Archive for February, 2012

Funding – Born To Be Wide and Wide Days

After Olaf’s comments on Facebook about the lack of support he receives re funding for Born To Be Wide and Wide Days I felt it was the right time to comment myself.  

The problem with the funding process going by what I see from the outside is that giving out funding is a job in itself. It gives people work. Of course there will be some successes but nobody ever judges whether there is any better success rate than simply sticking a pin in all the applications. If a lot of funding doesn’t work, and there is plenty of evidence that it doesn’t, nobody is ever going to say so because they would be out of a job. Similarly if you are a studio being paid to give a young band the “experience” of being in the studio then you are not going to send them on their way saying they aren’t ready.

Things have to be done properly and boxes have to be ticked and and I totally sympathise with those handing out funds that this is the case and not of their making. However almost by definition it means the kind of person who thinks to apply for funding is the kind of artist who shouldn’t be given funding in the same way that who the fuck goes to music school to be in a band. Just get a few mates together and form a band.

What I do see is good work being done by community facilities in places like Fife and West Lothian giving kids who have formed bands a chance to record. I regularly get kids in asking me to listen to their recordings and of course they are shit and sound a bit like the View or the Arctic Monkeys or god forbid The Stone Roses but they have got it out of their system and will hopefully come up with something more original the next time. You may think I’m being harsh here but generally the kids do really appreciate being told the truth and do go away looking to do something better. I always do encourage them to come back and many do.

There is a lot more needs saying about funding and certainly virtually all I know comes from those who have been involved in giving out funds or have been successful. The argument dragged up over and over again is that those who complain are merely doing so cos they were unsuccessful themselves.

I hope I can call Olaf a good friend. I’ve known him since he was a boy ! I have however criticised BTBW for perpetuating some of the problems the music industry faces. Seminars on how to get on the radio or onto a festival bill just have the usual suspects say the usual things which we all know aren’t really how it pans out in reality. Some of the people who go are the sort of people who go to music industry things because that is what they do. However he does get important people to speak that very few others could get to come to Scotland, he does it on a minimal budget and for all my carping a lot of good is done which is more than can be said for many of the projects I see funded by various bodies.

I normally claim to have no vested interest in these things but even I am fed up with hearing dreadful and dated advice that has been given to the kids who come in to see me. There is no joined up thinking in the whole process of what happens after recording and often the advice seems to have come from those who are clearly “out of the loop” when I would say there are others including myself far more qualified to help. There are many people who know how many hours a week I spend helping young (and sometimes not so young ) bands but there is no box that ticks in terms of being paid for my time. To be fair I could organise a proper advice seminar after work and that might attract funding but in the real world that is not how it works and even in these precarious financial times I will always find time for the bands that come to see me.

Most importantly many cynically use the funding process to get money, sometimes over and over again, and Olaf is definitely one of the good guys whose heart is in the right place. In the cliquey, back slapping Scottish music industry that counts for little and indeed may count against you.  

Avalanche – Get ready for the future: it is murder

Yes that is a Leonard Cohen reference again. Obviously in business you need to be in control of your own destiny as much as possible and again if events conspire against you there is only so much that can be done. Key to any decisions about Avalanche after Christmas was the future of HMV/FOPP. There is little competition with HMV but as it becomes harder and harder to gauge what to stock and in what quantities so FOPP’s HMV sponsored terms already made it hard to compete. It was always going to be very unlikely the record companies would let them go to the wall but by being given a 2.5% share (reportedly in return for writing off debt) and giving them stock on a “pay for it if you sell it basis” they have made it virtually impossible to compete. This at a time when Simon Fox CEO of HMV is calling for a level playing field !

At the same time the computer games companies showed no support for HMV as they had other outlets so it came as no surprise that HMV suddenly decided to reinvent itself as a music shop again. Going for a bigger share of the 0.39% of the market that is vinyl is all to do with publicity and bandwagon jumping and nothing to do with support for a format that had become almost extinct in HMV and was stuck under a counter at the top of the stairs for so long in FOPP. Certainly given the set of circumstances HMV find themselves in I can’t fault their strategy.

