Archive for November, 2017

Future plans (part four) – location and finance

The blue Fender Coronado Mk2 Paul Haig bought from Edwyn Collins

I was told very early on that life would be a lot easier if I had a location and money. Obvious I know but that really is how it works even for the largest projects. The new concert hall has location and financial backing so it gets even more money.

I don’t think anybody doubts the quality of the exhibition that would be produced nor all the amazing releases and merchandise that would go with it but it was always said that especially once people saw what could be, and the Fruitmarket Gallery pop-up was a huge success, sponsors and financial backers would come forward. If nothing else people of a certain age who had made their money and loved their music would see an opportunity to have a permanent legacy.

I would love to have a location by now but the centre does have the backing of Edinburgh’s councillors and council officials at the highest level and they are committed to providing a building so I have to be content with that. If I can get sponsorship from businesses who don’t normally support the arts I can have that doubled up to £40K which would become £80K. There can be several sponsors so no need for one company to come up with the whole amount.

From classical music to the visual arts there are patrons who finance things like this but despite amazing publicity nobody has come forward which does confirm what I was told which was that you have to very actively chase people for money, something I’m not particularly happy with. I intended to put money in myself but over three years have used up everything I had and much more just to reach this point.

Original photo for Mogwai’s album “Young Team”

The situation is now beyond critical though at least some exclusives to sell will start filtering in soon starting hopefully with the TV21 double vinyl. In the absence of any big sponsors it will take the support of the very bands and labels to be featured to make the centre possible along with of course their fans.

Several bands have already offered support as have labels such as Jeepster, Domino, Cherry Red and Chemikal Underground. There is no doubt people will support any fund raising but you have to give them something to buy or a gig to go to. With regard to the latter, again venues are very supportive and I even have use of places like the Queen’s Hall and Usher Hall. So far I’ve only approached those who have worked with Avalanche closely for many years but now it is essential to involve as many bands, labels and people as possible.

Over the course of the week I will outline all the avenues we will go down to try to make sure the centre is properly financed in time and then over the course of the next year. Hopefully one way or another everybody who wants to get involved will find a way to help. As always I would like to thank those who have helped get to where we are already. It is a marvelous achievement and has only been possible by the kindness of others.


Future plans (part three) – the old sales model with a twist

I’ve known for some time now what I considered to be the solutions to the problems the Scottish music industry faces and I’ve never expected much support from that industry as they are to a large part the problem. Things we are constantly told have never been better and they have created a world of workshops, seminars and mentoring which is as artificial as the successes they claim.

At the same time the basic model that worked for decades of making music and distributing, promoting and selling it has completely broken down. What was needed was a way of promoting Scottish artists that accepted that for better or worse bands now think they can do it themselves and in fact are concerned about “losing” sales to anybody trying to sell their music.

While most artists and labels want others to sell their music after release it was clear we had reached the end times when they started talking about not wanting to lose sales to shops in the presell. This was very early on in online selling and the natural progression from this, which is now the norm today, was to then offer incentives to buy directly and not order from a shop.

The real losers in all this are new bands. Shops were saved to some extent by selling the endless tide of reissues on vinyl and older  bands had their fan base established.

It has long been shown that putting good music, new or old, in front of good footfall and promoting it well still reaps great rewards. The idea can work online but the immediacy of the sale gives a shop an advantage. Consequently this is something I’ve been working on for some time now and I hope to have several key outlets in place to take advantage of what should be a great year for Scottish music next year.

The next problem is that while there are places willing and indeed happy to support Scottish music they don’t want to deal with a lot of  suppliers. I have been asked before if I could act as a one-stop to supply a curated selection of music and this would of course address this need. Whatever some folk might think Avalanche has a worldwide reputation for promoting genuinely interesting music and a social media reach second to none. These artists are not my friends, as is so often the case, they simply make music I think others will want to hear.

