A lot of people involved in the US music industry one way or another would come and see me in the shop. Just under 10% of twitter followers are from the States as are 15%+ of people who read the blog. Certainly with vinyl the US was a year or two ahead of the UK at least in the beginning. They were complaining about $25 albums you could buy for a dollar long before the phenomenon hit the UK and going by the imminent reissuing of 13 Genesis albums on vinyl it hasn’t stopped yet.
Anyway earlier this year while the shop was still open I had one such person in from the US who said he read the blog and was interested to hear how long I thought the rise in vinyl sales would last. I answered that some blindly seemed to think it would go on forever while others privately would say they would be glad if they got one more good Christmas out of it. What I asked was his take on things ? Some are predicting Armageddon he said but most just think there will be carnage.
The problem to anybody prepared to admit it was obvious. A lot of the “vinyl revival” was media led. No doubt the public had embraced it often on a wave of nostalgia but it couldn’t be denied half the vinyl at least wasn’t even being played either going to collectors who put it in a cupboard or younger folk who put it on display. Even more importantly the increased vinyl sales were in no way making up for lost CD sales and that applied to new and second hand. More high profile stores with overheads that were only ever going to rise and revenue that could only fall were preparing for the worst. From east to west you will see stores deciding to close rather than wait for the inevitable he said and you will be surprised. Those selling new product were most vulnerable but even for large used stores there was a problem. Once the downturn started and people started selling their vinyl all these reissues would have little value and the number of people who would consider buying vinyl, already not a huge figure, would drop considerably. Small used stores with relatively low overheads and maybe dabbling in new stuff would have most chance of survival. This is of course exactly the kind of shop that has sprung up in the UK.
Not long after his visit I had an Australian record shop owner in saying much the same. With 60 stores in both Melbourne and Sydney the situation was already untenable. Soon Origami Vinyl in LA announced they were closing citing the difficulties of selling new releases despite being next to a great venue and having had recent poor Record Store Days. Others followed but when Other Music in New york announced they were closing all that had been said came back to me. They had seen off so many others including a large Tower Records opposite that you kind of felt they were immune. Again they blamed takings that had halved and a change in how people looked to discover new music. However never did I expect to hear the news that Amoeba would leave its iconic Hollywood store. Yes it won’t be for a while but the sense of preparing for the end is still there.
The UK is a little different to the US and London and Brighton live in a bubble with access to all the record companies and most of the bands and labels. There are a few fantastic shops left in the bigger cities and the rest are very much starting to fit that category of second hand shops who need little income to survive and dabble in new vinyl. Shops like Origami did mention the “big box” stores all jumping on the vinyl bandwagon but they have no HMV or an equivalent in the States. As they have shown in Ireland Hilco will pull the plug on HMV/FOPP when it suits them which will be an added factor in who survives. In the end it may not be competition from other retailers on the high street or online that closes down independents in the UK. It will probably be caused by the very bands and labels they are trying to support. This Armageddon may not be a battle between good and evil but if shops are to survive then they have to be given more than tokenist indie exclusives and the once a year bounty of Record Store Day.
There is I think a misconception all be it an understandable one that our twitter account generates a lot of sales. Don’t get me wrong if we are first to mention a reissued Biffy Clyro album on vinyl as happened recently then yes we can sell 40 LPs in 24 hours. If The Twilight Sad or Frightened Rabbit retweet something we have that is hard to find then yes again we will sell what we have but these are the exceptions. Far more likely is we highlight some great stuff and sell nothing at all.
Nothing sums this up better than the time Bob Mortimer retweeted my recommendation of two Babybird albums as two of the best albums you would ever hear and both under a fiver. Bob has more than half a million followers. He then followed it up with a second tweet himself saying just how good the albums were. Even I expected a few orders. One person bought both albums !
