Music

Record Store Day 2024: Taylor Swift Helps, But Olivia Rodrigo, Noah Kahan & More Bring Big Sales at Retailers

If it’s possible, Record Store Day was even bigger this year than last year, when Taylor Swift caused a traffic jam at record stores across the nation, according to some of the merchants Billboard’s Retail Track columnist visited this past Saturday (April 20).

Retail Track
Retail Track

This year, the Olivia Rodrigo “Stick Season”/Noah Kahan “Lacy” seven-inch was cited as the hottest seller by store managers and owners, but overall, a wider breadth of releases drove more traffic into stores, according to Rough Trade store manager George Flanagan.

Other big sellers — or records that the retailers wished they had more copies of — included Chappell Roan’s “Pink Pony Club” seven-inch; the Sparks/Noël double LP No. 1 Song in Heaven/Is There More to Life Than Dancing?; Talking HeadsLive at WCOZ double LP; Sabrina Carpenter’s “Feather” seven-inch; and a 12-inch featuring David Byrne‘s cover of “Hard Time” and Paramore‘s cover of “Burning Down The House.”

This year, Swift issued The Tortured Poets Department on Friday, the day before Record Store Day (RSD), and it has so far sold an astounding 1.5 million records in its first three days of availability. But independent record store merchants say that while the album was a solid seller for the weekend, this album didn’t have the impact that Swift’s exclusive for last year’s RSD, Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Sessions. That’s because this year’s album was widely available at mass merchants, Amazon, and on her website, and at sale prices just a little bit above their wholesale cost. Nevertheless, retailers say they will always warmly welcome any new release by Swift.

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Retail Track began the day at Darkside Records in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where at 9:15 — 15 minutes after the store opened — there were some 250 people waiting in line for their turn to enter the store. Letting customers in 15 to 20 at a time, the line — which lasted until nearly 6:30 p.m. on Saturday — stretched around the 9,000-square-foot store and deep into the filled-to-capacity parking lot. The first person in line showed up at 8 p.m. Thursday (April 18), according to Darkside co-owner Justin Johnson, who added that when he showed up to open the store on Friday morning (April 19), a full day before Record Store Day kicked off, there were already four people queued up.

“It was absolutely an incredible turnout. Everyone was really cool and we had a great time,” Johnson told Billboard. “It was our best day ever and it blew away last year’s Record Store Day, which up to then had been our best day ever.”

What’s more, one woman drove 11 hours from Michigan to shop at Darkside because of how the store had handled the autographed Taylor Swift CD last year, she told Johnson. “[She] wanted to support us for treating the Swifties so fairly and combating the bots,” Johnson said. And she showed up early enough at the store to be No. 10 in line, he added. 

After leaving Darkside, Retail Track drove over the Hudson River to Middletown, N.Y. to visit Rock Fantasy, a record store/pinball machine/video game arcade. Open since 1985, Rock Fantasy leans hard rock/metal, but owner Stephen Keeler said the Rodrigo/Kahan single was the day’s top seller. He added that about 30 customers were in line when he showed up to open the store. Moreover, he says the store celebrated Record Store Day/420 by staging two shows on successive nights at Quinnz Pinz, the local bowling alley where he promotes shows. The weekend kicked off with a Grateful Dead tribute band, Gratefully Yours, on Friday night; while on Saturday night, Kiss tribute band Psycho Circus performed. On the afternoon of Record Store Day, Rock Fantasy held a pinball tournament in the store. 

record store day
Some of the 250 music fans waiting on line for their turn to shop Darkside Records—a store logo displayed about the tent structures.

Rock Fantasy’s layout is long and narrow, almost like a railroad apartment with five or six rooms. Besides the records, tchotchkes and other music memorabilia it sells in the front two rooms, the store also houses 53 pinball machines and a few vintage video games. Customers can choose to play on machines featuring Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Kiss, Ted Nugent, AC/DC, the Beatles, Elton John, the Rolling Stones and Guns & Roses, as well as machines licensed from movies like Jaws, Pulp Fiction, Godzilla, OO7 and Jurassic Park.

Heading back to the other side of Hudson, Retail Track tried a little potluck with a store called The Vinyl Room in Beacon, N.Y. While it turned out to be more of a bar and restaurant than a record store, it was nevertheless a fun place to visit. The space had only two racks of vinyl, mainly used records, but the store’s interior design, which used records and other music memorabilia and ornamentation, more than made the trip worth it.

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Across the street, at the local VFW Hall, was the Beacon Record & CD Fest, a swap meet with about a dozen vendors where Retail Track lucked out by scoring a copy of the Tommy James & The Shondells single “Gingerbread Man” on Roulette Records.

Staying on the same side of the Hudson, Retail Track next headed to Cold Springs, N.Y. and visited Half Moon Records at The Shoppes, an emporium-style setup with a number of different rooms and stores. Half Moon, which comprised the front two rooms of The Shoppes, was filled with records. One of the co-owners, Peter Hamboussi, said the store had just doubled the space devoted to records about a month ago; while co-owner Nicole Le Blanc said the store hopes to build its country music inventory. Like other merchants, Hamboussi said he wished he had received more copies of the Byrne and Paramore record, as well as the Cranberries. He said he usually does good business on Record Store Day later in the afternoon, as devout music buyers continue on their crawls.

Finally, Retail Track headed back to New York City to visit Rough Trade Records, which had a line of about 100 people when the store opened, including customer George West, who was first in line at about 5 p.m. on the Friday night prior. West is usually first in line every year at the store for the event, reported Rough Trade’s Flanagan, who added that by 8 p.m. on Friday, five people had queued up. The line lasted all day Saturday until about 5:30 p.m., when the store stopped regulating the in-flow. Nevertheless, when Retail Track showed up at around 6 p.m., the store was jam-packed and still doing brisk business.

record store day
Rough Trade and Rockefeller Center presented Indie Plaza in conjunction with Record Store Day, where eight bands and DJs entertained music fans, Rough Trade customers, and tourists from 1PM to 9PM. Pictured above is the Rough Trade booth, stocked with records and next to it is the artist merch booth selling wares from the bands. In the background, on the stage, Armand Hammer are working their way through their set.

Another factor boosting traffic and sales at Rough Trade on Saturday was that it hosted Indie Plaza in Rockefeller Center, in the vast open space above the skating rink. During the day, DJs and bands alternated playing on a stage erected at the end of the plaza abutting 50th Street, keeping the crowd entertained until 9 p.m. Rough Trade set up a booth filled with music, while next to it was another booth with merch from the bands performing that day to sell to the fans enjoying the shows. Dave The Spazz, Sunrisa Disco, and Nancy Whang took turns helming the DJ booth in between sets by Cloud Nothings, Dehd, Armand Hammer, Glitterer, Sunny War, Corridor, Snõõper and Wishy.

“Last year, Record Store Day was our best day ever and it’s worth noting that Taylor Swift was a huge part of our business that day,” Flanagan said. “I was convinced we wouldn’t be able to top that, but we did; we were up by 5% to 10% more. I think one of the reasons why [2024 RSD] became the store’s best day ever is because there was something like 20% more titles out this year.”

For the last store visit of the day, the plan was to head back to home base of Astoria, Queens, to visit the semi-new Pancake Records on Steinway Street. But Retail Track ran out of gas (figuratively) and out of time (literally) — and the local bar with cold Pabst Blue Ribbon cans was beckoning.

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