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An interview with Record Store Day's Michael Kurtz

Prior to Record Store Day 2015, Goldmine reached out to Record Store Day organizer Michael Kurtz to get the lowdown on the event.

By Patrick Prince

Prior to Record Store Day 2015, Goldmine reached out to Record Store Day organizer Michael Kurtz to get the lowdown on the event.

GOLDMINE: Are you pleased with the way last year’s Record Store Day turned out?

Michael Kurtz: Last year I was in France on Record Store Day with John Densmore, where we did a series of in-store events to meet French Doors’ fans around his new book “The Doors: Unhinged”, so I wasn’t here to experience RSD in the U.S. All of the reports I got were that it was a phenomenal day. According to all of the chart companies, we broke all sales records for vinyl in a single day since they started keeping track.

This photo of Michael Kurtz (right) with the late Ian McLagan was taken May 2014 in Los Angeles at a Record Store Day celebratory dinner. Photo by Dennie Chong from the Hawaiian record store Hungry Ear.

This photo of Michael Kurtz (right) with the late Ian McLagan was taken May 2014 in Los Angeles at a Record Store Day celebratory dinner. Photo by Dennie Chong from the Hawaiian record store Hungry Ear.

GM: Is there anything you’d do differently? Are there any changes this year?

MK: No, not really. Record Store Day is an open source event, meaning record store owners and music fans celebrate it however they’d like. The only regret I have is attending a Record Store Day celebratory dinner shortly after the big day. Ryan Adams came, Chuck D came, all of the member of the Doors’ guys came, and Ian McLagan came (see photo below). While I spent some time talking with Ian, I wish I’d spent more.

GM: How was Chuck D. as an ambassador in 2014?

MK: Chuck was fantastic. On Record Store Day itself he drove around Los Angeles hitting about 20 record stores, celebrating with fans and record store owners. Chuck also pushed us to start a record store radio station, which we’re now launching with a company called Dash Radio. The idea is to have programming that reflects what record stores are into.

GM: How did you connect with Dave Grohl on becoming this year’s ambassador?

MK:The Foo Fighter’s manager, John Silva, has been a big supporter of RSD since the beginning. A couple of years back we talked about how cool it would be if Dave was the Ambassador the year the band celebrated its 20th anniversary and it actually happened.

GM: Grohl seems quite honored (and excited) to be an ambassador for Record Store Day.


MK:I don’t want to speak for Dave, but he’s already been super supportive. He even helped RSD U.K. with the launch of their list of RSD releases. I expect he’ll probably help us by helping us spread the word on record stores around the world.

GM: Dave Grohl has become like an ambassador to music in general. He’s become a constant icon at the Grammys like Jack Nicholson at the Oscars.

MK:Every generation has a natural born musician who can also articulate passionate feelings on music. Dave is that guy.

GM: What goes into being an ambassador? What is the criteria and responsibilities?

MK:It’s like most things that happen within RSD, it’s up to the person, and in this case the Ambassador. There isn’t any real criteria other than they are willing to help spread the gospel on record stores.

GM: Which band performances/in-stores are you excited about this year?

MK:There is a mother-son duo out of Kansas called Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear who are really something to hear. They’re going to appear in a small record store in Kansas City called Mills Record Company. I hear that Eric Burdon is doing an event at Neptoon Records in Vancouver and that Dawes are doing a performance at Music Millennium in Portland, Ore. I wish I could be there for each of these.

GM: Talk about this year’s partnership with Blue Note Records.

MK:RSD is releasing a series of unique records from Blue Note’s vast archives. They are meant for real jazz fans and we do one each month. We’re also talking about having some events in stores with jazz artists as well.

GM: What is a Blue Note authorized dealer? And how can a customer find out if their record store dealer meets this criteria?

MK:The stores that are participating agree to carry a good inventory of Blue Note albums and help spread the word on Blue Note’s vast catalog of jazz music. Blue Note helps the record stores and the record stores help Blue Note. It’s really that simple.

