As I’ve said before my entire knowledge of New York comes from all the customers Avalanche has had over the years. Other Music’s imminent closure reminded me of two stories I would tell on the basis that if New York kids weren’t cool then youth culture was doomed. Several years ago when we in the Grassmarket a father came in with his son and spent a while browsing buying a good mix of “cool” indie stuff. The father said to his son that he would buy him a few t-shirts and what did he want. At the time we had a good selection all hanging up along the back wall. Lots of local and Scottish band shirts and unusually some metal and punk shirts I’d bought as a job lot.
First pick was a Green Day shirt and immediately his dad winced. “Son” he said. “We are in Scotland. There are lots of cool shirts here you won’t find anywhere in New York why not buy them.” It was the turn of his son who must have been 14 or 15 to wince. An awkward silence ensued so his dad tried to compromise. He said his son should pick an Avalanche t-shirt, a local Scottish band shirt and another more mainsteam shirt. After some discussion they settled on a Penguins Kill Polar Bears shirt. “No other kid in New York will have this ” he told his son. His son then decided to stay with the Scottish theme and picked a Biffy Clyro shirt to add to a classic black Avalanche shirt.
I’d finish the story saying that when the dads of New York are begging their kids to be cool then you now that we have started to reach the beginning of the end times for cool youth culture. It was a scenario I would see repeated many times as cool parents tried to interest their children in things less mainstream.
Another slightly more hopeful story was just a little later. Three couples all from New York came in with half a dozen children. The kids all moped around while the parents all bought stuff but towards the end the kids spotted the posters and started looking through them. Come time to leave and the kids asked if they could stay. The parents slightly surprised immediately agreed and said they would go for a quick coffee. They returned 30 minutes later and again the kids now engrossed looking through all the different piles of posters wanted to stay. The parents agreed and said they would go and do a bit of shopping. Returning 40 minutes later the children had finally been through every poster pile in the shop.
Without hesitation the parents bought their children everything they had chosen. As they handed over the cash one of the mothers remarked ” You should hire this place out as a teenage creche. We’ve had a wonderful time while leaving them here.” Then one of the dads added “You should open in New York, it’s great just to see the kids looking through posters like this rather than browsing the internet”. So now it seems we live in a world where parents are cooler than their kids and the the kids are happy with it that way.
And my own daughters ? Well at nursery they were the coolest kids there with their Nick Cave, Hefner and Bright Eyes t-shirts. Now they just wear branded clothing but my eldest does wear a Withered Hand t-shirt I gave her quite a lot and through choice owns that PKPB shirt so I count that as a minor victory !
It has been suggested it would be good to have something in place in time for August and the Festival. Obviously time is tight but as I’ve said before a lot of the work has been done already. What I really need are others who would like to get involved either in assembling the exhibition or sponsoring it. I am also looking for a business partner for the label and our plan to send Scottish albums all over the world. Again there is already a lot of interest from abroad in this. I will now aproach a few obvious people who will I’m sure be interested but it would be good to get as much input as possible. The idea is being taken very seriously by museums and galleries but unsurprisingly they have very little of use themselves. So much so they may indeed be interested in acquiring particularly important pieces of memorabilia for the future if something becomes available.
I’ll put out more information on what we are looking for later this week but it is clear from social media there are lots of old posters, tickets, pictures etc still lovingly kept and hopefully bands and labels themselves will have things to offer. I’ve already heard from some labels old and new offering exciting items. We will also need as much as we can get on the music side of things so will be asking folk to dig out anything they no longer need. Items can be donated, bought or simply loaned when needed.
For more information see previous blogs including the most recent
Contact email is email@example.com
Not a great week in the world of Avalanche. Following soon after the closure of Origami Vinyl in LA Other Music in New York announced it will be closing in June. As sales of physical music continue to plummet, a no-frills independent record store makes increasingly less sense as a business says the New York Times. Co-owner Josh Madell then sums things up well “We still do a ton of business — probably more than most stores in the country. It’s just the economics of it actually supporting us — we don’t see a future in it. We’re trying to step back before it becomes a nightmare.”