The other half of the perfect storm is the continual erosion of our sales of Scottish bands. My thoughts there are already well documented but in this case I do think it is a short sighted strategy by those bands with ambition to miss out on the valuable job shops can still do or expect them to promote their release in return for the crumbs left after they have realised as many sales as they can. Only time will tell. Of course many other shops rely on ticket sales not only to bring in income but also to bring customers into the shop but that is a ship that has long since sailed.

Everything apart from the selling physical product to customers part has never been better. We should have several announcements very soon showing how highly Avalanche is regarded and I have to thank those who have come forward to help with the ideas we have for moving forward. Clearly I have to try and put Avalanche’s destiny back in our own hands and that may indeed necessitate us moving our energies away to some extent from the whole trying to sell music to people thing.

This is not about high rents in the city centre. The landlord is not only very supportive but has given us a good deal for at least the first three years. Between the state of the economy, the state of the music industry and the state of the high street the future is indeed murder. After recent developments I’m confident that with the support of our customers we can dodge the bullet ! 

I will update the manifesto. It never fails to surprise me how many people refer to it. This time though it will be more of a vision of how things could be !     

Simon Fox and the level playing field

HMV slams ‘idiotic’ offshore tax dodging

“For many years we have said we would like to see a level playing field,” said Fox (CEO HMV). 

Simon Fox’s claim to have wanted a level playing field for many years was an interesting one. Given HMV’s well documented recent troubles resulting in terms and support for HMV even better than the already excellent terms and support they had already I would hope that he would want these terms now extended to the independents. However I suspect that what he means is he wants a level playing field with HMV’s nemesis Amazon while maintaining far better terms than the independents.

It was without doubt a sensible decision for the record companies to support HMV even if it may only delay the inevitable but at a time when it has never been more difficult to know what to stock and in what quantities HMV and their little brother FOPP can simply fill their boots and see what happens while the indies have to be far more careful with the constant risk of releases going out of stock.

What is even stranger about Simon Fox’s statement is that HMV themselves (all be it reluctantly) joined in in the tax dodging offshore scam. As the CMU daily says

Anyway, to HMV. Former bosses at the high street CD seller adopted an ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ approach to the Channel Island VAT dodge, choosing to base their own mail-order operation offshore, rather than join the fight for the tax relief abuse to be stopped. Had HMV chosen the latter option, many campaigners believe, the VAT dodge enjoyed by Amazon, and The Hut et al would have been closed much sooner, reducing the negative impact many believe it had on the UK high street entertainment retail sector. 

But now HMV boss Simon Fox, who’s been generally quiet on this issue since taking over at the retailer in 2006, has spoken out, confirming he is now one of those who fears the online retailers will all move en masse to Switzerland and so the VAT dodge party can begin anew. 

Some may think it unfair to claim HMV are jumping on the bandwagon only after the government had already made their decision though others would point to HMV now jumping on the vinyl bandwagon as witnessed on today’s BBC news and claim that with so many previous ideas having failed HMV’s new strategy is to simply wait for the bandwagons to pass by and jump on.        

We can never go back to the way things were – but we could go back a little

I have already received dozens of phone calls and emails this year from labels and bands asking me why shops don’t stock their releases or don’t sell many if they do. Often they are from fairly big labels and bands who understandably think they should be doing better. While bands, labels and indeed distributors are not always happy with what I say they do appreciate that I at least give them an honest opinion. Sometimes the topic is actually how can retail be helped and other times it is labels looking for help in advance with a release.

After a recent phone call from XL (home to Adele and Radiohead and many others) I began to realise the obvious really needed to be stated. Of course we can never go back to a time when artists made music, labels released that music, distributors sent it to shops and shops sold it to customers/fans. We can however go back some of the way. Many people don’t have a nearby record shop any more so will need to buy online. These are the people labels and bands originally said they were serving. Some shops do have very comprehensive websites (not Avalanche!) and would argue they could supply these people while some labels would say they need the income.

However if fans are offered incentives to buy online then that has to be at the expense of shops. Whether there is added value (something long associated with independent shops), limited versions or the promise of receiving the release before the official release date this clearly has to be at the detriment of bricks and mortar shops. A level playing field (a phrase that you may see again) in what is on offer to fans would be great but realistically is never now going to happen.    