Similarly I have been asked for over a decade now if there could not be a one-stop website for buying Scottish music. Asking those abroad in particular to pay shipping over and over again to buy from separate sites is daft but that is currently their only option. For “exclusive”new releases this will undoubtedly always have to be the case. Artists generally are unwilling to give up their advantage even if it would benefit the customer. However a site with an extensive catalogue would still be of great use to those wanting to browse what is available especially if the music is promoted sensibly.

None of this of course makes commercial sense as it is a lot of work for little reward but could feature as part of the Scottish Music Exhibition Centre. Realistically there would still be artists and labels who would prefer to deal with things themselves. Again treating this as a non-commercial venture would mean there could be links to all the other sites selling items not available directly from the site. Clearly things would not have to stop at music but could include other merchandise as well. So potentially there could be a site where you can buy a whole range of stuff or be one click away from anything you can’t find directly.

I do have to stress this is a non-commercial way of looking at things despite the aim is to sell stuff and only works as part of a bigger picture. Others can continue with their seminars and showcase gigs but I think all of the above is a different way forward that will benefit more bands and reach more people. We will see !

Postscript from an old man

Late January 1991 and Avalanche receives a call from Sounds the music paper. Andrew Tully Avalanche’s manager and front man, comedian and raconteur of Edinburgh’s second best jangly guitar band Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes answers. They would like to know what we think of the new pop sensations the Manic Street Preachers. Andrew shouts over to me and busy with customers (this was the early 90s remember) I gave the simple reply “a little too fond of The Clash”. I’d just seen them on an Oxford Road Show repeat that I’d turned over to while trying to stay awake during the recent Super Bowl and that seemed a fair assessment. 

Clearly disappointed they asked if Andrew had anything  more humorous or controversial to add. “Well apart from them being Welsh and wearing too much make-up, not really” Andrew replied jokingly. Would we stock the new single they asked. Probably not we said. Next issue of the paper went with Avalanche has banned the Manic Street Preachers for being Welsh and wearing make-up. Manics fans started coming in hassling us and we would politely explain it had just been a joke but they were not to be placated.

There was even a cartoon about the affair with the punchline revealing Mike Peters from Welsh band The Alarm but as it was about to go to press Sounds folded. The curse of the Manics had begun !

Anyway we forgot about it but come May the Manics embarked on their ironically titled You Love Us tour with Edinburgh the first stop. Not having yet reached their stadium rock status they were playing at The Venue and the next morning Robert, Avalanche’s Sub Pop expert and joiner extraordinaire opened up the shop. To quote Robert soon after “a wee guy came in, put a CD on the counter, said this is for you and ran out”. Said CD was Motown Junk and each band member had signed it with a message. They were not wishing us well !

So began a rather one-sided feud with the Manics still mentioning Avalanche from time to time in interviews, commenting at gigs that we had closed down when we hadn’t and generally not letting it go. I believe we still got a mention only a few years ago. By the mid-nineties the shop was split with Andrew not only enjoying the Manics brand of corporate stadium rock but even going to their Glasgow gig as a guest of Sony and shaking James’ hand.

And so all good things must end and to help raise funds for the new Scottish Pop Music Exhibition Centre I’m selling the famous signed CD. It seems only fair that I’l donate some of the money to a charity of the Manics choosing. Let us see what we are offered. Unsigned the CD has sold for £50 to £90 so a CD signed by all four members will be worth considerably more and with the story attached ……………… I’ll see what offers are received and if there is nothing suitable I’ll put it on Discogs. All offers to Would I buy them a pint if I met them now. Of course I would !

The Cure – Wish award for 100,000 sales

The Cure – Wish award for 100,000 sales

I’m selling a few things to help finance the Scottish Pop Music Exhibition Centre including this award. Any offers to

Future plans (part two) – social media

Cold Turkey at Summerhall

It never ceases to amaze me that most people don’t understand social media and how it works. Now if you just want to post a picture of a nice cake you are about to eat that doesn’t really matter but if you want to reach people with information or even sell them something then blindly tweeting or posting is pointless. For some I understand they aren’t that keen anyway so they just half-heartedly use social media so they can say they are using it. However most frustrating are those who claim to be experts and in particular measure their success.