I’ve never been to New York so all I know is from the many customers we have had from NYC but both from reputation and personal recommendation Other Music was always clearly a very important record shop. Having played host to Neutral Milk Hotel, The National and Interpol to name just a few bands Avalanche are also well known for supporting they obviously had our admiration but they were much more than that covering a wide range of underground and experimental music along with a fantastic choice of soul, funk, jazz and disco. One NYC customer described it as like several of the best UK record shops all mashed into one.
If new music is going to survive on the high street these are the shops that matter. Any number of second hand shops dabbling in new vinyl can pop up and that is fine but unless new music is to move completely online its fate is left in the hands of a dwindling few. While the way people choose to listen to music is a factor the elephant in the room is that even the best of shops are faced on a weekly basis with releases by some of their best selling artsists not available to shops. The profit from the latest Radiohead 7″ would pay a member of staff for a day. The profit from the very limited indies only vinyl version of the new Radiohead album might pay the rent for a few days. However the £60 box set is only available from the band and the last album as a £40 box set grossed them 4 million pounds more than the yearly turnover of all but a handful of shops worldwide.
Of course the irony with Radiohead is their label XL is owned by Martin Mills who of course also owns Rough Trade. Other Music will also continue with their label so maybe labels are the future ! I can only wish everyone at Other Music all the best.
I waited with interest to see the longlist for the SAY Awards and it did surprise me a little. It is set up in such a way that all genres will be represented and what tends to happen is the small to medium sized indie bands Avalanche supports get squeezed out as the indie sector votes for the big indie bands. However one or two do normally sneak in more often than not to do with friends amongst those contributing than anything else but this year there are none. Obviously artists like Admiral Fallow, Steve Mason and Emma Pollock do well for Avalanche but this year there were no less well known “indie” artists to benefit from the publicity the award brings.
I know in previous years many of the artists I would have hoped to see included have hovered just outside between 20 to 30 but this year I held out hope for only a couple. Our best selling album from Laurie Cameron which was well received elsewhere doesn’t feature of course and I thought the Filthy Tongues might have had a chance being in everybody’s minds as it was only recently released but it was not to be. What was of course unforgivable was the exclusion of the There Will Be Fireworks album “The Dark, Dark Bright” a couple of years ago ! Others previously like Star Wheel Press despite being championed by not just Avalanche but others like Ian Rankin only made it to that 20 to 30 ranking.
The Scottish media are always keen to show how diverse the Scottish music scene is maybe sometimes at the expense of music people actually prefer to listen to but from Avalanche’s viewpoint we are always looking for the new Frightened Rabbit, Twilight Sad, Withered Hand, Ballboy, Belle and Sebastian or indeed Mogwai. Record companies meanwhile still seem to be searching for the next Biffy Clyro or The View !
Of course as Avalanche resurrects its own label and looks to the History of Scottish Music maybe we will discover the new Josef K or Orange Juice !
While most of this will not be new to regular readers or followers I wanted to put everything in one place if for no other reason than to remind myself to get on with things. Firstly that send some of Avalanche’s best selling albums over the last few years to some of the best shops in the world idea. First mooted several years ago now the original plan to send CDs has now changed to also sending vinyl and using the Avalanche label when necessary to make these albums available on vinyl. There is a great affection for Scottish bands all over the world and this combined with Avalanche’s reputation has meant that we have an impressive list of shops I know will support these albums if we can get them to them.
The plan is to press 500 vinyl and give 100 to shops worldwide free of charge. Another 100 will be given to the band and the remaing 300 will be sold to pay for the venture. It will generate worldwide publicity for the bands and of course the hope is that some of the albums take off and shops will need more. While manufacuring costs can be covered a sponsor is really needed to pay for the shipping. If bands already have vinyl that can be worked with too. Originally only for artists who self distributed I think the net would now be thrown wider.
Secondly I would like to put together a comprehensive collection of Scottish bands old and new all for sale in one place. This could not be done under normal shop terms as the vast majority of titles simply don’t sell quickly enough to remotely justify being stocked on CD or vinyl. Old releases will be actively sought out and sold at lower margins if necessary. Again for this to be viable it would need financial support. Certainly if there was demand for an old title we could use the label for that and the Scars album on vinyl and CD is a good example of something we are already looking at as a possiblity.