There was a time when publicising you had the “indies only” version of an album would work but now those times are for the large part gone and were long gone before I closed the shop. “Indies only” is just the starting point. Is it signed ? Does it have a print ? Does it have a signed print ? All these things may be available from the band or their label or a favoured shop and it is what the keen fans are looking for. There may be t-shirt bundles, ticket bundles and then there is the box set invariably now only available from the band or label. For some of the bigger indie labels the “indies only” tag is a convenient way of having a special format they can sell themselves but deny to HMV and Amazon. Fans will receive notice of this “limited” format with no mention it will be in shops and are stampeded towards buying to make sure they secure a copy. Some labels may limit their sales but often add an extra not available in shops. Regularly though labels now sell more than all the shops combined. This is simply an arena I am happy to exit from to hopefully take on the much harder but more rewarding task of creating new listeners who may in time become fans.
Should I have needed reassuring at all then the new Teenage Fanclub album has convinced me of my decision. Avalanche has sold thousands of Teenage Fanclub albums over the years. More than a thousand of “Bandwagonesque” alone. With all the excitement surrounding the new album we were often tagged with news and our tweet with the Uncut guide to all their albums reached many thousands of people along with our album pre-sell. The previously unseen footage from Other Music in New York was incredibly popular. So how many of that indies only clear vinyl were ordered ? NONE ! Don’t get me wrong here I’m not complaining just making it very clear that there is no guaranteed connection between social media and sales. Postings were popular on facebook too. Teenage Fanclub are deservedly held in great affection by those of us of a certain age and those fans would often understandably like a signed copy.
For Teenage Fanclub you could read King Creosote (over 10,000 albums sold) and don’t even get me started on The Wedding Present or I’ll tell you the story of how I put them on the Friday before “George Best” came out after they were double booked with The Triffids and got bumped. Luckily I had offered to curate a gig at Potterrow and they played for £300.
Divine Comedy sold 399 copies of their new album in independents one twelfth of the copies sold by HMV, Amazon and most importantly the band themselves. This is not just an Avalanche problem. I do have a Divine Comedy / Belle and Sebastian story for another time !
I’m sure many of those same middle-aged Fanclub fans will head the queue to support the History of Scottish Music Centre so karma will be restored and all will be well.
A lot of people have said there must be grants available to help towards getting the centre off the ground and indeed after speaking to Creative Scotland I applied for a small research and development grant which I will find out about later this month. Creative Scotland make announcements about grants so you will hear from them first. I had to check just to make sure I could say I had applied ! If successful it will help cover my time and will certainly be very useful. I do also want to be very clear about the focus of the centre which will be to help Scottish bands old and new reach new people. Having “special editions” of albums are great but all they are doing are encouraging established fans to buy from one place rather than another.
There is a lot that could be done (and currently isn’t being done) to give new bands in particular a better chance while never underestimating how hard things can be these days. Again there are some great bands established in Scotland but little known even in the UK never mind worldwide. This is something I very much have the ability to address through Avalanches’s reputation, 30+ years of contacts, our social media platforms and the interest I know is out there in Scottish music.
As I’ve said before I’ve had discussions with Edinburgh art galleries and museums as there may be some crossover in the future and one specialist fund raiser with ties to the Scottish music scene has expressed an interest in helping in the future but we do need to start moving forward immediately if the target of having the centre established by the end of March 2017 is to be achieved.
Thanks to everybody who has responded so far about supporting the centre but I will now need to start being more proactive in raising funds. There are several options open to us and I suspect to some extent we will use them all. More on that very soon. In terms of material for exhibitions there has been a lot of progress and I think I can safely say that won’t be an issue.
