Archive for May, 2012
I intended to post today to say that I had to concentrate only on things that made money and that I would have to make serious efforts to limit Avalanche’s activities so there was a chance that I could deal with everything without working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week as currently even doing that I am falling behind. So in the spirit of trying to make money I was processing the two large bags of European cult and classic DVDs that had been delivered. A great deal for me as they are all chosen for being unavailable in the UK, left on consignment and profitable to sell. The opposite of selling new releases on firm sale at little profit.
Anyway halfway through the first bag a nice young couple come up to me and ask if I can help. They like Camera Obscura and have been amazed that so many people in Scotland haven’t known who they were talking about given they are from Uruguay and know all about the band. Somebody had finally recommended they come to the shop as they were looking for similar Scottish artists. I recommend a few other female vocalists and play them a selection. They settle on Emily Scott and Rachel Sermanni surprisingly passing on The Moth and The Mirror but they have a limited budget and would like to go out tonight. Something indie, maybe a bit folkie. Can I recommend anything ?
So I recommend the James Yorkston gig at The Caves explaining it is the 10th anniversary of his album and he is playing with new Fence signing Seamus Fogarty. Understandably they haven’t heard of Fence so I give a quick history. They are so pleased I give them the poster as a souvenir as they head towards the Cowgate. It was a nice end to the day and I fully admit it is what I enjoy about having the shop. However it is no way to run a business. More importantly as the summer approaches this could easily happen half a dozen times a day.
At the same time it is now common for people to buy a couple of things but write down all my recommendations to listen to more later. I must say I get some lovely emails from people about the music I have introduced them to and the gigs they saw but in these hard economic times it simply isn’t a financially viable model. Before there were enough other sales to subsidise promoting Scottish music like this but now that is very much not the case. I am going to need to rethink my rethink !
There was a time when nothing really changed in the music industry for years. Some would say decades. Now not only do things change continually but they do so in a way that is unpredictable. Some underlying things remain constant but nothing can be taken for granted. There was a time when for a band to have reached a point in which they had an album released they would have had to have shown a certain amount of commitment. Now that is not the case and it often shows. There was a time when influential people could say something was good and the only way to really test that bar listening to the odd track on the radio was to buy the album. Now people can listen for free and make their own minds up. There is a long list but I’m sure you get the idea !
However sometimes just because things can be done a different or new way it doesn’t mean that is the best “new” way. This seems to me to be particularly true when bands are trying to reach a wider audience once they have become established locally. It would appear that the internet is a godsend here letting bands reach anybody who cares to listen anywhere in the world but as many bands know that is often not how it works and for those that do have some success it leaves them with a fragmented fan base who may listen to their music but not enough to support gigs further afield. Similarly bands now find it nigh on impossible to sign to established labels and once they have formed their own label or signed to some micro label to then get distribution.
Not having a distributor these days is not the end of the world in the current climate but nearly all bands would benefit from having a label to look after their interests and let them concentrate on the music. At best most managers of bands rely solely on friends and networking and at worst are just clueless. The former is actually a huge problem and it is perfectly clear that so often success is based not on how good a band is but who they know.
Those people that do still buy music especially hard copy now only do so for the bands that they love. Bands that they like they simply stick on their iPod. I am a huge fan of Dublin band The Whippng Boy and so was one of the head guys at Sony who signed them for their second album. When we sold considerably more of their album “Heartworm” than any other shop in the UK in 1995 Sony took me out for a meal with the band to find out what the secret was. The answer was rather simple but still applies even today. Whenever the shop was full (in those days 4pm was a good time as folk left work or uni/college) I would play it in the shop and because it was a great album people would come to the counter and buy it. Other times if I was asked to recommend something it would be top of my list. We have been doing this ever since of course and whether it be Bright Eyes, Godspeed, Belle and Sebastian or Neutral Milk Hotel the same principle has applied.
What has happened in the last few years though is that this has become more and more relevant to the Scottish bands we have supported from Broken Records, Meursault and Withered Hand through to There Will Be Fireworks, The Savings and Loan and Kid Canaveral and most recently Star Wheel Press and that is not an exhaustive list. Our best selling bands of all time are mainly Scottish, Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai, Biffy Clyro etc but only really Ballboy and King Creosote were “big” on small labels.
You can have a great album but it will be lost if only for sale online whereas if a band can get the support of shops and make sure they have stock then it will have a far greater chance of success. This is of course by no means an easy feat to achieve should a band ever choose this route. Now when I say shops these days that would by no means only mean record shops and when I talk of a shop’s support that isn’t to say their online support through social media and their website can’t play an important part too. A good band can sell at gigs and have some success online but they will never have the reach of an organised network of shops.
Anybody expecting me to say that record shops are the answer to everything will be disappointed. There aren’t enough for a start be that in Scotland, the UK or worldwide. However they can play a pivotal role in a plan that utilises all the other options now open to bands and while there may not be enough record shops that isn’t to say that an enthusiastic coffee shop for example in a town without a record shop couldn’t do an excellent job offering physical product given the right support.
