Archive for September, 2016
A lot of people involved in the US music industry one way or another would come and see me in the shop. Just under 10% of twitter followers are from the States as are 15%+ of people who read the blog. Certainly with vinyl the US was a year or two ahead of the UK at least in the beginning. They were complaining about $25 albums you could buy for a dollar long before the phenomenon hit the UK and going by the imminent reissuing of 13 Genesis albums on vinyl it hasn’t stopped yet.
Anyway earlier this year while the shop was still open I had one such person in from the US who said he read the blog and was interested to hear how long I thought the rise in vinyl sales would last. I answered that some blindly seemed to think it would go on forever while others privately would say they would be glad if they got one more good Christmas out of it. What I asked was his take on things ? Some are predicting Armageddon he said but most just think there will be carnage.
The problem to anybody prepared to admit it was obvious. A lot of the “vinyl revival” was media led. No doubt the public had embraced it often on a wave of nostalgia but it couldn’t be denied half the vinyl at least wasn’t even being played either going to collectors who put it in a cupboard or younger folk who put it on display. Even more importantly the increased vinyl sales were in no way making up for lost CD sales and that applied to new and second hand. More high profile stores with overheads that were only ever going to rise and revenue that could only fall were preparing for the worst. From east to west you will see stores deciding to close rather than wait for the inevitable he said and you will be surprised. Those selling new product were most vulnerable but even for large used stores there was a problem. Once the downturn started and people started selling their vinyl all these reissues would have little value and the number of people who would consider buying vinyl, already not a huge figure, would drop considerably. Small used stores with relatively low overheads and maybe dabbling in new stuff would have most chance of survival. This is of course exactly the kind of shop that has sprung up in the UK.
Not long after his visit I had an Australian record shop owner in saying much the same. With 60 stores in both Melbourne and Sydney the situation was already untenable. Soon Origami Vinyl in LA announced they were closing citing the difficulties of selling new releases despite being next to a great venue and having had recent poor Record Store Days. Others followed but when Other Music in New york announced they were closing all that had been said came back to me. They had seen off so many others including a large Tower Records opposite that you kind of felt they were immune. Again they blamed takings that had halved and a change in how people looked to discover new music. However never did I expect to hear the news that Amoeba would leave its iconic Hollywood store. Yes it won’t be for a while but the sense of preparing for the end is still there.
The UK is a little different to the US and London and Brighton live in a bubble with access to all the record companies and most of the bands and labels. There are a few fantastic shops left in the bigger cities and the rest are very much starting to fit that category of second hand shops who need little income to survive and dabble in new vinyl. Shops like Origami did mention the “big box” stores all jumping on the vinyl bandwagon but they have no HMV or an equivalent in the States. As they have shown in Ireland Hilco will pull the plug on HMV/FOPP when it suits them which will be an added factor in who survives. In the end it may not be competition from other retailers on the high street or online that closes down independents in the UK. It will probably be caused by the very bands and labels they are trying to support. This Armageddon may not be a battle between good and evil but if shops are to survive then they have to be given more than tokenist indie exclusives and the once a year bounty of Record Store Day.
There is I think a misconception all be it an understandable one that our twitter account generates a lot of sales. Don’t get me wrong if we are first to mention a reissued Biffy Clyro album on vinyl as happened recently then yes we can sell 40 LPs in 24 hours. If The Twilight Sad or Frightened Rabbit retweet something we have that is hard to find then yes again we will sell what we have but these are the exceptions. Far more likely is we highlight some great stuff and sell nothing at all.
Nothing sums this up better than the time Bob Mortimer retweeted my recommendation of two Babybird albums as two of the best albums you would ever hear and both under a fiver. Bob has more than half a million followers. He then followed it up with a second tweet himself saying just how good the albums were. Even I expected a few orders. One person bought both albums !