Ideally it would be great to have a central space in Edinburgh I could use to promote the History of Scottish Music Centre from now until Christmas but I’ve drawn a blank so far. Edinburgh Council in theory does of course support such ventures so it remains to be seen if they can be of any help. I’m always looking for ideas so do feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
The centre will primarily be an exhibition and information space and while there will be an accompanying retail space it would unrealistic to try to support the centre simply from sales especially as any stock would not be held on a commercial basis ie what can be sold within a reasonable time. There have been several suggestions about finance and I have looked at them all. I’m certainly exploring the possibility of grants but they would be unlikely to be sufficient and best not relied on. Again crowdfunding has been suggested and there are some very interesting options there. There is clearly a lot of interest but it would be good to have that interest registered for when we start the ball rolling which should be by the end of next month.
The options are
I would be interested in a small monthly subscription in return for a monthly newsletter and alerts when the centre has news of and items by artists I am interested in
I would be interested in making a donation
I have a business that would be interested in making a donation or offering sponsorship
I would be interested in buying a discounted voucher to spend at the centre eg a £50 voucher for £40. There will be an online sales facility.
I have a music collection I would like to donate with the proceeds going to the centre
With regards to the bands themselves current or not we will be looking for things along the lines of an exclusive song or image that they are prepared to let the centre use and are happy to promote to their fans. This will obviously help with financing the centre and feed into the options above. Very happy for artists and labels to make contact now but we will be contacting those we think can help soon.
Please send an email to email@example.com listing one or more of the options above to register an interest and be told when we have something in place. The subscription will start at a pound or two so hopefully anybody wanting to help can. The interest now will help with the decision on what crowdfunding platforms might be useful in the future. Any other thoughts or comments are welcome. We are of course still looking for interesting memorabilia and thanks is due to all those who have already been in touch.
In terms of a plan and knowing what I’m going to be working towards I think things have gone well. There has been a great response though it is quite skewed to the punk and post-punk eras which is understandable as it really was a very vibrant time for music in Scotland. Everything since then I can cover from my own experience especially the 80s and 90s indie scene which coincides with the start of Avalanche and I’ll just need to search out more of the old Potterrow crowd and the bands of the time many of whom still keep in touch so it won’t be too much of an effort. Mike who runs the Scottish post-punk sites has been helping out and has some valuable contacts to help with the pre-punk times.
Finance is going to be the next thing and I’m trying to at least find the resources to give me six months or so before hopefully a launch around March. I should have a far better idea in the next month but the centre’s focus will always be skewed towards information and exhibition rather than sales so funding is essential. There has been a very limited response with offers of sponsorship and other financial help which is not a great surprise as these are things that really have to be chased up and a big thank you to those who have been in touch. I haven’t drawn a complete blank and potentially could have some good news. A lot of people talk about “reach” when it comes to funding and there obviously Avalanche’s worldwide reach is a help along with the undoubted interest in Scottish music but it would probably be a help if a lot of people signed up to donate a small amount of money each month for instance. Sometimes the number of people is as important as the funds raised. This is all new to me but I’m getting there slowly. Having said all this surely there must be a few older folk out there who have a few bob and could help make this happen.
There have been a lot of suggestions as to how we could raise funds especially to get things off the ground from putting on some high profile gigs to asking bands and labels for interesting items that could be auctioned. Bands could also possibly donate unreleased songs or exclusive images but for now I will attempt to get the basics in place and then maybe we will do all those things !
Why HMV and the vinyl revival are just delaying inevitable and important decisions about the future of high street music retail
When HMV and FOPP went into administration in January 2013 it should have been a watershed moment. Nobody was sure what would follow but it was clear that HMV’s model was unsustainable and no amount of tweaking would put it right. What was not expected was that eventual owners Hilco would turn this fact into a powerful bargaining tool. All the Edinburgh HMVs were to close and many commented this would leave the way open for Avalanche. I did however always fear the worst. Somebody would buy the FOPPs for sure and the extent to which they would be competition would depend on the new owners. If HMV resurfaced it would probably be in a smaller, different location. Again the new owners would be key and quite possibly diferent to the owners of FOPP.