This is not about bands doing shops any favours at all. This is about bands maximising their sales and their revenue while adopting a slightly more long term strategy. Exactly how this could be achieved with only a fraction of the budget currently being spent giving young bands “the experience” of being in a recording studio will follow.
There has been a surprising amount of interest in when the Avalanche manifesto will be updated. Truth is things change so quickly now that in the same way it would be ridiculous to announce a 5 year plan (step forward the SMIA) the only sensible plan is to keep changing your plan as situations develop. However after much thought there is an “Avalanche Vision” of how things might be if the music industry at all levels stopped just repetitively fucking things up and learned from their mistakes.
What is left of the music industry is made up to a large extent of record company people just trying to keep their jobs as long as possible, a huge number of “amateurs” who don’t make their living from music, a few dinosaurs who despite not having been “at the sharp end” for sometimes decades seriously think they have an opinion that matters and then a smattering of folk who really do spend every day at the coalface whether that be shops, labels, promoters etc.
Things now change so quickly that at best somebody can only really keep on top of the part of the music industry they are involved in. However a shop really is at the sharp end of what is happening and if it listens to its customers as well as others involved in the industry it has the most accurate picture of how things stand at any given time.
From this comes the “Avalanche Vision” of how things could be. In the same way that record companies are always looking for new ways to promote an album not realising that even more so these days “the kids” want badges and posters the old model of bands signing to labels and labels being distributed worked for very good reasons that haven’t disappeared. Absolutely things will never work the way they used to but a new way needs to be found to make the old ways work.
Bands are mostly rubbish at having their own labels as it is a completely different skill set and labels are often rubbish at being labels even but even good labels have no reason to have the wherewithal to get their releases distributed to as wide an audience as possible. Don’t get me wrong there would need to be a major rejigging of the “old ways” but I don’t see the current release launch followed by a bit of press and a few internet sales followed by the release being dead in the water 3 months down the line working just now which is a common scenario bands come to me with.
The acid test is are people prepared to pay for an artist’s music or pay to see them perform. For many the answer is clearly no but they hide behind ridiculously limited releases and tiny gigs. Those well connected get radio play and appear at festivals but generally it makes no difference. There are a lot of good bands not reaching the audience they deserve and I honestly think it is realistically possible for that to change.
Please note the use of the word MOSTLY earlier on. There are of course bands that do have all the skills needed to run a label but just not many. The dinosaurs won’t be happy but “the amateurs” would do well not to jump to conclusions. So the “Avalanche Vision” will follow and of course there is absolutely no reason for those who want to carry on as they do now not to do so but there is another way and if enough people believe in it it might just work.
Julie says he changes his mind ………………
I was slightly concerned that folk would be struggling to get along especially if they were going to the Queen’s Hall later but all worries were unfounded. There was a great attendance and after all I’ve said before I’m more than happy to report over half the people there bought the album.
A fairly short set gave the band time to meet everybody afterwards and sign copies of the album before they had to dash back to the venue.
Just to add a perfect end to the day Admiral Fallow’s tour manager Davy spotted the rather natty pullover on the left and gave us our first sale before we’ve even officially opened.
A big thank you to all who came along and an extra thanks to all who bought the album. Red Dog as ever were great making sure everything was ready for the band when they arrived and of course thanks are due to the band for taking the time out to pop along.
This has been a real grower in the shop and I’d been waiting to see how much it grew on me before choosing it. However as these things sometimes go Michael from the band then brought in an album from the band’s guitarist Owen McAuley and though it is a different album altogether that too became a bit of a grower so putting the two together for the album club suddenly seemed to make perfect sense.
More about both albums to follow but for those who fancy finding out more ASAP Smackvan will be playing with Slow Down, Molasses (a name almost as bad as Smackvan) at a Song, by Toad gig at Henry’s Cellar Bar on Wednesday. The album club emails will be sent out this week.
Admiral Fallow wil be playing in-store on Monday 21st May at 5.30pm to celebrate the release of their second album.
As always the in-store will be free which is a position I hope to maintain. Many shops insist that entry is by purchasing an album which is not unreasonable especially if the band are playing week of release.
Our in-stores are often attended by visitors to Edinburgh and young kids seeing a band sometimes for the first time and I would like to keep it so they can see the band without being expected to buy the album. However if most of a bands’ fans buy online and then just turn up for a free gig it makes our position untenable. As I say I really hope we can keep our in-stores completely free.
We have supported the band from the beginning since Robin their manager just off the train turned up with a bag full of CDs. Luckily he didn’t have far to go. It seems odd now that only a last minute rush of sales at Christmas snuck their first album into out top 20 for 2010 ! Times have certainly changed.
