Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 5th January 2017
Surprisingly I have been asked this a lot. While I was happy to help out at the Offbeat Gallery before Christmas especially as it meant folk could come in to discuss the History of Scottish Music Centre the centre really now has to be my focus. More importantly HMV was really only a small part of the problem. The HMV-owned FOPP is still able to carry stock without any need for payment until sold and while there was a time Avalanche was the only indie selling “indie” vinyl now everybody is at it so as I’ve said before that particular cake may have got bigger but now everybody wants a piece!
Selling local bands’ music really was our thing and that dropped off dramatically not long after we invested in moving to the Grassmarket, which was unfortunate. Given the opportunity we could still sell hundreds of a big local artist, as happened with the second Withered Hand album but too often you could buy a release earlier, cheaper and with extra stuff directly from the label or band. If selling local bands is simply a bonus then of course you don’t care and take any extra sales you can get. Similarly if it is more of a hobby and not your main source of income then it isn’t so important. For Avalanche, though, it was different.
The PledgeMusic model has now taken things one step further and while leaving shops with little or no sales it has also often deprived the artists of an outlet long after the pledge campaign has finished.
In the long run things will change. Sales are ridiculously low as streaming now means people feel no need to buy new and local bands’ music at all. One Scottish artist whose album was released last month had great press coverage and is on an established label with distribution but has registered four sales. One LP, one CD and two downloads. Now the particular label doesn’t register its own sales so they will have sold some directly but that is an album featured in some end-of-year best-of charts that is available to all the HMVs, Amazon and the indie shops and sold four. Two oddly not in Scotland!
Believe me this is not that unusual an occurrence. One Scottish Album of the Year Awards nominee that was download-only and had had a few sales in the past sold NONE the week it was featured. The irony of setting up the History of Scottish Music Centre while saying we shouldn’t wallow in nostalgia is not lost on me but that is exactly what is needed. We need to celebrate the past but look to the future.
Kevin Buckle is the owner of Avalanche Records
The name’s a mouthful but we must get the ball rock ‘n’ rolling on music centre
The History of Scottish Contemporary Pop and Rock Music Centre. Don’t worry I’ll have a better name by the time it opens. Currently it has been shortened to the History of Scottish Music Centre but of course that opens a can of worms as to what genres will be included.
The idea to have something celebrating over 50 years of Scottish music and culture first arose over two years ago. When the idea was also mooted at the first Live Music Matters meeting it was clear it was an idea that had support. However it then also became clear where popular music stood in the pecking order of the arts.
Very quickly it was obvious that music was considered less worthy certainly of funding and possibly even as one of the arts. In particular the visual arts needed millions of pounds so galleries could be free and work could be properly displayed while popular music, what with it being popular, should pay its own way. Less popular music genres needed funding, if not on the scale of the visual arts, it turned out because, well, they weren’t popular !
Now of course we have reached the point that Edinburgh is losing venues at an alarming rate while art galleries are almost immune and when one is threatened with closure all hell lets loose.
I am sure the History of Scottish Music Centre will find a home and hope to have news very soon. A huge amount of work has been done already without any funding and the centre already has a good following on twitter and facebook
So a Scottish Contemporary Pop Rock Music Centre (only with a far better name obviously) celebrating Scottish artists and labels both old and new as well as providing background on venues and clubs that have come and gone over the years. A place you will be able to buy the latest releases as well as older titles. Scottish music has had a worldwide influence that should be celebrated and this would seem the perfect way to do it.There might even be enough space to feature a few old record shops!
You can donate at http://www.avalancherecords.co.uk/2016/12/04/history-of-scottish-music-centre-funding. You can find us on Twitter @HistoryofSMC and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HistoryofSMC/. Alternatively, email email@example.com.
Don’t believe the vinyl hype
It is a pity vinyl has got caught up in such hype. CDs sold almost as many copies in the week before Christmas as vinyl sold all year but that of course is not as good a story. In fact it is because CDs make such good presents that the format will last for many years to come.
The vinyl revival will undoubtedly come to a halt in the next year or two and it just has to be hoped that there is enough support after that happens for vinyl to remain a viable format for the foreseeable future.
Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 29th December 2016
Never has it been easier to get the information you need online whether that be wanting to start up a business or make music and yet never has there been more hands-on help available either thanks to lottery money. In a world with infinite funding that would be fine but as we all know new extra funding is now closer to infinitesimal than infinite these days and maybe it is time for some of the current funding to be redirected.