This last idea fits very well with the plans for a History of Scottish Music Centre and/or Exhibition. This has been covered before in a previous blog and been widely acclaimed though it does to some extent mean different things to different people. Several parties have shown an interest and I’ve even had preliminary talks with a number of museums about what material they have that might be of use but for now I’ll continue with the idea and if others get involved at a later date that can be only be good. It is an idea I see gradually growing and in the first instance I think a pop up is possible showcasing what might be done.
I’m very interested in talking to others who would like to get involved with any of the projects as clearly there is a lot to be done here and probably most importantly given none of these ideas are huge cash generators what is needed most are sponsors and investors. Clearly all these projects would be suitable for crowd funding but I would like to see what other interest there is first. Several years in the planning everything is now ready to go and hopefully will start to move forward very soon but that can only happen with support. firstname.lastname@example.org
Special editions of a release don’t create new fans. They either divert a fan from buying from one place to another or make the keen superfan buy twice. New release sales are now more than ever about having an edge. “Indies only” isn’t good enough and the further addition of a print etc will be needed to entice more fans. I see this all the time now with week one sales figures massively skewed to the start of the week as online preorders are declared. Consequently there is no momentum and the album’s sales quickly fade.
The album may then get another boost in sales as the artist tours and is sold at the gigs but the days of a great gig sending fans into shops is gone. It was clear that it was time for Avalanche to step back from this side of things. Creating new fans for a band these days is not impossible and as many will know is where the heart of Avalanche lies. So many of the kind comments I received when I anounced we were closing referenced artists that we had introduced customers to.
I still think there is a place for physical outlets promoting bands especially in conjunction with social media but I don’t think it is a commercial proposition to do so on a regular basis. At the same time there is still demand for a shop selling a wide range of Scottish bands beyond SOR local stock but again it would not be comercially sensible to do so. While my days standing behind the counter waiting to recommend a range of bands I think suit the customer are gone I’m well aware that Avalanche could still play a big part in introducing people to new music as part of maybe a bigger picture.
If the remit is simply to promote Scottish bands new and not so new then all the problems over new releases dissipate. In the crowded arena that now caters for the superfan, and indeed just the keen fan, positioning Avalanche outwith that arena in search of the new fans is a challenge that with support would appeal.
So no big news as yet and no surprises but we will be moving forward on several fronts. For those visitors or indeed regulars who want to pick up things we recommend or simply browse through a selection of local and Scottish bands there should be something up and running by the start of May back in our last location St Mary’s Street. Customers will also be able to pick up online orders. At the same time I will gradually add to the Avalanche online shop and not just with music !
There is great interest in a History of Scottish Music Centre/Exhibition. I’m in some fairly high profile talks about how this can be moved forward and should be able to say more within the month. What I would like to do is to have all available Scottish bands stocked as well as sourcing as many collectable old releases as possible. All in one place and for sale.
There is a wealth of of posters, badges, fanzines etc out there along with interesting memorabilia and as I’ve said before I’d would look to include a history of labels, venues and maybe even shops ! Obviously carrying all that stock could not be done as a commercial venture and ideally needs a sponsor which is something I am looking into. Anybody interested should feel free to get in touch.
Finally the idea I’ve had for some time about sending Avalanche’s best seling albums over the last few years to the world’s best record shops can now be given my full attention. Of course things have changed and while we originally envisaged it would be CDs I would now be looking to make all the albums available on vinyl. When needed the Avalanche label will be available to artists.
As always I’ll recommend online any good music I come across though the focus will always be on new Scottish music. The three best albums I’ve come across this year so far have been from Emma Pollock, The Filthy Tongues and Frightened Rabbit all they will forgive me for saying no youngsters. The bar is set high for any new young band !
Just to clarify a few things. While we would have had to leave our current St Mary’s Street location in the near future, though not before Record Store Day, I had a couple of good options to stay in the street but they only really highlighted it was time to move on from the shop format. Given the sort of shop we are the direct to fan trend has had a really serious effect but that will be less so for other shops though the figures do tell an ever more depressing story. PledgeMusic provide a platform for bands to sell D2F maybe more efficiently than they would manage otherwise but as can be seen with the latest Frightened Rabbit album release bands, labels and record companies are quite capable of selling directly themselves. Domino have taken customers away from us simply by having extras to offer without having to go down the many bundles route available from Pledge.