Hilco the turnaround specialists now owned the debt and ruthlessly announced the closure of shops that were making a loss which was most of them. It left the question as to whether the rump was sustainable and who would buy it. There were over 30 serious notes of interest but come the day nobody made an offer. The consequences of this were not immediately obvious but soon the picture became clearer. Hilco were approaching record companies and landlords with a simple message. HMV is fucked. Nobody wants it. Maybe we can turn it around but we can’t be paying market rents or indeed be paying for stock at all until it is sold. Shopping centres in particular panicked and offered them a year rent free to sort things out. With most high streets having empty shops only a few landlords could be sure of getting new tenants. And so the new HMV model was born. Pay as little rent as possible and take no risk on stock only paying for it once sold. Discovering supermarkets no longer paid for stolen stock Hilco demanded that too and then promptly dispensed with security !
In Ireland where there was much ill feeling about the closures including sit ins HMV would also return and soon after took over Xtra-vision where the DVD stores could also stock HMV product. It seemed a crazy move but surely Hilco had a cunning plan ? In the UK record companies and most landlords capitulated knowing that Hilco were not bluffing about closing HMV down if they didn’t get the terms they wanted. Hilco had closed down Borders after a matter of months so their reputation went before them.
So independents were put at a massive disadvantage after all the talk had been of the need for a level playing field but there was something far more important in the medium to long term. Hilco’s model of “we are completely fucked” is a strategy that can only work for so long. They have had to leave key sites in Glasgow, Cardiff, Nottingham and elsewhere as landlords could get a better rent from others. Sure they can duck and dive and find somewhere cheaper but it isn’t exactly the most positive of strategies. They can argue with Tesco and Amazon about who is selling what but there is an inevitability that as time goes on they will sell less. HMV in the UK will make a profit if for no other reason than they close a shop as soon as it starts losing money. The problem for the long term future of high street music retail is one day they will simply make a business decision to get out of the market completely. They might be able to sell but who would be mug enough to buy a failing business and without the clout of Hilco. If anybody had any doubts the recent announcement of the closure of all their shops in Ireland on the back of closing down Xtra-vision should point the way.
As for vinyl nice as it is to see a resurgence it has, as with HMV, just delayed the inevitable. For HMV making a profit thanks to Adele CDs, low rents and favourably trading terms is not sexy. Profits due to vinyl sales and in-stores, no matter how small they are in reality, are “cool”. Vinyl only shops are not the future except in only the most niche of terms. Vinyl is not a fad but it is also not here to stay at the current levels seen and it will be abandoned as and when the bandwagon jumpers see fit.
If HMV had been allowed to go to the wall in 2013 something would have taken its place. Maybe somebody buys the FOPPs and expands the chain. Maybe Rough Trade implement the expansion policy that has so far seen them go no further than open in Nottingham and take over Rise in Bristol. Maybe record companies take over some shops. Universal looked at buying FOPP previously. Labels are already opening shops. Maybe several things happen but at least it wouldn’t have been the same old, same old.
Similarly if the vinyl revival had stayed at the level of a niche indie shop thing then record companies would have been forced to look at a way forward rather than wallow in the past. In 2013 there was a far better chance of new ways and businesses getting established. There is no saying if it would have been a better world for independents, it could easily have not been. Other Music in New York recently closed despite surviving longer than most including a massive Tower Records opposite but they were still taking half of what they used to. The challenges facing music high street retail are many but one thing is for sure and that is that HMV and vinyl are not the answer and instead are just delaying the inevitable. The vinyl bubble will burst in the next year or two. Second hand vinyl shops will I’m sure continue to thrive. HMV may duck and dive for a few years yet but eventually they will come up with a face saving story as to why they are quitting. By then it may be too late for something meaningful to take its place.