I suggested a drop-in centre several years ago to Creative Scotland and they agreed that it would great for bands to have somewhere they could go to for advice but they didn’t have the extra funds needed. Not that long ago I suggested the same thing so somebody was on hand to help with all the form filling. Again I got the same response about lack of funds.
As with my comment last week about professionals trying to fit job-related tweets into a Monday to Friday 9-5 schedule, the same is true with the help for the arts. I understand the need for forms and checks as a lot of the funds come from the lottery and grants need to be justified but the whole system is now so regimented that it is not geared towards the creative but more to the well organised and persistent. Worthy traits these may be but not always top of the list for rock ‘n’ roll bands. Think of a few of your favourite bands and then imagine them being asked to fill out forms, attend meetings and network !
Creative Scotland and all these business help organisations insist all this current “help” is necessary but struggle once you remind them that it wasn’t that long ago businesses and bands started up with little to no help at all. There is an overwhelming feeling that the needs of those being helped are not the first concern.
At least with businesses there is focus on actually reaching the public with your product or service. Nowadays making music is easy and the difficulty is getting anybody to listen. However all the focus and money is spent on the relatively easy part of making music and putting on a few gigs for those that have taken part.
In the early days of the internet young folk were told by older folk who knew no better that making physical product and getting it into shops was not the be all and end all that it used to be because now you could now put your music on the internet and the whole world could hear it. “Could” was the key word, of course. In reality the whole world would ignore it, when at least in a shop it would be on the shelf and yes it could be ignored too but at least it had a chance.
Nowadays I would say shops are not really the answer either but can still play a part in a wider scheme to reach people with music that is still tangible. As for drop-in centres for advice I suspect they will not happen until current funding is redirected.
We must get the nostalgia balance right
Nostalgia is rife on social media and never more so than at Christmas. I’m as guilty as most and of course there is nothing wrong at all with looking back to happy and some would say simpler times. Also to a large extent, unless you buy the T-shirt, it is free. You can spend all day watching old Top of the Pops, classic TV and reminiscing about old football matches and not spend a penny.
However I do try to get a balance and we must still look forward too. Most of all I think this applies to music as it seems to have suffered more than most from the nostalgia boom. I say music but really what I mean is new artists. Nostalgia has kicked in, nowhere more than in the vinyl revival, but it also extends to the music being bought. This year more old music was bought than new music, and this applies even more to vinyl than any other format.
Sadly, young people cannot be relied on to support new young bands in the numbers that are needed – and by support I mean spend hard cash. On the other hand young bands are often not giving people something worth buying. My hope for 2017 is that new artists produce something worth people spending their money on and then young and not so young alike support them.
Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 15th December 2016
I found it extremely odd that news of the Electric Circus closing, albeit not for a while yet, was simply mentioned as part of the much more important story that the Fruitmarket Gallery was to expand. I had been sure I must have missed this momentous news and quickly Googled to find out more, only to see that the story I had read was the first mention of it.
Given all that has been said about the lack of venues in Edinburgh I was expecting uproar from the arts community and while this was indeed the case from “the man in the street” the arts intelligentsia took a more sanguine approach that what was bad news for music was at least good news for the gallery and exhibitions could be given the space they needed.
Now I have at this point to declare an interest here. I have been working on a History of Scottish Music Centre now for over two years and Edinburgh Council have a policy of supporting music, making sure it is not priced out of the city centre, much as I’m told is the case in places like New York and Sydney. Unfortunately, whereas the aforementioned cities hand over entire buildings Edinburgh Council thought they might be able to spare “some space” in an existing building.
Then I saw the money involved. An £11 million revamp. The Heritage Lottery Fund to invite an application for £2m to £5m. I can’t even imagine what could be done if this sort of money was dedicated to music in Edinburgh. Yes there has been news of some fancy venue being built to rival The Usher Hall on St Andrew Square and I’m told the owners of The Odeon have not ruled out gigs in the future once it is refurbished but neither is an answer to the need for small venues like The Electric Circus.
Most of my best gigs were in the back rooms of pubs, dives or at best completely inappropriate venues but these days I’m told something more “pleasant” is needed to entice young folk from their smart phones and binge-watching of TV series.
A purpose built venue that can cater for under-18s is needed. I’ll do it for £1m and throw in the History of Scottish Music Centre too. Surely a bargain!