Obviously Edinburgh having a FOPP and HMV in prime locations in Edinburgh does make life more difficult but really their “pay when you sell it” trading terms are the killer. Add in their new found “support” for vinyl and it becomes a perfect storm. Of course they aren’t the only ones to have jumped on the vinyl bandwagon both on the high street and online. Sales of indie CDs have crashed so it would always have been difficult to fill that gap with new vinyl sales. I was very happy to sell used vinyl which was very popular and profitable but at the core we have to be a new shop selling new music and that was being lost.
Again there was an offer to have a decent sized space in the Tron Kirk but I simply had no interest in the endless requests for Pink Floyd and The Beatles. At the same time there was nothing but positive responses to the History of Scottish Music idea and that is where the heart of Avalanche lies. If the remit is to promote Scottish music old and new through a Scottish Music Centre/Exhibition then that is fine with me and all the aforementioned issues go away. How all this may work should become clear in the next couple of months but believe me from humble beginnings it is looking very exciting indeed. It will need your support but I have no doubt the enthusiasm is there.
There were so many kind words from all over the world and I will thank people more fully in another post. Given the current students’ attitude to shops it was gratifying to hear that Avalanche had played even a small part in people’s lives over the decades and that they had such happy memories. You have to feel that to some extent the current generation are missing out !
So more news when I have it and in the meantime I will endeavour to catch up with our online presence. Please feel free to buy stuff. Whatever happens there will never again be an Avalanche as was but I hope that what Avalanche stood for may become a part of the Scottish Music Centre.
When I wrote the previous post it was very much explaining why I had chosen now especially with Record Store Day so close. There are of course underlying problems just as relevant that are already well documented. In these days when location is as important as ever and stock has never sold so slowly HMV and FOPP’s new terms with landlords and record companies after they came out of administration made a level playing field impossible. They may have lost a few prime locations by not wanting to pay the market rent but in most places including Edinburgh with no other likely tenant they can get away with ofering a lot less. Even more important though was their trading terms which coincided with the start of the vinyl revival.
Truth be told new vinyl sells very slowly. Even when we had the market almost completely to ourselves there was little beyond the Arctic Monkeys and White Stripes we could be sure to sell each month and of course what we get one month we have to pay for the end of the next. We coud be fairly sure of Neutral Milk Hotel, The National, Mogwai and several other Avalanche standards but quickly the chances of a sale diminished. One good thing for us was neither HMV or FOPP would ever stock more than five of a title on vinyl on new release so by Monday afternoon we often had the market to ourselves as they regularly failed to restock until the next week. FOPP you may remember had their vinyl stuck in a corner at the top of the stairs. We would regularly have record companies ask us if we would stock a title on vinyl so at least it was available somewhere in Edinburgh.
Just as new vinyl sales definitely started to improve but no other shop was bothered we reached a point where 70% of our sales but by no means our profit were new vinyl. At the same time HMV/FOPP considered vinyl to be a premium product so when pricing they took no heed of any discount and then in fact added a pound or two to give a “premium” price. We were often £3 to £5 cheaper. New release vinyl though sold only for a couple of weeks unlike CDs that often continued to sell for months and getting the numbers right was tricky.
Soon however we would be hit with a triple whammy ! HMV/FOPP’s new trading terms meant they only paid for stock when sold so worrying about how much to stock was no problem at all. This meant they could have a much larger display and jump on the vinyl bandwagon. Then they decided to discount rather than charge a premium but even so they were never cheaper. Finally and most importantly by stocking up on vinyl, titles went out of stock so they would sit on stock they couldn’t sell while we were unable to order more copies. When this started happening for bands like the Twiligt Sad it became a real problem as the label waited for returns from HMV rather than repressing more.
In a bizarre twist when HMV and FOPP had been in real trouble and record companies had stopped supplying them it was the biger indie labels that we sold so much by that continued to supply them and cause greater competition than before. Now it was the same and from time to time HMV/FOPP clearly received deals we did not. Other times they imported cheap vinyl from the States. Soon everything became about an album being on vinyl and the music became secondary and at that point the end times began. It all became about Beratles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin “vinyls” and the vinyl charts echoed this.
