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 !
Buzz magazine is an annual publication brought to you by MSc Publishing students of Edinburgh Napier University http://www.buzzmag.org/
As I’ve said before my entire knowledge of New York comes from all the customers Avalanche has had over the years. Other Music’s imminent closure reminded me of two stories I would tell on the basis that if New York kids weren’t cool then youth culture was doomed. Several years ago when we in the Grassmarket a father came in with his son and spent a while browsing buying a good mix of “cool” indie stuff. The father said to his son that he would buy him a few t-shirts and what did he want. At the time we had a good selection all hanging up along the back wall. Lots of local and Scottish band shirts and unusually some metal and punk shirts I’d bought as a job lot.
First pick was a Green Day shirt and immediately his dad winced. “Son” he said. “We are in Scotland. There are lots of cool shirts here you won’t find anywhere in New York why not buy them.” It was the turn of his son who must have been 14 or 15 to wince. An awkward silence ensued so his dad tried to compromise. He said his son should pick an Avalanche t-shirt, a local Scottish band shirt and another more mainsteam shirt. After some discussion they settled on a Penguins Kill Polar Bears shirt. “No other kid in New York will have this ” he told his son. His son then decided to stay with the Scottish theme and picked a Biffy Clyro shirt to add to a classic black Avalanche shirt.
I’d finish the story saying that when the dads of New York are begging their kids to be cool then you now that we have started to reach the beginning of the end times for cool youth culture. It was a scenario I would see repeated many times as cool parents tried to interest their children in things less mainstream.
Another slightly more hopeful story was just a little later. Three couples all from New York came in with half a dozen children. The kids all moped around while the parents all bought stuff but towards the end the kids spotted the posters and started looking through them. Come time to leave and the kids asked if they could stay. The parents slightly surprised immediately agreed and said they would go for a quick coffee. They returned 30 minutes later and again the kids now engrossed looking through all the different piles of posters wanted to stay. The parents agreed and said they would go and do a bit of shopping. Returning 40 minutes later the children had finally been through every poster pile in the shop.
Without hesitation the parents bought their children everything they had chosen. As they handed over the cash one of the mothers remarked ” You should hire this place out as a teenage creche. We’ve had a wonderful time while leaving them here.” Then one of the dads added “You should open in New York, it’s great just to see the kids looking through posters like this rather than browsing the internet”. So now it seems we live in a world where parents are cooler than their kids and the the kids are happy with it that way.
And my own daughters ? Well at nursery they were the coolest kids there with their Nick Cave, Hefner and Bright Eyes t-shirts. Now they just wear branded clothing but my eldest does wear a Withered Hand t-shirt I gave her quite a lot and through choice owns that PKPB shirt so I count that as a minor victory !
It has been suggested it would be good to have something in place in time for August and the Festival. Obviously time is tight but as I’ve said before a lot of the work has been done already. What I really need are others who would like to get involved either in assembling the exhibition or sponsoring it. I am also looking for a business partner for the label and our plan to send Scottish albums all over the world. Again there is already a lot of interest from abroad in this. I will now aproach a few obvious people who will I’m sure be interested but it would be good to get as much input as possible. The idea is being taken very seriously by museums and galleries but unsurprisingly they have very little of use themselves. So much so they may indeed be interested in acquiring particularly important pieces of memorabilia for the future if something becomes available.
I’ll put out more information on what we are looking for later this week but it is clear from social media there are lots of old posters, tickets, pictures etc still lovingly kept and hopefully bands and labels themselves will have things to offer. I’ve already heard from some labels old and new offering exciting items. We will also need as much as we can get on the music side of things so will be asking folk to dig out anything they no longer need. Items can be donated, bought or simply loaned when needed.
For more information see previous blogs including the most recent
Contact email is email@example.com
Not a great week in the world of Avalanche. Following soon after the closure of Origami Vinyl in LA Other Music in New York announced it will be closing in June. As sales of physical music continue to plummet, a no-frills independent record store makes increasingly less sense as a business says the New York Times. Co-owner Josh Madell then sums things up well “We still do a ton of business — probably more than most stores in the country. It’s just the economics of it actually supporting us — we don’t see a future in it. We’re trying to step back before it becomes a nightmare.”
I’ve never been to New York so all I know is from the many customers we have had from NYC but both from reputation and personal recommendation Other Music was always clearly a very important record shop. Having played host to Neutral Milk Hotel, The National and Interpol to name just a few bands Avalanche are also well known for supporting they obviously had our admiration but they were much more than that covering a wide range of underground and experimental music along with a fantastic choice of soul, funk, jazz and disco. One NYC customer described it as like several of the best UK record shops all mashed into one.
If new music is going to survive on the high street these are the shops that matter. Any number of second hand shops dabbling in new vinyl can pop up and that is fine but unless new music is to move completely online its fate is left in the hands of a dwindling few. While the way people choose to listen to music is a factor the elephant in the room is that even the best of shops are faced on a weekly basis with releases by some of their best selling artsists not available to shops. The profit from the latest Radiohead 7″ would pay a member of staff for a day. The profit from the very limited indies only vinyl version of the new Radiohead album might pay the rent for a few days. However the £60 box set is only available from the band and the last album as a £40 box set grossed them 4 million pounds more than the yearly turnover of all but a handful of shops worldwide.
