These are truly the last days

eels end timesSo what has been learned in our hiatus. Well mostly it has confirmed what I already knew. Vinyl is bloody heavy to carry about, it will always rain when you don’t want it to and people have a very strange grasp on publicity especially in the age of social media. Most of all even well meaning folk regularly fail to deliver.

Also more than ever music buyers are split into fans and the casual listener. Avalanche has always been a shop for fans though not necessarily of a band. Fans of Scottish music or just good music would come to the shop looking for recommendations and we would do our best !

At a time when less people are buying less music choosing instead to stream there have never been more people wanting a slice of what is by now a much smaller cake. On top of that vinyl for all the chatter is only 1.5% of that cake ! By the time a release reaches a shop these days artist, label and record company will have done all they can to divert sales their way. Shops will then be expected to compete with the Amazon tax dodgers online and HMV/FOPP on the high street who operate on terms beyond an independent’s dreams. 

Even HMV survive by hopping from shop to shop for cheaper rent while it does no harm to Rough Trade having Martin Mills on board. However I realised that even with investors, and I’ve had several offers, in Edinburgh that simply wasn’t enough. As Pitchfork pointed out in its recent article about vinyl most sales are indie / rock which you would think was good for Avalanche but actually it means that every type of shop from HMV to specialist independents have gone a bit “indie” and now compete for sales. At the same time whether I sell 10 or 100+ of a bigger Scottish band is completely in the hands of whether they decide to offer fans a better deal directly. These days the assumption has to be this will indeed happen and clearly it is not a sensible business model to have what was a USP so out of our own hands. 

So what can be done ? Well I can pass the buck ! I know what I will be doing. I’ll be selling second hand vinyl on Discogs and some new stuff too. It would be good to do that in a shop too. I’ll be supporting Scottish bands online especially those who generally lack the profile they deserve. It would be nice to do that in a shop too. I’ll look to PledgeMusic and its direct to fan ethos to help bands but with a tweak or two ! I’ll definitely start commissioning posters and not just music ones but again that doesn’t need a shop.

It is very clear from customers they want a base they can visit Avalanche and believe me I would be very happy with that but I have lost enough money over the last three years with no support from organisations such as the SMIA or Creative Scotland who put all their efforts into producing music and none into getting it heard. They don’t have a box to tick I’m told ! Scottish artists could receive support from UK shops all year round but instead vast amounts of money are spent recording songs that will never be heard and supporting gigs that achieve few if any new fans. 

It has even been suggested we should start our own PledgeMusic campaign to finance a new shop and it isn’t the daftest idea ever but with margins as they are while Pledge are well worth their 15% for artists it is more difficult to justify for a shop. I know there are other funding platforms but what I like about Pledge is it involves the fans and that is what we need as a shop – customer involvement and not just somebody’s money.

There are any number of ways and reasons shops are surviving but supporting local bands and new music isn’t one of them and if I can’t do that I’d rather move on to something new that doesn’t involve the overheads of a shop. I’m continually told it would be a huge shame to lose that focus in Edinburgh and I agree but these are changing times and simply financing the support we give from shop sales plainly doesn’t work. Edinburgh council recently agreed at a meeting to start supporting the music community in general including shops as has happened in other cities such as New York and Sydney. I’ve been in touch after I was interviewed by The Evening News on the subject and await a response. The council have also asked Avalanche to feature in a brochure to attract visitors in September/October. When I said I didn’t know where I would be I was told “don’t worry they”ll find you”.  

There is a plethora of agencies to help people start businesses and a few to help them grow but none labelled as helping established businesses hold ground against the challenges of online sales and the decline of the high street. It seemed only fair to ask this rather than assume but after being passed from pillar to post I finally ended up at Business Gateway who said they would get back to me. As yet they haven’t.  

It is end times for the old ways even though they have much to commend them. Generally bands are pretty unoriginal at using any sort of funding platform and are not much better with social media with of course some fine exceptions. Shops have fan/customer bases far greater than the vast majority of bands and yet that is now to a large extent ignored by bands. Avalanche will have to work to its strengths. To a large extent online the playing field is far more level and few can match Avalanche’s history and current social media presence.

It is not a business model for a shop to support new music and local bands. I have no interest in looking for a box to tick or helping create a box I’ll leave that to the relevant organisations. Even the haters know I care and what is so frustrating is to see great bands settling for being a big fish in a small pond. I want nothing more than to help good new emerging bands and give those not so good bands at least a chance to find that out. We have the contacts and the knowledge you won’t get in a month of Sundays on the internet and that is true of any good indie but that has to come at a price as unlike before it is never going to come from shop sales.

Of course I’m very keen to hear from other businesses who can maybe help but help is the key word there. We bring a little bit of footfall with us, a big chunk of credibility and access to social media platforms way beyond what most can offer. These posts always generate comment so it will be easiest to address points made as they occur rather than second guessing what people want to know.

And yes the Eels do now try to sell direct to fans just like everybody else. As for the Godspeed quote in the headline some of you may remember this

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