Donate

Thank you for supporting The History of Scottish Music Centre

Archive for May, 2018

Edinburgh City Centre Retail and Footfall

This is something I will have more to say about in my Edinburgh Evening News column but it absolutely clear things can not go on as they are. If left to the market the city centre will deteriorate to nothing more than food outlets, tartan tat and beauticians / nail bars/ hairdressers. If Edinburgh Council decide that diverse and interesting retail is part of the attraction of a city and if they want to be seen to support artists selling their wares then positive intervention is the only answer. It would certainly help if those with the power to do something weren’t so sure they understand the challenges facing retail that are neither as simple or black and white as many think.

The current situation with a very strong business improvement district (BID) in Essential Edinburgh based around Princes Street, a weak West End BID and and an Old Town BID that will not get the mandate it needs to replace the smaller Grassmarket BID also has to be addressed sooner rather than later. I am now more hopeful than I have been that this will happen. BIDs clearly need to work together closely rather can compete. 

Edinburgh Council identified King’s Stables Road as a key part of the jigsaw in improving footfall around the city and yet abandoned all plans to do something about it when they sold the large site there. While there is still no final agreement on the development for the site leaving a possibility something can be salvaged I’m not optimistic the council will insist on any of the positive features for the arts and footfall that were in the original plans. 

While I intend for the ScotPop Music Exhibition Centre to be in the city centre and unlike most exhibitions cover a large part if not all of its costs it should be sheltered from the worst vagaries of retail.  Having said that we all benefit from a thriving city centre and my heart will always be with the retailers that fight the good fight on the high street every day.

Selling new and old music to new people

I could  give you a long explanation as to how the current methods for sales and marketing music only work for the very few all of whom have developed their fan base under a completely different system and how for everybody else all the accepted ways of selling and marketing are wrong but I feel I’ve said enough about that already.

The recent report that over 70% of vinyl is bought by superfans points to the problem. Not enough general music lovers are being reached and tempted to buy music they may like but not know well if at all. My hope with the ScotPop Music Exhibition Centre is that it will be a good way of reaching people interested in Scottish music and wanting to hear more.

It has long been known that if you put good music, well presented in front of people they will still buy it but as footfall in shops has declined that has become harder and harder. Online browsing simply doesn’t work the same way. I had hoped the National Museum would take up the idea for their exhibition and while they declined Waterstones had already said they would be happy to support Scottish music. 

Waterstones ground floor opposite the castle

What the idea needs is customers used to browsing and open to new things so we simply could not have done better than have Waterstones on board and from June I will be curating a selection of newer releases along with some older ones in a space on the ground floor. 

Whatever happens in the future I have no intention of competing over new releases when the playing field is not level. Put quite simply it is only fair to our customers that we offer them the same formats, at the same time for the same price. To say artists and labels are disingenuous with their “indie only” releases is to put it mildly. Most but not all offer these indie releases to the fan base with no mention that they will also be available in shops and before the shops even know about them.  

After months of trying to persuade fans to buy directly all of sudden come the week of release labels and bands suddenly remember you can also buy their release in a shop and encourage folk to do so. Even worse is when the indies only release has some extra from the label that the shops don’t get or when sales are so good that there aren’t enough of the limited format to go round all the shops and they get the numbers they have ordered cut back.

Avalanche is committed to giving customers the best deal and making sure fans get the version of a release they would want. This goes to the very top and was very obvious with the new Arctic Monkeys album. When vinyl first started to recover but before everybody jumped on the bandwagon we had to stock all the Arctic Monkeys albums on vinyl five at a time to cope with demand. It helped we also had some great original promo posters for sale.

Even though we weren’t covering the album we had a lot of enquiries from old customers asking if we would be getting the silver vinyl. The answer was no, silver vinyl was only from their label Domino Records. A few others were looking for the gold vinyl but that was only from the band’s pop-up shops. There was an indies only clear vinyl but truth is more than half of all vinyl sales were silver and gold. A few superfans wanted to buy all three or even all four including the black vinyl. 

Of course at the other end of the scale there are different issues but Avalanche’s focus will now always be on reaching new people with Scottish music and building up a base of those people for the future. The stocking policy will simply be based on whether the music is good enough to tempt people to spend their hard earned cash and whether I think I can do a good job promoting it.

Looking for clues

“Johnny thinks the world would be right
If it would buy the truth from him”

I went to see Robert Palmer at the Playhouse in June 1981 (date courtesy of the Edinburgh Gig Archive) just to hear “Johnny and Mary”. Otherwise I wasn’t really a fan but I loved that song. I was never sure why but recently that lyric came back to me.

It’s been four long years since I left the Grassmarket looking for clues as to how things could move forward both on the music side and in Edinburgh city centre retail. A handful of you will see what I did there ! It was all going to take a year ! Also by then the germ of an idea for an exhibition centre had also formed. Four years later I really do think I have the answer and it isn’t 42.

Of course I haven’t worked all this out myself, more than anything else I’ve just listened to others. Add in the new experiences of being at the Tron Kirk and St Mary’s Street and the traumas of dealing with the council and arts bodies and an understanding of what is needed started to form. The good thing about listening to people is that you have far more chance of success if you give folk what they want. The good thing about physically being out on the street trading is that you face the reality not some theoretical “experiential” retail.

Truth is while I genuinely believe that an amazing amount has been achieved the cost has been too high. A year out is one thing but four has consequences that it is hard to justify. All that has gone before was necessary to reach this point so what is important now is to make the most of things.

Over the course of the next week I’ll say more on the three areas that while distinct in many ways do at time also overlap – music retail especially new music, city centre retail and the ScotPop Music Exhibition Centre.

While I have had involvement in the discussions over music venues in Edinburgh it is not something I can personally get involved with beyond potentially a venue being part of the centre. 

This is not me knowing best and telling folk what to do. This is the result of four years of on the ground experience and listening to people. I’ve already run many of the ideas by people who have a wide range of experience and they have been well received. 

I just hope those concerned will buy the truth from me because I can’t afford to give it away for free !