When artists and labels first started selling directly to their fans it was clear to me that this would be a bad thing not just for the future of shops but for the future of new music and eventually the future of all artists except the very biggest. I suppose to some extent it was because I understood the mind and thinking of the super fan long before the phrase was even coined. There were people who you knew would buy everything by an artist and then there were those who would if they could go beyond that wanting anything related to the release of the album or single be that a poster, badge or a sticker we had in our window. One of the many ironies in all this is that for years we asked for extras to give customers and it rarely went beyond a limited number of signed copies to get fans in quickly. Eventually labels and artists would claim they had to cater for super fans themselves as shops had not done so !
The effect of downloads was still an unknown and streaming wasn’t even a consideration but as it turned out they were never going to matter because super fans live in the physical world. At this point the equation was simple. Independent shops invested time and effort into promoting mainly new artists that either they liked or they thought their customers would like. They knew in the end they would be sold out to the majors (Virgin, HMV + more!) but that was normally by the third album and they could move on to find the “next big thing” while still selling the artists they had done so much for. On the 10th anniversary of their first album Interpol were telling anybody who asked that it was UK record shops that broke them while they promoted the reissue that shops would only be given some time later. Further back in time and history records that The Pixies as with many American bands first found success in the UK and again to a large extent because of the support of independent record shops and it has to be said independent labels.
While albums obviously sold far more the amount of effort shops put into promotion should not be underestimated. The pay off came with the second album that assuming it was not a big let down which could easily happen would sell to the fan base the shop had built. As the ability to sell directly to fans online became an option the problems were clear. In many cases shops had helped labels build up data bases of fans. Now that information could be used to offer the fans of established bands a reason to buy directly. At the same time though breaking new bands was a different matter still best done by shops. While the financial incentive was to a large extent gone shops continued to do what they had always done supporting the music they loved. Whether on a label or self distributed one thing quickly became clear and that was that second album sales very rarely ever came close to the first album no mater how well the album sold and was received.
As the market shrank it made fans rather than the casual music buyer a far bigger part of the equation and when PledgeMuisc came along with I’ve no doubt the good intention of helping new bands raise money what it quickly turned into was a way for an artist to take all the super fan sales for themselves. At the same time the growth of social media and online sales meant well established bands could sell their expensive box sets and bundles directly while those indie exclusives are really not all they are made out to be.
Which brings us to today. Only the most mainstream of artists sell week after week (Adele, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith plus a few others) while even the biggest of other artists now see their sales crammed into the first few days as the presells and initial weekend sales kick in. Decent sized bands sales have been reduced to their fans and no more and new music doesn’t stand a chance. Shops are now a different animal completely from those indie shops in the 80s and 90s and in fact there are literally only a handful left from the thousands that sold that Pixies “Surfer Rosa” album all those years ago. Those middle sized bands can often rely on publishing and sync deals and many if truth be told hang on too long and stop new bands coming through. So the biggest loser in all this is new music with the odds now heavily stacked against even the best of bands. Bigger indie labels can pretend their new bands are selling but the truth is that even with everything at their disposal they can sell low hundreds. What doesn’t help is that so often the bands supported are really not very good a genuinely interesting new band is lost among the masses.
So the music industry and shops will limp on selling old albums to old people and pretending it isn’t so. Unless something dramatic is done this will be the decade that new music died and all this year’s stats are already showing this will be the first year old music outsells the new and of course for the purpose of these figures new music includes the new Adele album ! There simply won’t be another Pixies who in turn paved the way for Radiohead and Nirvana among many others.
And if you want the new limited edition Pixies box set, t-shirt and exclusive poster bundle. That will be £81.99 on PledgeMusic !
As some of you may have seen the council approved planning permission for the King’s Stables Road site. “A 92-bedroom hotel is at the centre of the development, alongside studio flats, student accommodation and a public square” according to The Evening News. They also say “Members of local groups, including heritage watchdog the Cockburn Association and Old Town community council, gave presentations urging councillors to refuse the proposals.”
The last two sentences are telling.
The discussion was interrupted by angry outbursts from the public gallery, with a man repeatedly saying: “You need to listen to the public.”