What shops do deserve though is a level playing field on when a release becomes available. It is bad enough that online sellers send out new releases so customers receive them the weekend before the release date with impunity but when labels advertise that fans will receive a release a week or so before the shops then this is a blatant attempt to take business away from high street shops. When bands have an album/single launch or play gigs and sell their release before the release date then this is not only done at the expense of shops but I’m reliably informed this is for those bands and labels with distribution contrary to their distribution agreement. Clearly we could go back to a time when everybody observed release dates.

Unfortunately fans are so used to the way things are now that even when bands and labels do their best to support shops it is not always successful. However if this was the norm things would change. Certainly there have been some big successes at Avalanche that have benefited both the bands and the shop be that Star Wheel Press or Bwani Junction. I don’t for one minute think anything is going to change but in future when I receive a phone call or email wondering why a release isn’t really selling in shops after it has been sent out early by the label, the band has had a launch and offered a bundle I shall simply refer them to this post.

In-stores Dilemma

Even at our most popular in-stores coinciding with an artist’s release we now sell very little as people will have already bought from the artist/label (online or at a gig/launch), downloaded or from a VAT dodging online seller. We are now selling less than a quarter of the amount we sold at similar in-stores two years ago. I’m loathe to go down the route others have taken of making people buy to get into an in-store. As well as fans we hope to get people along who may not see the band otherwise and then enjoy it enough to buy something. Certainly when we have a lot of visitors about they regularly buy at in-stores but as with the shop generally selling to fans is what an independent shop is all about and needs to do to survive. 

Collecting for the band’s charity was a useful way round this for the recent Frightened Rabbit in-store but on the whole given the overheads shops face these days we need to create an income one way or another. Thanks to the generosity of Red Dog next door we can always borrow equipment and without them many of our in-stores wouldn’t have been possible. Both the Bwani Junction and Rachel Sermanni in-stores/launches were both extremely successful so it shows it can still be done and both I would hope have seen the benefits arising from a successful in-store. I’m always interested to hear what customers or indeed bands feel is the best way forward.   

The Twilight Sad – Cold Days from the Birdhouse (Avalanche acoustic 8/2/12)

Rachel Sermanni – The Fog (Avalanche in-store 6/2/12)

Again more on YouTube.

The Twilight Sad – ‘Alphabet’ (Live Acoustic)

Lots of footage on YouTube but here is the first song.

Jim James on Ear x-tacy Closing November 1, 2011

Everyone knows the bond between My Morning Jacket and Ear x-tacy, so it is no surprise that Jim James made this heartfelt statement regarding the closing of ear x-tacy:
“there is a tear in my eye right now as i hear about the closing of one of my favorite places on earth- ear-xtacy. i send thanks and healing vibes to john and everyone who has worked so hard at the store over the years…the presence of that sacred place will be sorely missed. people- let this be a big wake up call to us…we need these places to gather as a community and share ideas about music and art and love and life and…. for the love of god…. it cant all take place online…or i fear that one day we will all wake up bleary-eyed and hung over from our technology binge and find the real world long gone… let us be inspired by places like “please and thank you,” “carmichaels,” “pops retail and consignment,” “heine brothers” and all the great independent ma and pa stores around the globe- leading us into a new era of what a creative business can be…we need to support these places and help create more…the mp3 has killed the idea of what a traditional record store used to be, but that should only because for us to re-invent and support things the computer can never kill…we need these real places… where you can still buy a record from a local band or a hard to find label or root thru stacks of used vinyl…or get a cup of coffee…or buy an old stereo system or a synthesizer or a pair of jeans…or learn a new skill…or teach a new skill…and love your fellow human in person and face to face and all in the same place. lets brainstorm. lets build more of these places. lets stick together. lets support each other. lets figure it out.”

Frightened Rabbit in-store pics

Frightened Rabbit - Avalanche Records

Frightened Rabbit - Avalanche Records

Always a man of the people Scott asks the crowd “Who wants a beer ?”
Nick looks on approvingly.

Frightened Rabbit - Avalanche Records

The now obligatory crowd scene.

All pics courtesy of Calum Langdale