Now of course those shops just getting by especially in smaller places happy to sell Adele and the Arctic Monkeys may suddely find that Sainsbury’s around the corner has the Adele album and sales will fall accordingly. As for Record Store Day as one of the big shops said to me it needs the frenzy and that can’t be a good thing. HMV’s attempt at limited vinyl was a flop for that very reason with no queues and much of the unsold stock sent to London where to quote one music industry professional “they are more gullible”. Sorry London !
In the end it thankfully became a very easy decision. Established local bands had been selling directly to their fans for a while, PledgeMusic was taking the dedicated fans’sales who used to frequent the indies leaving only the casual fan to pop into HMV or FOPP in Edinburgh at least and just about every release we looked at was available from the artist’s website always with bundles not available in shops. Even the much lauded “indies only” releases were with a few honourable exceptions available also from the “indie” label often months, never mind weeks before the shops even knew about it.
Just before the announcenment a few people got annoyed with me for retweeting a large number of folk who had received signed copies of the new Steve Mason album days before the release date. Steve had I should say done a great job of personalising the signings. Unfortunately they were only available from Domino his label and limited to a whopping 250 (often there may only be 50). The price was the same as shops but that was a huge chunk of the vinyl total sales. In-stores were the obligatory Rough Trade (London and Nottingham) and Resident in Brighton. Steve I have to say has always been a big supporter of Avalanche on social media and again this is now how things are and it is really up to the labels to think through the damage they are causing by offering such incentives. Sending the signed copies out before the release date was just to rub salt in the wounds.
You can not underestimate the decline of sales in the independents. The new Primal Scream album available from PledgeMusic sold less in the 300+ independents in its first week than the Avalanche shops would have sold in our heyday in the first couple of weeks. Indies now do best when taking a small slice of a large pie as happened with the Bowie album. The second hand market is strong but new indies selling new music with a few exceptions has almost gone.
HMV in Cheltenham where Rise recently closed is opening on April Fools’ Day with “emphasis on the vinyl revival” despite vinyl representing less than 3% of sales. My money is on them raving about vinyl sales while quietly selling mostly Adele CDs which will sum up the music industry nicely !
“When our time comes, when our time comes
I will know, I will know” Whipping Boy
And so it is time. Last Friday I bumped into Martin from the Filthy Tongues and he handed me CDs of their new album. I was particularly interested to see the finished CD as I’d been responsible for Martin discovering the artist Gerrry Gapinski whose artwork had been used for the cover. Regular followers will be familiar with Gerry’s work from the Avalanche tweets and blog. I tweeted we had the album not realising its official release date was the following Friday and immediately gave it a listen to be more than pleasantly surprised at just how good it was. Two more plays later and I was sure this would be one of our albums of the year and with great artwork too !
I was aware that the album was on sale from the band with a variety of prints which given our involvement it would have been nice to have but I could live with that. However I was then sent a barrage of very polite and apologetic messages asking if I could hold off selling the album until their fan base had received it first and their HMV launch the following week. I completely understand why I was asked but the bottom line is even with an album with a cover courtesy of Avalanche we are way down the pecking order.
Now for most albums given we would only sell a handful after the band and HMV took their cut it would not be an issue at least for the band. However the problem with this is that it is a very good album indeed but once the fans have it and HMV have given it a couple of weeks it will be finished unless of course someone happens to stand there day in day out telling people asking for recommendations what a good album it is and playing it so people will ask what it is. People love it when there is a story behind an album so if they had any doubts Gerry’s artwork will seal it. Add in our social media and website and sales from our end of year chart and the numbers start to mount. We will never reach the 800+ sales we achieved for the first Withered Hand album again but even so.
Then there is another dilemma. We go on social media and say this will without doubt be one of our albums of the year and many of our followers will simply go to FOPP or HMV and buy it because they are nearer. But there is more.