Following around four hours of deliberation, councillors voted 11 to three in favour of the development.
There is a little more detail from the Edinburgh Reporter that the site will involve “59 residential units, a 92 bedroom boutique hotel, 167 student flats, an arts facility, and a range of commercial units.” There are also more detailed comments from those who opposed the planning but nothing from the Greater Grassmarket BID. As far as I am aware their position was that they could not support or indeed really comment until there were full details on what type of hotel and retail was envisaged. Neither of these things are essential to get planning but when I spoke to the developers at the consultations they said it would be unthinkable not to have these details in place along with an arts partner before going before the planning committee.
What is stunning about all this is that Edinburgh Council knew exactly what was needed on the site. After the piece in The Evening News about my vision for the area (given it was round the corner from our old Grassmarket shop) I was contacted by the council, the architects that had been commissioned to do a study of what was needed and various other related organisations. They all spoke with one voice. Improving footfall was essential and the continued decline of the Grassmarket footfall figures since have only confirmed that. People walking along Princes Street, up to the High Street and down Victoria Street should be encouraged to continue through the Grassmarket along King’s Stables Road and back to Princes Street in a circular motion rather than turning back and returning via the Mound. Others might care to walk through the West Port and continue that way.
With the Usher Hall and Filmhouse among other arts facilities nearby the site could become a gateway to an arts hub. Just as importantly the old developer’s trick of claiming there would be some “interesting retail” would not be acceptable. Too many units had lain empty long after hotels, flats and offices were built while arts facilities either failed to materialise or were greatly reduced. This site was about “credibility and deliverability”. Even that wasn’t good enough in that the site also had to become an “attraction” outwith its arts complex and retail. There had to be detail, hard facts and partners in place for every area of the project. A tough ask but very sensible in that it recognised just what was needed to revitalise what was a completely dead area.
All of this came from or was confirmed by Edinburgh Council at meetings on the site. I agreed to consult with interested developers introduced by the council (there was no fee I should add) and it quickly became clear only one developer took the council’s wishes seriously. The rest were quite honest in that they would be aiming to do the bare minimum to keep the council happy while getting on with their hotel and flats. Wary of what little I knew about these things I questioned would somebody not come in offering lots of money and all these noble plans be forgotten. No I was told there was a points system in place that meant just money couldn’t buy this site. When I was told it was indeed a last minute larger financial offer that had scuppered the bid I was involved with I did later ask under FOI how the decision had been arrived at but was told this was commercially sensitive information while planning was in progress. Maybe they will say something now ?
18 months later and everything the council said wouldn’t be allowed to happen has happened. The arts complex is now a small arts facility with no detail, there will be unspecified retail units and the “attraction” was forgotten long ago. Peveril the developers who won the bid did ask to meet me straight after the decision and were happy to admit their arts complex ideas consisted of a blank piece of paper saying “Arts Complex”. That I was told was how it worked. They would consult to see what was wanted.
While the rest of Edinburgh has had a small decline in footfall for a while now (still not great and worse than the rest of Scotland and the UK) the lat two months have seen footfall in the Grassmarket fall 39% each month and the months before were all substantially negative too. There had been a plan to boost footfall in the Grassmarket with a Victorian themed Christmas Festival last December. Unbelievably Christmas and New Year have become one of the quietest times of the year as everything is focused on Princes Street and St Andrew’s Square but the council voted to support residents who objected to the idea.
When it is taken into consideration that Grassmarket footfall includes those that simply reach the bottom of Victoria Street and turn back (the counter is on the Grassmarket Hotel) and those who just pass by to get to the Cowgate the actual figures will be even worse. Furthermore the Grassmarket nighttime footfall has not declined anything like the daytime footfall which must therefore be down substantially more than the average figure. Finally as even Essential Edinburgh admit in their last report retail sales are worse than footfall though food and drink sales unsurprisingly have improved even with declining footfall so you can only imagine what the non-food, daytime, retail sales must be. It is precisely because of this every empty shop in the Grassmarket now becomes a takeaway that doesn’t need hot food consent.
