When a congregation of independent record store owners and employees conceived Record Store Day back in 2007, "ambassadors" did not exist. The holiday’s design team just wanted to combat the perception that music streaming services had driven record stores toward impending doom and irrelevance.
“Honestly, in those first years of Record Store Day, we didn’t have a plan. We’ve had a lot of great things because the idea [just] came [to] somebody,” co-founder and event organizer Carrie Colliton says.
That “somebody” was Eagles of Death Metal frontman Jesse Hughes. In honor of the holiday’s second celebration in 2009, Hughes declared himself an “ambassador” to highlight how much the stores mean to artists, though no one knows what encouraged him to do so.
The next year, Colliton interviewed Hughes’ bandmate Josh Homme for the Record Store Day website. At one point during their conversation, Colliton reminded Homme of Hughes’ ambassadorship and fostered a little friendly competition. She “kind of honed in” on the idea of Homme stepping into the role for 2010’s festivities.
“Don’t you want to take the sash from Jesse?” she asked him. Homme agreed and Colliton “told him it’s on tape now.” Not only did he follow through, but he also made a commemorative video for the holiday, the first of its kind. The clip’s production is lo-fi, full of goofy cutaway shots and lines dripping with Homme’s sarcastic charm.
Sure, Homme redefined how the position could boost awareness, but it wasn’t until the third or fourth year of the event that organizers put any thought into selection. Now, organizers spend time on the pick, though there’s not necessarily a formal process. Colliton peruses the record stores near her home in Raleigh, NC and asks workers for their nominations. Organizers will get in touch with artists about filling the position, or vice versa, depending on the year.
Ambassadors have “run the gamut” of musical genres, from Iggy Pop to Public Enemy’s Chuck D to art-pop chanteuse St. Vincent this year, but not everyone qualifies. Contenders must possess a demonstrated “genuine interest in talking about the record stores and their influence” on the contender’s life. “A lot of people have come to our attention because they’ve shown up to record stores on their own,” Colliton says.
In other words, “any person who signs on as ambassador is the right person [for the title].”
While ambassadors often create a video like Homme’s or St. Vincent’s , the only real requirement is to show up at a record store on the special day. Sometimes, this involves a concert, like Metallica’s set last year at Rasputin Music in Berkeley, California. To some, these appearances may seem like show. But try denying that a rock-star ambassador can create hype at an independent record store, and by extension arouse support, for local business and music itself.
“People will always want to have that [music] in a physical format,” Colliton says. “And they’re happy to buy it from someone in their community.”