It’s songs that matter, in the vinyl analysis
Much was made recently of the fact that the weekly value of vinyl sales had exceeded those of downloads. There was then a second wave of articles pointing out that this was more to do with the demise of downloads than the rise of vinyl. There had indeed been a perfect storm in favour of vinyl that week as folk started to buy presents (you can’t wrap a download) and the bestselling vinyl album was the Kate Bush (pictured) live album retailing at over £50. Downloads in fact outsold vinyl by considerably more than two to one but of course cost a lot less.
CDs are declining too but at nowhere near the rate predicted and with good reason. The average person only buys two or three albums a year and there is a good chance it will be by a major artist like Adele or Ed Sheeran. Again it is often for a present but even if not it will almost certainly be on CD. For smaller artists, though, CD sales have indeed plummeted and vinyl has in no way replaced the lost revenue. Selling directly to fans has made up for this to some extent but that itself has its drawbacks in terms of then reaching a wider audience as without distribution to shops and online sellers artists and labels become more and more niche.
As vinyl sales inevitably start to slow, CD sales fall even if only gradually and downloads start to compete with cassettes for superiority only streaming will thrive and that is not good for any artist hoping to make a living from music.
When I’m asked if I sell vinyl I always say I sell music, some of which comes on vinyl. Lovely as vinyl is it can never be more important than the music and yet that is close to becoming the case – and it is new artists and smaller labels that will suffer most.
Home for the Holidays at Summerhall
Summerhall hosts a Christmas songbook launch party for Shelter Scotland this Friday and Saturday with a who’s who of great local bands playing including Ballboy, Withered Hand, Meursault, Broken Records, eagleowl, Kid Canaveral, Pictish Trail (pictured), The Spook School and more.
“The album will be released as a limited edition songbook, featuring lyrics, chords and illustrations for each track – with the original recordings presented as an exclusive download.”
All the details you will need are on the website. http://www.summerhall.co.uk/2016/shelter-nehh-present-home-for-the-holidays/
There was consternation if little surprise when the BBC Sound of 2017 artists were announced last week and no Scottish artists were listed. Two were from the US, there was a token Manchester band and all the rest were from London and the Home Counties. The list showed not just a geographical bias but also a genre bias as urban acts made up over half the list and indie bands almost nowhere to be seen.
Immediately there were questions raised by those in the Scottish music industry who oddly in my view then put forward their own urban acts for inclusion.
Now what Scotland does best, what Scotland is best known for and what others love about Scottish music is the indie bands it has produced over the years. Belle and Sebastian, Biffy Clyro, Frightened Rabbit, Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand, The Twilight Sad, King Creosote and Teenage Fanclub is just the start of a very long list and before them The Shop Assistants, The Pastels, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, The Cocteau Twins, Orange Juice, Josef K, The Skids and The Scars head an even longer list. Of course before “indie” existed there were bands from The Sensational Alex Harvey Band to the Bay City Rollers.
Part of the problem is that so much money is poured into youth initiatives and the easiest way to “prove” these are working is to give the artists involved as many chances as possible. Some young bunch of lads with no desire to network and go to workshops stand little chance of success when in the old days they would be the core demographic for a great band.
While bands like The Twilight Sad go from strength to strength currently coming to the end of a world tour with The Cure it is hard to see how new bands can follow in their wake.
Edinburgh Evening News Thursday 1st December 2016
There is no doubting that vinyl does sound better than other formats, but for me the biggest gap lies in the artwork, or in the case of downloads and streaming, the lack of artwork.
A well-designed sleeve will give a good idea of what the artist is about before you’ve even heard the music and of course it can be a gatefold, have a booklet and much more. It is therefore disappointing that most of the focus these days seems to be on the colour of the vinyl.
It won’t be long now before the wheels start to come off the vinyl bandwagon and the opportunity to have done much more during the vinyl revival will have been lost.
After more than two years off and on of speaking to The City Art Centre it has been decided it would not be “appropriate” to host the History of Scottish Music Centre there even as a pop-up. It is sad they they would rather see the place empty, as it was when I popped in just yesterday, rather than utilise the space in-between exhibitions never mind the spaces that seem to be permanently unused.
After the CAC I went up to the National Museum of Scotland and even though you might expect it to be busy on a Saturday it really was heaving with a wide range of folk from tourist groups to local families. I then quickly visited the Tron market to see how the stall holders there were getting on and again it was full to bursting though it is still difficult these days to get folk to part with their money. Gradually making my way down to the Fruitmarket Gallery for the Mark Wallinger preview which was starting at 6.30pm and perfectly timed and placed for my train an hour later I arrived slightly early bur the place was already buzzing after the earlier talk and the contrast could not have been greater with my earlier visit to the CAC.