It didn’t have to be this way and the biggest problem is nobody is held accountable. When Avalanche moved to the Grassmarket not long after the 7.5 million pound pedestrianisation there was huge optimism for the area. Very quickly however the council withdrew support saying all their available resources were dealing with the problems caused by the tram works. All focus has since been on the Essential Edinburgh BID area which is already awash with money given the very many high profile businesses within the area while the Grassmatket and indeed the other surrounding areas have been abandoned. It wasn’t long ago the Grassmarket was being hailed as the new Covent Garden under new plans but when little materialises nobody is held to account.
Of course what is planned is better than the current derelict site but it could have been so much more. The King’s Stables Road was a massive opportunity that will not come again and that has now been lost as the council looked to a short term financial gain that will have long term damaging consequences in the future.
You can see the proposals I was involved with here.
There are several ways to help get this off the ground.
If you are a business then consider sponsorship. Those reading this probably know the goodwill that will be gained by helping make this happen so I’ll say no more. Always happy to chat over ideas with folk.
Dig out any old memorabilia you may have and get in touch. Posters, badges, tickets, t-shirts, photos and anything that you think might be of interest. Items can be donated, loaned or if something is felt to be of some significance then there will be a facility to buy things for the exhibition.
We will have an ongoing collection of Scottish music releases old and new for sale so we will be looking for stock. All money made from this will go back into building up the collection so donations would be gratefully received but we would be happy to buy stock too. I will personally add most of my own collection to get things started.
Does it have to be vinyl and Scottish ? Not at all. Obviously anything can be sold and the money still put towards building up the Scottish collection. CDs have slowed down dramatically saleswise but every little helps.
We are looking for a space during the Festival where we can start to give a hint of what is planned and people can bring in things they think might be of interest. Obviously space is at a premium at this time of the year and it would need to be somewhere central with decent footfall. I will also speak to Edinburgh Council to see what they can offer as they have declared a willingness to help.
We’ll be covering old labels, venues, shops etc as well as the music so if anybody who was involved with any of these has stuff that would be great. Similarly if any bands with old artwork etc can let me know what they have then we can start to build up a data base of what can be drawn on if needed. There are already some excellent online resources of course that will be of great help
I’ve already been offered a few interesting items from artists Avalanche has supported that we could auction so look out for some very exciting things in the future. I’m sure we will receive more.
Avalanche is a “go-to” site for Scottish music already so I’m happy to use that to promote things just now but eventually it would be good to give the centre its own identity and online presence though I will always be happy for Avalanche to be involved. There is a very big difference between this and Avalanche the shop in that this will be solely based on promoting Scottish music without the scramble to attract sales of new releases which was becoming something of a losing battle anyway. Once the ball is rolling I will of course start to actively seek out things that I think may be of interest.
There is of course worldwide interest in Scottish music and it has not been lost on me that the best way to reach that audience and involve them may well be to crowdfund. Once I’ve gauged the initial response it will certainly be a consideration.
As always any questions, suggestions or offers to get imvolved should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Is vinyl’s comeback just a fad or does its renewed presence represent a real revival? Buzz chats with Avalanche Records’ Kevin Buckle to assess which is closer to the truth.
Vinyl is currently experiencing a bit of a moment. As music formats go, it’s craft beer, whilst the humble CD is closer to a pint of Tennent’s: the sleeve art, the booklet and most importantly, the sound quality. You get so much more than with its alternatives.
Edinburgh boasts an impressive collection of vinyl stockists, from the obvious large music retailers to Independent crusaders such as Vinyl Villains, CODA music, Elvis Shakespeare, Underground Solu’shn and VoxBox Music. There are numerous options available for aficionados and burgeoning collectors alike. Even Tesco has begun re-stocking them. A quick Google search reveals that sales of the medium have grown by well over 50% in the past two years. The vinyl chart has even been relaunched. So can vinyl maintain momentum and continue its meteoric rise?