There was a time when publicising you had the “indies only” version of an album would work but now those times are for the large part gone and were long gone before I closed the shop. “Indies only” is just the starting point. Is it signed ? Does it have a print ? Does it have a signed print ? All these things may be available from the band or their label or a favoured shop and it is what the keen fans are looking for. There may be t-shirt bundles, ticket bundles and then there is the box set invariably now only available from the band or label. For some of the bigger indie labels the “indies only” tag is a convenient way of having a special format they can sell themselves but deny to HMV and Amazon. Fans will receive notice of this “limited” format with no mention it will be in shops and are stampeded towards buying to make sure they secure a copy. Some labels may limit their sales but often add an extra not available in shops. Regularly though labels now sell more than all the shops combined. This is simply an arena I am happy to exit from to hopefully take on the much harder but more rewarding task of creating new listeners who may in time become fans.
Should I have needed reassuring at all then the new Teenage Fanclub album has convinced me of my decision. Avalanche has sold thousands of Teenage Fanclub albums over the years. More than a thousand of “Bandwagonesque” alone. With all the excitement surrounding the new album we were often tagged with news and our tweet with the Uncut guide to all their albums reached many thousands of people along with our album pre-sell. The previously unseen footage from Other Music in New York was incredibly popular. So how many of that indies only clear vinyl were ordered ? NONE ! Don’t get me wrong here I’m not complaining just making it very clear that there is no guaranteed connection between social media and sales. Postings were popular on facebook too. Teenage Fanclub are deservedly held in great affection by those of us of a certain age and those fans would often understandably like a signed copy.
For Teenage Fanclub you could read King Creosote (over 10,000 albums sold) and don’t even get me started on The Wedding Present or I’ll tell you the story of how I put them on the Friday before “George Best” came out after they were double booked with The Triffids and got bumped. Luckily I had offered to curate a gig at Potterrow and they played for £300.
Divine Comedy sold 399 copies of their new album in independents one twelfth of the copies sold by HMV, Amazon and most importantly the band themselves. This is not just an Avalanche problem. I do have a Divine Comedy / Belle and Sebastian story for another time !
I’m sure many of those same middle-aged Fanclub fans will head the queue to support the History of Scottish Music Centre so karma will be restored and all will be well.
A lot of people have said there must be grants available to help towards getting the centre off the ground and indeed after speaking to Creative Scotland I applied for a small research and development grant which I will find out about later this month. Creative Scotland make announcements about grants so you will hear from them first. I had to check just to make sure I could say I had applied ! If successful it will help cover my time and will certainly be very useful. I do also want to be very clear about the focus of the centre which will be to help Scottish bands old and new reach new people. Having “special editions” of albums are great but all they are doing are encouraging established fans to buy from one place rather than another.
There is a lot that could be done (and currently isn’t being done) to give new bands in particular a better chance while never underestimating how hard things can be these days. Again there are some great bands established in Scotland but little known even in the UK never mind worldwide. This is something I very much have the ability to address through Avalanches’s reputation, 30+ years of contacts, our social media platforms and the interest I know is out there in Scottish music.
As I’ve said before I’ve had discussions with Edinburgh art galleries and museums as there may be some crossover in the future and one specialist fund raiser with ties to the Scottish music scene has expressed an interest in helping in the future but we do need to start moving forward immediately if the target of having the centre established by the end of March 2017 is to be achieved.
Thanks to everybody who has responded so far about supporting the centre but I will now need to start being more proactive in raising funds. There are several options open to us and I suspect to some extent we will use them all. More on that very soon. In terms of material for exhibitions there has been a lot of progress and I think I can safely say that won’t be an issue.
Ideally it would be great to have a central space in Edinburgh I could use to promote the History of Scottish Music Centre from now until Christmas but I’ve drawn a blank so far. Edinburgh Council in theory does of course support such ventures so it remains to be seen if they can be of any help. I’m always looking for ideas so do feel free to get in touch at email@example.com