GM: Is this Blue Note partnership going to open the door to more Jazz releases on RSD? There’s been criticism that there hasn’t been enough jazz exclusives for Record Store Day, especially with more indie and avant-garde jazz.

MK:That criticism doesn’t ring true with me. Each year we do anywhere from 10 to 12 jazz releases. We’ve spoken to folks at ECM in hopes that they might want to work with us in the coming years.

The Marq Spusta poster, above, is the Official Poster of Record Store Day 2015.

The Marq Spusta poster, above, is the Official Poster of Record Store Day 2015.

GM: Every year, as you know, indie record stores give out their own goodies with purchases. This year certain RSD new releases come with their own goodies. Can you explain how that came about?

MK:Thanks for asking this question. RSD is intended to be a celebration of music, a holiday for music. So each year we work with our partners to create really cool items that are given to the stores who, in turn, give them out freely on Record Store Day. This year there seems to be a theme with cool posters and we’ve got one designed by Kosmo Vinyl (the Clash, Ian Dury, the Jam) and another by concert poster artist Marq Spusta, as well as a reproduction of an original painting by John Mellencamp.

GM: OK, here’s a standard question ever year: What’s your personal favorite RSD release this year, and why?

MK:My personal favorite is RSD’s reproduction of Metallica’s demo cassette that they used to get signed. I’m also a big Frank Zappa fan, so I’m excited to hear the LA Philharmonic recording of “200 Motels.” I love Johnny Winter, too, and they’re a couple of cool albums being released for him, too. The Syd Barrett/REM side-by-side 7-inch is also something I’d like to have. Madcap Laughs and Murmur are two of my all-time favorite albums.

GM: Apart from the music, what have been some of your favorite packaging/designs for Record Store Day? You’ve had very creative offerings over the years.

MK:The Doors’ RSD release that was curated by John and Robby is my all-time favorite, but I loved the Chrissie Hynde and St. Vincent 10-inch records. They were really cool.

GM: What are some exciting releases for Record Store Day in the classic rock genre?

MK:I’m a huge Todd Rundgren fan, and there is a 7-inch coming out that is the first official full single/segment to be heard from “Runddans,” the single track /continuous album by Todd Rundgren, Lindstrom and Emil Nikolaisen from Serena-Maneesh. The B-side will be an a cappella version of parts of the album put together by Lindstrom.

GM: Wasn’t Stooges’ James Williamson supposed to put together an exclusive for this year’s Record Store Day? You mentioned that last year in our Goldmine interview.

MK:It may have been something that was discussed but didn’t happen. We typically have 400 or more releases a year, so it’s hard for me to remember all of the details on ones that don’t make it for one reason or another.

GM: BTW, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony falls on Record Store Day this year. Are there any tie-ins to that event?

MK:I don’t know for sure, but I think Dave Grohl is planning something special.

GM: Last year you had concern about tracking the sales through Soundscan. Is that problem being resolved?

MK:They started paying more attention, so the reporting is now better. I always worry though because like so many large corporations, they don’t spend a lot of resources on independent businesses so you never know if they will slip back again. It’s worrisome, as their earlier and massive underreporting of vinyl sales caused a lot of problems in the production pipelines and caused many smart people to make bad decisions. That’s my opinion anyway, but like I said, it was much better last year. We’re also working with a new company called Buzz Angle that is doing a good job tracking sales.

GM: Any other goals you would like to meet this year?

MK:We want to work with Frank Kozik again on some more RSD vinyl figures. I’m also working with Paul Myers’ on a prototype for a radio show called “Studio Magic with Paul Myers.” Paul recently wrote a book called “A Wizard A True Star – Todd Rundgren In the Studio” and he’s going to create a radio hour for Record Store Day radio station where he highlights exceptional people who work in the recording studio. I’m hoping it will turn out well and will lead to more creative radio programming.