“Probably not,” according to Kevin Buckle, who is uniquely qualified to say so. He is the owner of Avalanche Records (named after the Leonard Cohen song of the same name covered by Nick Cave when the shop opened in 1984) and a mainstay of the Edinburgh music scene for the past 30 years.
We meet in the Tron Kirk on High Street where he currently has a cosy stall in the corner of the market. Nestled between posters of Taylor Swift and Arcade Fire are a few wooden boxes of vinyl and a rack of CDs that sit beneath a large stained glass window. Its simplistic décor gives off a rustic vibe.
Kevin could talk all day about music. His knowledge seems encyclopaedic as he recalls obscure album tracks and dates in the matter of fact way that only someone truly passionate about a subject can do so. As a statistician, he also conveniently references much of what he says with the figures to back it up.
It’s when we’re a few minutes into the conversation that I realise Kevin is someone who thinks far more about the big picture and beyond the recent resurgence when it comes to vinyl. He isn’t as dogmatic about the format as I had expected and in his own words, “vinyl has got nothing to do with it, it’s about the music”. His interest lies more in the promotion of new music, something he believes this revival doesn’t necessarily do.
“The whole vinyl revival thing is very much a nostalgia thing, (in the past) people bought music, they didn’t buy vinyl. People just bought vinyl because that’s what the music came on.”
He continues by citing the vinyl chart for last year in which the top ten contained four albums from the previous two years and then older artists such as The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
“That’s what’s selling, it’s a nostalgia thing. It’s old people buying, it’s young people who seem to think that you buy old music on old vinyl and it’s no benefit at all to new music which is what we’re interested in. I’ve just no interest in selling people Led Zeppelin albums.”
It’s an outlook that had never occurred to me. When I look for a new album, I never really consider buying vinyl as my first port of call and I become acutely aware that I fit perfectly into the stereotype he has just described. Despite its obvious benefits, “for most bands, it’s not viable” because put simply, “they just won’t sell enough” and I get the sense that this is what Kevin feels is the big drawback.
He qualifies this by identifying himself as a huge fan of vinyl because of the tangible benefits and “what it adds to the music,” but it’s apparent that the idea of selling the Beatles “Revolver” to a young kid and thus introducing them to real music isn’t his thing. He is far more focused on the present day.
When we discuss challenges facing record shops, he cites age-old independent versus large retailer issues. Specifically, the chains buying power allowing them a larger percentage of the stock available, whereas independents have to buy in smaller quantities.
An interesting quirk of this is that often these large retailers (one in particular) allocate disproportionately higher amounts of floor space than their vinyl sales justify as a form of advertising. As Kevin puts it, “look at us: we’re cool, we sell vinyl”. It’s an approach he describes as “galling,” mostly because it further limits the amount of pressings available.
Despite these challenges, shops in Edinburgh are managing to sell both new and second-hand music (mainly in CD and vinyl respectively) and while they may not be thriving, hopefully they will continue to survive. So what of the future?
“Eventually they will run out of things to re-issue,” he states. “Sales will drop quite substantially to a level higher than their all-time low.” Before adding on a slightly darker note, “record companies can’t believe their luck that Bowie died cause now they’ve got all that to do.”
And as for the future of other formats? That isn’t as easy to predict. CDs will probably endure as they have “an awful long way to fall,” but “given that nobody saw streaming coming,” who knows?
You can follow his musings about the state of music in Edinburgh and beyond on his blog which also doubles as an online shop.
I’ve edited this just a very little to correct a couple of things. Interesting piece in that Jason actually quotes what I said rather than so many who paraphrase and get it wrong. Old skool attempt at a headline too !
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