When the Frightened Rabbit album was announced I immediately received enquiries as to whether there would be an Avalanche or indies special. We had sold 110 out of 500 of the last limited vinyl. At the time HMV/FOPP were in administration and only stocking important titles on CD. Vinyl was not considered an important enough format for any artist even when they were playing an in-store as Frightened Rabbit were. I was fairly sure but not certain that this time there was no special format something that was recently confirmed. Meanwhile fans were encouraged to buy from the band’s Warners website with the vinyl a bargain £12.99 for a signed copy. Again as I suspected this is actually less than the cost to a shop who would expect to sell it for £16.99. Want a signed CD ? That will be Amazon or the band website at a price this time just above cost.
Never mind the week before has some great releases. Explosions In The Sky with a limited vinyl except that their UK label put it on sale ages ago at again a price below cost. The Last Shadow Puppets also have a limited vinyl but you can be sure their label will email the entire LSP/Arctic Monkeys fan base to sell directly and if previous emails are anything to go by not even mention it will be available in shops. That leaves us with a limited indies only Mogwai vinyl which shops are at least given a fair chance to sell.
Depressing as all this might be for a shop like myself it is nothing compared to the Record Store Day list for this year. Given the fantastic rosters many record companies and labels have what shops have been offered is a huge disappointment but not a great surprise given vinyl reissues were once an unusual occurrence whereas they now appear every week. Collectors will still buy the artists they collect but it is no wonder so many shops are asking what people are looking for as it is impossible to guess what these once a year customers will buy.
It is no coincidence that just two weeks before Record Store Day there is an independent label fair in London with excatly the sort of interesting goodies that Record Store Day should be all about. As a consequence I’ve decided to wirhdraw from RSD. No doubt we would have sold a few Primal Scream, Malcolm Middleton and Associates singles but then on the other hand we will have lost far more sales to those artists who all currently have their new albums / reissues available on PledgeMusic.
My original intention had been to assess how we moved forward after RSD but with that decision made it seemed sensible to decide on the shop’s future now. Given all I’ve said it is clear that there is simply not enough business left after everybody else takes a cut for Avalanche to do what we have done for the last 30 years and consequently I will shut the doors by the end of the month. There has been a huge interest in the History of Scottish Music Centre idea and it will give me time to pursue that. It is a decision made even harder when only this week there have been customers in especially from the US, Australia and Europe just to buy vinyl, Scottish bands, posters and Avalanche t-shirts. The first email I opened yesterday was from an Italian customer returning to Edinburgh wondering if I had anything as good as the There Will Be Fireworks album I sold him on his last visit.
What will end is a dedicated shop where customers can buy the music they have often read about via our social media. What is possible or indeed likely is that there will still be a place customers can go to buy the music we are so well known for whether that is part of a Scottish Music Centre or elsewhere. Avalanche’s influence and worldwide reach has never been greater but now we are in competition with artists, labels and record companies there is not enough support to continue. You should buy the Filthy Tongues album it is a great album. Frightened Rabbit are it goes without saying a wonderful band and I heard from Scott only yesterday offering support. This is just how things are now. There will be a sale.
More in our next post http://www.avalancherecords.co.uk/2016/03/27/our-time-has-come/
I totally get artists concentrating on their superfans though it does sometimes feel like fans are being taken advantage of and potential new fans are being ignored but I think there is a far bigger issue than that. I’ve yet to see any convincing strategy for new artists to build up the kind of fan bases that the older established artists have garnered under of course the old regime of record companies, labels and record shops. Current experts talk a good game but the gathering of emails and other info can not replace the loyalty built up by more traditional methods as was done a decade or more ago. Even the Arctic Monkeys are now seasoned veterans of ten years or more.
There is a reason that the PledgeMusic model has moved towards established bands preselling their releases and that is that is what works best. For small bands trying to convince strangers to support them PledgeMusic will at best only have a marginal efect. It wouldn’t surprise me if a whole load of stats were produced to prove otherwise but then proof that these new models work rely very heavily on figures and very little on “real world” success.
In the real world small bands and labels regularly tell me that the vinyl revival has done them no favours and that building a sustainable fan base has never been harder. Even for bigger bands if sales are very fan based then their album is soon forgotten and only for a band like Primal scream does the model work well with hardcore fans catered for by PledgeMuisc and the larger casual fan base then served by HMV and Amazon. Despite his best intentions and efforts Benji Rogers’ PledgeMusic may very well have done more harm to new/small bands than the good that was intended.