a stay at home with my records.’ That was when prices took off, demand took off, it went nutso.”

The analog storage medium of analog of vinyl music is still relevant in this world of streaming and Spotify.

Josh Hertel, an employee at Analog Record Shop, puts a vinyl record on a player.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“I think a lot of people find value in a physical collection. With streaming, it is obviously incredibly convenient and really easy to discover new music,” said Forsythe. “But there is no tangible collection. No way to physically feel like you are part of the listening experience.”

Ela said streaming has contributed to making records even more special.

“A lot of young people, kids these days grew up on Spotify and iPods and iPhones and think some of them have actually never thought they can have a physical copy of the music they have been listening to,” said Ela. “They find that instead of streaming the music, they can actually own a physical copy of the band they love. It’s incredible.”

Album artwork is also something that can’t be replicated on a phone and Ela said he also has a special appreciation for the liner notes.

“Back in the day, the way I used to discover bands was by reading the thank you list in the liner notes,” said Ela.

Then, of course, there is the superior listening experience.

“I tell people records are comfort food for your ears,” said Michelle.

Forsythe agrees.

“It is still truly a better listening experience as far as fidelity,” said Forsythe. “Records do sound for the better for the most part than when you hear it on streaming platforms.”

Steve Dougherty and his son, Asaph, shop at Analog Record Shop in Orange.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

As for Record Store Day, each shop has its own unique way of celebrating. It’s also important to keep in mind that just because an album is released on Record Store Day, there is no guarantee your local records shop will have it. Most shops cater to the clientele they serve, so if you head to Bionic (opening at 8 a.m. of RSD) in hopes of snagging “Folklore,” you might be disappointed. Check with your local store beforehand.

Left of the Dial will open at 7 a.m. on Record Store Day as well. Dr. Freecloud’s Last Record Store Standing on 9043 Garfield Ave. in Fountain Valley will also open at 8 a.m. with free donuts for the first shoppers in line and a D.J. spinning records throughout the day.

Analog Records also plans to open at 8 a.m. with RSD releases and a special sale.

“We are doing all the exclusives,” said Forsythe. “Then we are doing a big sidewalk sale with lots of under-$10 used records.

Since Resident Vinyl just opened this month, they didn’t secure Record Store Day exclusives, but Ela said they are using the day to pay it forward to other Santa Ana small businesses.

“For Record Store Day, we wanted to give back to our local community,” said Ela. “We are donating a dollar for every record we sell to the Frida Cinema, since they handle the Downtown Santa Ana Artwalk.”

However you celebrate Record Store Day, Michelle advises not to take it too seriously because ultimately music is about joy.

“We are selling nostalgia here and a happier time,” Michelle said. “In a world like this, whatever brings you joy go and get it. How can put a price on joy?”