Walking into the City Art Centre I’d immediately been stopped in my path by two large information posters and if I had fought my way passed them I would have found the escalators cordoned off as there are no exhibitions currently except in the basement. The cafe was busy but that operates completely separately and the gift shop was deserted. Unfortunately this will be the CAC’s fate until the Science Festival in April.
Luckily others see great value in the History of Scottish Music Centre and so we get to the good news. I do hope to announce our first pop-up very soon indeed and I’m also looking at a more permanent location. I had originally planned to have something in place by March to at least show what could be done but people were so enthused with the City Art Centre idea I really had to give that my full attention until we had resolution one way or another.
I did actually hear some other very good news after Christmas for Scottish music and the HoSMC but clearly there is just too much good news already so I’m afraid the powers that be say I’m not allowed to tell you ! So there we are. Some very disappointing news, some very good news and some excellent news to look forward to.
First of all many thanks to those who have made a donation it has believe me been greatly appreciated and you will be hearing more soon. So far the attempts to fund the centre have been very low key and with good reason. People are swamped with donation buttons, gofundme pages and PledgeMusic offers and there are many good causes out there. It seems only right that people should get something for their money and I do intend to reward those who have donated already in the future.
Moving forward though a lot of the time artists rely on the superfan. I was amazed that signed white labels at £50+ are one of the most popular things on PledgeMusic. An artist writing out the lyrics to a favourite song are another. I could of course try to replicate this with the help of Scottish artists but it would be a time consuming exercise. A gig or gigs of some sort has been suggested several times and that might be a way forward. Again though it would need to be something special. There is a precedent in that the Scars gig they did for us helped pay the entire costs of our move to the Grassmarket.
What the centre could also do with is a sponsor or indeed sponsors. There is a mountain of publicity waiting to go for when the centre opens and it would be a great opportunity for a business especially one that could benefit from worldwide publicity though the opportunities in Scotland alone would suit many types of business. If I could ask people to do one thing just now it is to think if they know and have contacts with a business that would be a good fit.
I was confident I could have something showcasing the centre ready by March but such has been the positivity about just how good this idea could be with a good location and support I’m happy to delay that a little to get it right. Having said that financially it is a drain on my limited resources every week so the sooner the better ! Always glad to hear any ideas so feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
When Hilco bought HMV in 2013 it wasn’t a viable business as things stood, a position reinforced by the fact that none of the 30+ other interested parties made an offer. Hilco already owned the debt so sought a way to turn things around. Regular readers will know what transpired so keeping it short for those who aren’t aware they decided they couldn’t afford to pay market rent or pay for stock before sold. A few landlords and suppliers refused these terms and HMV lost maybe a dozen shops this way but generally it was very successful. Many shopping centres became rent free for a year and other places like Princes Street where it would be hard to find a new tenant for were taken on at greatly a reduced rent. After a year of course all those “saved” shopping centre sites in Edinburgh closed as soon as rent became due.
In a final cost cutting measure Hilco negotiated to be absolved from paying for stolen stock and immediately got rid of most of their security ! Now this is a perfectly good medium term model but is not good for the long term future of the music industry. If HMV had been allowed to go to the wall something would have taken its place which hopefully would have had more of a long term future. Some thought I was being pessimistic but then of course Hilco closed down their entire HMV Ireland operation in one go doing exactly what I had predicted albeit elsewhere and even quicker than I had expected.
So the ducking and diving continues. The unexpected happened and Sports Direct bought the building HMV was in. The sale was no doubt partly a result of the fact the owners couldn’t get the full rent. Of course if HMV had committed to a long lease as is normal for Princes Street the building being sold would not have affected them. In Brighton they have closed their remaining shop having lost their other shop because of their rental policy. Their view is simple if a shop isn’t making a profit they close it and generally it is the rent that will cause that though of course sales are gradually dwindling too. Now their Preston shop is closing with plans to move elsewhere but no date. It is rare for a month to go by without something happening.
