The Avalanche Vision Part One

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. 

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