We have a limited amount of the 6 track cassette with a fantastic screen print.
The idea that record shops are living on borrowed time and at best need to develop into something much more than “just” a record shop and at worst need to just give up and accept the inevitable is hardly controversial. Whatever is “added” to the record shop experience there still has to be a core need for what record shops provide or there is no point in continuing. I was a big fan of the Ear X-tacy statements about how business was going and while for instance they could have constantly put on gigs to help their finances that as they said would be pointless if the core demand wasn’t there.
Similarly if the core support is not there from the local music community then those shops that have a tradition of working with local bands need to accept that and move on. When artists and labels say they don’t owe the shops their support that I would say very much depends on which artists and labels feel that way. Those that have built up a fan base with the help of shops do indeed owe those shops some support rather than just say “well we have fans emails now we will contact them directly”. Those that have built up fan bases using social media sites and gigs over the last few years indeed owe shops nothing at all. As time goes on that can only become more the case.
It reminds me of when record companies first started cutting back on staff and let some long serving reps “go”. Many of these guys had looked after shops for years often coming in on Saturdays (unpaid) if more stock were needed. If they came into Avalanche looking for a CD I would never take money from them. That would simply have been wrong in my book. Other shops might at best offer them a small discount and think they were doing them a favour. I never got that.
Other artists and labels think they have the right to ignore release dates, sell what they want and then belatedly offer releases to shops. Again yes and no. Those “proper” bands on “proper” labels through “proper” distributors are obliged to observe release dates as are shops. They just don’t and nothing is done. The same would not apply to a shop. Those not with distributors can certainly do as they wish and of course shops have the right to decide that it is not worth their time to stock the release. For those “proper” bands they can of course offer all sorts of incentives for fans to buy from them and so long as the release date is observed then that too breaks no rules. However they can not object to the phrase “actively encouraging people not to buy from shops” when they make offers “not available in the shops”. Again as a shop you just have to accept there will never be a level playing field again and see if there is still a model that works with the odds so heavily stacked against you.
For Avalanche we are very much now on the cusp. Many young bands don’t feel they need shops at all which is just fine so long as they don’t come looking for help further down the line. However for many there is still an ambition to have a physical release available in a record shop despite the fact neither themselves or their fans buy physical releases or frequent record shops. Downloading music is inherently unsatisfying as is providing releases as downloads but that is a dichotomy shops can not help with.
I’m a great believer in listening to our customers but of late what people say they want and what they actually support have become two different things. Twitter only accentuates this. More soon.
As someone who helped organise the very first Record Store Day much has certainly changed and I’ll comment on that another time. Here however is a brief summary of how things went down this year.
The run up to RSD was busier than normal helped by the Spiritualized album and the week after RSD was busier than normal helped by the Jack White album. We tend to find RSD sales are very much confined to the day itself.
Sales of RSD stock were up again this year which was not a surprise given the number of titles but overall sales were slightly down on last year as disappointingly despite a fantastic selection of vinyl and CDs non RSD stock sales were down considerably.
Some customers boycotted RSD (titles not really limited and prices too high) but came in before or after the day to support the shop which is much appreciated.
One customer who wanted Belle & Sebastian, Human Don’t Be Angry, McLusky and Animal Collective but couldn’t make it in too early luckily did get all he wanted but his prediction that most titles would be available soon from the band or label proved true sooner than even he expected with all available except the Animal Collective by the Monday only fuelling the cynicism of many customers as to the “exclusivity” of RSD product.
We had a ridiculous number of phone calls looking for Bowie then Abba then Noel Gallagher and many people seemed to think they could just email in a list and then collect it so I was worried on the day these folk would turn up but thankfully there were no such problems.
This year’s customers were definitely mainly “new” people in for the day but at least the weren’t like many last year who had just come in for whatever their band’s fan club had told them about.
In-stores were brilliant. Many thanks to Dan and Gordon and of course to Red Dog for the PA. They were very well attended indeed.
Most people seemed to have missed the message of supporting record stores and thought RSD was more to do with collectable records and vinyl which given the media coverage was understandable.
Thanks to Hula, Analogue and James-Morrow the day had a more celebratory feel than just selling limited vinyl and of course The Bow Bar did their bit selling RSD beer. Thanks again to them all.
The Electric Circus aftershow party went really well and as with the in-store clips the clips of the cover versions have proved particularly popular. Thanks to all those who helped with the recording, the Electric Circus who as usual made things nice and easy, Stu Lewis for making sure everything went to plan on the day and of course The Last Battle, Emily Scott and Star Wheel Press for playing. All the artists that played on the day have had a significant increase in sales since.
This year with every man and his dog trying to jump on the RSD bandwagon I hope customers went away with the feeling that we had made a day of it and not just tried to sell them overpriced and rather dubious “exclusives”. Thanks to everybody who got in touch to say how much they enjoyed the day. Your comments were very much appreciated.