Truth is you can’t accurately measure reaching people with social media but there is now an entire industry based on doing so. At the core of all this is clickbait. All those “you won’t believe …..” stories at the bottom of news pages. All those 30 best whatever where you have to keep clicking to the next page. Don’t get me wrong you can measure reaching people to a certain extent but then you certainly can’t measure what they then do with that information beyond the immediate click-through. 

When I occasionally help people with a gig or album I have to explain that yes the Avalanche social media accounts reach a lot of people but all that means is that folk will know about the gig but not go or know about the album and not buy it as opposed to not knowing about it at all. Of course that isn’t to say the odd person doesn’t go to the gig or buy the album but it will be a very small percentage indeed. 

On the other hand just because you don’t have a lot of retweets or likes doesn’t mean folk aren’t paying attention it is just that most folk don’t feel a need to interact and that of course is absolutely fine. Now being a sad statistician I know how to measure things that don’t as such exist to be measured in a way that is never very accurate but is far better than counting clicks. You can also compare basic available data so for instance I know Avalanche has a far greater reach and engagement than some accounts ten times our size.

Another way you can gauge your reach is because people tell you. It always amazed me to have somebody in the shop ask something and when I’d start giving the standard answer they’d say that that knew that as they followed on twitter, read the blog, checked on Facebook and were looking for more information. It always felt especially strange when they were from South America or a small town in places like Russia or Australia.

There is however loads of basic stuff that has a sound statistical basis. Tweets with a picture are four times more likely to be viewed. Music related things will have several times the click-through rate of the average link. Plus plenty more. There are different approaches. I prefer to make something as interesting as possible so people will click the link while others will make you click to find out anything. The latter is more a clickbait attitude – “you won’t believe what 80s heartthrob looks like now”.

If you can tie up a strong social media presence with the regular media then it becomes even more powerful and of course I have a regular column in The Edinburgh Evening News but that really is a bonus. Properly managed, interesting social media accounts with original comment are always popular and is part of the reason I was offered the column. 

Pic @AHMcKay

I often get asked why shops don’t use social media more and the answer quite simply is that for the time it takes to do it properly the payback isn’t worth it. Avalanche does better than most but the vast majority of people “like” that we sell stuff rather than actually buy anything. The Avalanche account is of course far more than a record shop account and many would say unique. There are lots of different strands to it so people need to filter the things they are interested in but I like it to be that way. When I set up the Scottish Music Centre account it was to promote all Scottish music without regard for any Avalanche preferences and again that has been successful.

I am asked why there is no other account that promotes Scottish music the way we do and the answer is simply nobody is being paid to do it and the official bodies don’t do anything without being paid for their time. It is irritating to see those claiming they support Scottish music doing very little but there is often a gap between what people say and what people do in the music industry.

So moving forward the good news is that for the Scottish Pop Music Exhibition Centre the media and social media could not be in better shape and if sponsors and financial backers recognise that then there is a lot the centre can offer. I’ll continue to try and help artists and make followers aware of gigs and other events but people still need to help themselves and a lot of the work I do is not taken advantage of and there is nothing I can do about that. 

What both accounts hopefully do is encourage discussion beyond the obvious nostalgia that will always have a place but can easily take over especially when dealing with the past as much as the centre’s account does even though of course I’ve always been keen to look to the future too.

The bottom line is people seem to enjoy the twitter feed, Facebook posts and reading the blog/column and you can’t ask for more than that. Anything else is a bonus. The last few days have included a pic of a Paris record store in 1963, a Borussia Dortmund CD and toaster, The Fall at Buster Browns, Edinburgh in 1983, news of a new Smackvan album and gig, a pic of a Grundig Majestic music centre and a plug foe Cold Turkey a music and poetry night at Summerhall that also featured in my paper column. Add in a couple of William Crozier paintings of the castle and the Mound, a quote from Peter Capaldi about his old band Dreamboys, an old pic of the Pastels playing with Strawberry Switchblade and an imagined poster for Trainspotting directed by Godard and there is  something for everybody ! 

Pic @Birmingham_81