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Archive for January, 2016

Musicians are like footballers

twilight sad - fourteenOne thing that has changed is that when music is new to somebody they only buy the music they love. Whether new music or simply new to the customer it doesn’t matter so for instance if I recommend The Twilight Sad to somebody who has never heard of them out of 5 people one may not be keen, one may buy but the other three will say how good it is and how they will go away and listen to more. Especially with local bands there was a time when the only way to hear more was to buy but now of course there are several options.

Often people make lists on their phones of things we have recommended and these days may not even feel obliged to buy anything at all. Of course this is not always the case and only yesterday a customer from Greece, in especially for the second Broken Records album on vinyl, asked for a recommendation and after listening to the Oran Mor Session eventually plumped for the limited Twilight Sad RSD double LP.

damon + jarvis footballThis is a problem not just for shops but for small bands trying to build a fan base. The constant talk of making the most of superfans is all good if you are an established band but not so good for bands starting out. On the other hand there is no reason for people to spend their money on music they simply like. The one explanation that artists seem to understand is comparing someone who is a talented musician with somebody who is a talented footballer. Somebody may be a good footballer while not playng professionally but they would never expect their workmates to all come along to watch them. Similarly these days people simply have other things to do (even if that is watching 6 episodes of Breaking Bad !) than go along and watch a band be “quite good”. They might find time to give their music a listen but pay for it !

girl who cried wolfTo be fair this is why I recommend only a limited amount of things each year and we can still have successes as Laurie Cameron proved. I find having an album of the week simply daft. Also if I’m honest while those whose job it is to constantly claim there is lots of great new music out there do so, the truth is that there isn’t. More importantly now the customer can listen to anything before buying they agree. Some things will appeal to a niche audience and that is fine but there aren’t many albums each year which we can play in the shop and guarantee to have people coming to the counter asking what we are playing. Clearly this is not a great business model for selling. However if we sold huge amounts of Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin reissues or even god forbid Adele there would be a safety net there but of course we don’t. Much as I love Joy Division and The Smiths when kids do buy them a part of me wishes they were buying something at least a little more recent like The National.

Playing in a band is a great hobby to have as is playing football but online all bands are the same and people simply don’t have the time or inclination to wade through the average to find the few gems. Also there is if truth be told only a limited number of folk out there with any interest in new music. Take away all the Adele, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith fans, add to them all those who go no further than the Arctic Monkeys and the Libertines and there aren’t a lot of people left. At the height of music sales the average person only bought six albums a year. Now it is down to one or two.

Quickbeam album coverOf course bands who do reach a certain level then often clog up the small arena that is left with solo or side projects and of course if they split up several more bands can be spawned. That new artist trying to get their first break simply doesn’t have a chance. If you are as good as Withered Hand, There Will Be Fireworks, Star Wheel Press, Quickbeam and most recently Laurie Cameron we may indeed be able to sell your album along with a handful of other artists customers may not have heard of. Interestingly more and more we find that customers have not heard of the “big names” like Frightened Rabbit, The Twilight Sad or even  Belle & Sebastian ! When a customer asks for Scottish post rock we would assume they had heard of Mogwai. Now we have to ask.

Incorporating all this into any sort of sensible business plan hasn’t been easy but hopefully there is now a way forward more of which at a later date.

Avalanche blog

avalanche-logo-use NMEFor a variety of reasons I’ve had to look through old Avalanche blogs recently and was amazed to find my self reading over them not knowing what was coming next ! It often seems a long time ago now. People still refer to the blog a lot, even old posts and I can now sort of see why. There is quite a lot of “this isn’t good” or “if we don’t do something bad things will happen ” and to be fair to myself a fair amount of “this is what we should do to stop the bad things happening”.

I say that because simply moaning isn’t good enough if you don’t have positive ways of moving forward. Whether I was talking about the music industry and record shops in particular or the high street and the Grasmarket in particular I simply felt that wrong paths were being taken that would eventually prove disastrous not specifically for a record shop in the Grassmarket trying to support local music but disastrous in the far bigger picture.

What I didn’t predict was the “vinyl revival” which has very much muddied the waters and the level of support that would be given to HMV/FOPP by the music industry and landlords in order to make them a viable business.

More recently I felt that a blog that simply pointed out how I had been right about things or simply recorded how bad things had got served no positive purpose without some new way forward. Twitter is great for not letting the current situations be ignored but anything more lengthy seemed pointless. The old ideas still remained valid but had been universally ignored by those with the ability to instigate them so until I was able to bring about change myself or indeed things changed to make new ways forward possible there was nothing left but to look for those positive ways.

So after several false starts I’m fairly confident we have a plan in place that will make a difference. What will follow is a series of blogs on the current state of things clearly from a personal perspective but they will explain how ideas have been formed and plans put in place. Issues can be very different now in other parts of the UK while in some matters problems are indeed global. What will then follow will be a solution for what Avalanche faces both locally and globally. Others may have a model that works for them but so far I’ve seen nothing that would help Avalanche. I have no interest in purely concentrating on the past or indeed relocating to London !      

King’s Stables Road planning application and the Grassmarket

A planning application for the King’s Stables Road site has now been lodged and it can be viewed here

https://citydev-portal.edinburgh.gov.uk/idoxpa-web/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=NZD15EEWKVI00

king's stables road outlineNot too much more can be said that hasn’t been said already in previous blogs. Edinburgh Council clearly understood what was needed here both in  supporting the arts and improving footfall in the area and instead took the money for a hotel and student flats being the main focus. The only surprise is that even now the developers are unable to name their hotel partner despite promising it would not be a budget hotel and would be declared in time for the planning application and that the much reduced arts facility still doesn’t have a taker when you would imagine there would be arts organisations out there prepared to sell their souls to developers in return for free space.

In terms of objecting to the planning application it is hard to see what can be said. Edinburgh Council have ignored their own brief for the site so they are not now going to refuse permission on that basis. The developers have certainly paid too much for the site so unless they try to drop their price at some point I can’t see how the council will suddenly have a change of heart and revert back to their original demands. It would appear that so far there have been no comments at all. It would certainly still do no harm to object on the basis it does not comply with the council’s original brief and that in particular the arts complex concept fails both in its diminished size and in being an attractuion.

grassmarket emptyAs for the Grassmarket which would benefit hugely from footfall being dragged through from the Victoria Street/Cowgate end to the West Port and King’s Stables Road it seems to have been abandoned by the council completely now. Plans to finally have some attractions at Christmas were voted down even for a trial week never mind the month envisaged on the basis of complaints from a very small but vocal number of residents. While footfall in November was generally disappointing everywhere in the Grassmarket where figures were already at an all time low footfall was down 47.2%  month on month and  down 25.1%  year on year.

These are huge drops and while it would be inconceivable that December’s figures would also drop is has to be remembered how low those December figures are with even Underbelly saying in 2014 “Footfall in the Grassmarket is less in December than in February. We need to bring some of those 2.6 million people who passed through our two sites at St Andrew Square and East Princes Street Gardens to the Old Town.” To put that in persective footfall in the Grassmarket this November was 111,319 and that figure is taken from the far busier end and includes all the night time traffic which of course is of no use to shops.

Edinburgh Christmas lightsMore and more Edinburgh Council is happy to have pop ups appear during all the best trading months but leave shops paying rent and rates all year round. At the same time the council works with Essential Edinburgh and Underbelly to do all it can to keep visitors and shoppers within a very small part of the wider city centre at Christmas and New Year. Without doubt the Grassmarket is not the only area to suffer and in what is already tough times on the high street to let some pick and choose when to trade while discriminating against shops trading all year can only have dire consequences in the future.