Of course the irony with Radiohead is their label XL is owned by Martin Mills who of course also owns Rough Trade. Other Music will also continue with their label so maybe labels are the future ! I can only wish everyone at Other Music all the best.
I waited with interest to see the longlist for the SAY Awards and it did surprise me a little. It is set up in such a way that all genres will be represented and what tends to happen is the small to medium sized indie bands Avalanche supports get squeezed out as the indie sector votes for the big indie bands. However one or two do normally sneak in more often than not to do with friends amongst those contributing than anything else but this year there are none. Obviously artists like Admiral Fallow, Steve Mason and Emma Pollock do well for Avalanche but this year there were no less well known “indie” artists to benefit from the publicity the award brings.
I know in previous years many of the artists I would have hoped to see included have hovered just outside between 20 to 30 but this year I held out hope for only a couple. Our best selling album from Laurie Cameron which was well received elsewhere doesn’t feature of course and I thought the Filthy Tongues might have had a chance being in everybody’s minds as it was only recently released but it was not to be. What was of course unforgivable was the exclusion of the There Will Be Fireworks album “The Dark, Dark Bright” a couple of years ago ! Others previously like Star Wheel Press despite being championed by not just Avalanche but others like Ian Rankin only made it to that 20 to 30 ranking.
The Scottish media are always keen to show how diverse the Scottish music scene is maybe sometimes at the expense of music people actually prefer to listen to but from Avalanche’s viewpoint we are always looking for the new Frightened Rabbit, Twilight Sad, Withered Hand, Ballboy, Belle and Sebastian or indeed Mogwai. Record companies meanwhile still seem to be searching for the next Biffy Clyro or The View !
Of course as Avalanche resurrects its own label and looks to the History of Scottish Music maybe we will discover the new Josef K or Orange Juice !
While most of this will not be new to regular readers or followers I wanted to put everything in one place if for no other reason than to remind myself to get on with things. Firstly that send some of Avalanche’s best selling albums over the last few years to some of the best shops in the world idea. First mooted several years ago now the original plan to send CDs has now changed to also sending vinyl and using the Avalanche label when necessary to make these albums available on vinyl. There is a great affection for Scottish bands all over the world and this combined with Avalanche’s reputation has meant that we have an impressive list of shops I know will support these albums if we can get them to them.
The plan is to press 500 vinyl and give 100 to shops worldwide free of charge. Another 100 will be given to the band and the remaing 300 will be sold to pay for the venture. It will generate worldwide publicity for the bands and of course the hope is that some of the albums take off and shops will need more. While manufacuring costs can be covered a sponsor is really needed to pay for the shipping. If bands already have vinyl that can be worked with too. Originally only for artists who self distributed I think the net would now be thrown wider.
Secondly I would like to put together a comprehensive collection of Scottish bands old and new all for sale in one place. This could not be done under normal shop terms as the vast majority of titles simply don’t sell quickly enough to remotely justify being stocked on CD or vinyl. Old releases will be actively sought out and sold at lower margins if necessary. Again for this to be viable it would need financial support. Certainly if there was demand for an old title we could use the label for that and the Scars album on vinyl and CD is a good example of something we are already looking at as a possiblity.
This last idea fits very well with the plans for a History of Scottish Music Centre and/or Exhibition. This has been covered before in a previous blog and been widely acclaimed though it does to some extent mean different things to different people. Several parties have shown an interest and I’ve even had preliminary talks with a number of museums about what material they have that might be of use but for now I’ll continue with the idea and if others get involved at a later date that can be only be good. It is an idea I see gradually growing and in the first instance I think a pop up is possible showcasing what might be done.
I’m very interested in talking to others who would like to get involved with any of the projects as clearly there is a lot to be done here and probably most importantly given none of these ideas are huge cash generators what is needed most are sponsors and investors. Clearly all these projects would be suitable for crowd funding but I would like to see what other interest there is first. Several years in the planning everything is now ready to go and hopefully will start to move forward very soon but that can only happen with support. firstname.lastname@example.org
Special editions of a release don’t create new fans. They either divert a fan from buying from one place to another or make the keen superfan buy twice. New release sales are now more than ever about having an edge. “Indies only” isn’t good enough and the further addition of a print etc will be needed to entice more fans. I see this all the time now with week one sales figures massively skewed to the start of the week as online preorders are declared. Consequently there is no momentum and the album’s sales quickly fade.
The album may then get another boost in sales as the artist tours and is sold at the gigs but the days of a great gig sending fans into shops is gone. It was clear that it was time for Avalanche to step back from this side of things. Creating new fans for a band these days is not impossible and as many will know is where the heart of Avalanche lies. So many of the kind comments I received when I anounced we were closing referenced artists that we had introduced customers to.
I still think there is a place for physical outlets promoting bands especially in conjunction with social media but I don’t think it is a commercial proposition to do so on a regular basis. At the same time there is still demand for a shop selling a wide range of Scottish bands beyond SOR local stock but again it would not be comercially sensible to do so. While my days standing behind the counter waiting to recommend a range of bands I think suit the customer are gone I’m well aware that Avalanche could still play a big part in introducing people to new music as part of maybe a bigger picture.
If the remit is simply to promote Scottish bands new and not so new then all the problems over new releases dissipate. In the crowded arena that now caters for the superfan, and indeed just the keen fan, positioning Avalanche outwith that arena in search of the new fans is a challenge that with support would appeal.