I’d been asked a lot whether HMV being banished to Ocean Terminal would make any difference to my thoughts on Avalanche’s future and the answer is no, something I explained in my Edinburgh Evening News column (link below). FOPP of course is owned by HMV and enjoys all the advantages that involves so HMV leaving would have little affect on Avalanche. As HMV has to give up more of its best shops as time goes on and album sales drop year by year there is an inevitability to their demise. The only question is how they will put that one last positive spin on it all !
How much damage artists selling directly to their fans causes shops very much depends on the artist in question but in some cases and not just with small bands the artist and label will snaffle up the majority of the sales these days. Nobody is denying the joy fans get from the exclusive bundles though some people will never understand why anybody would pay £60 for a signed test pressing. When these were genuine promo items there was some interest especially if they came with information sheets and/or test sleeves but these are test pressings simply made to sell. All these promo customers will, you can be sure, buy a regular pressing as well probably as part of another bundle. For the superfans it is an automatic response to look for that “super bundle”.
For a band like the Jesus and Mary Chain a new album would bring in customers who were less frequent visitors to Avalanche and the majority would also ask what else we would recommend since they had been in last and of course a lot of those sales were local bands. I remember one customer from Israel wanting something he would enjoy given he liked the Mary Chain and I recommended Edinburgh School for The Deaf. It turned out Monorail had done the same the day before.
Now for a shop things have been turned upside down. A good shop would know how many regulars they had for each artist but now they have to gauge how many will buy directly and sometimes that can be everybody ! It’s a real rollercoaster ride trying to get the order numbers right and shops can get it so wrong sometimes they are cracking up at the amount of unsold stock. There was a time a while ago these issues should have been met head on but often artists were treated with such reverence that shops dared not say anything.
Of course if shops all just declined to stock an album they were massively disadvantaged with then artists would have second thoughts. Sure the album might be online but if it wasn’t on the high street at all that would be a big blow for some artists and even HMV talked about picking the “right” album to make a stand on. Now for an artist unless they are Adele or Coldplay their album will have a far shorter shelf life. Other artists as I’ve said also lose sales and of course the shop is never told what the presell plans for the artist is so is completely in the dark unless they search out the details themselves.
Some people say I’m only happy when it rains and the power of negative thinking will only end up in the darklands. I love rock ‘n’ roll as much as anybody but come on I think it is is time that artists and labels tried to get the balance right.
Surprisingly I have been asked this a lot. While I was happy to help out at the Offbeat Gallery before Christmas especially as it meant folk could come in to discuss the History of Scottish Music Centre the centre really now has to be my focus. More importantly HMV was really only a small part of the problem. The HMV owned FOPP is still able to carry stock without any need for payment until sold and while there was a time Avalanche was the only indie selling indie vinyl now everybody is at it so as I’ve said before that particular cake may have got bigger but now everybody wants a piece !
Selling local bands’ music really was our thing and that dropped off dramatically not long after we invested in moving to the Grassmarket which was unfortunate. Given the opportunity we could still sell hundreds of a big local artist as happened with the second Withered Hand album but too often you could buy a release earlier, cheaper and with extra stuff directly from the label or band. If selling local bands is simply a bonus then of course you don’t care and take any extra sales you can get. Similarly if it is more of a hobby and not your main source of income then it isn’t so important. For Avalanche it was different. The Pledge model has now taken things one step further and while leaving shops with little or no sales it has also often deprived the artists of an outlet long after the campaign has finished.
Many labels now, especially the bigger ones, sell more of an “indies only” release than all the 300+ indie record shops put together. Similarly they are creaming off most of the sales abroad. There really is no point getting into an argument about it now as it has all gone too far down the line to be reversed. Similarly to promote anything an artist does on social media is normally to direct people to a link saying “don’t buy from a shop buy this better thing from us”. Of course the problem for bands starting is that they need the shops help reaching people but there is no reason for the shop to do so now. All in all I hope you can see why I feel better out of it.
In the long run things will change. Sales are ridiculously low as streaming now means people feel no need to buy new and local bands music at all. One Scottish artist whose album was released last month had great press coverage and is on an established label with distribution but has registered 4 sales. One LP, one CD and two downloads. Now the particular label doesn’t register its sales so they will have sold some directly but that is an album featured in some end of year best of charts that is available to all the HMVs, Amazon and the 300+ indie shops and sold four. Two oddly not in Scotland ! Believe me this is not that unusual an occurrence. One SAY awards album that was download only and had had a few sales in the past sold NONE the week it was featured.
The irony of setting up the History of Scottish Music Centre while saying we shouldn’t wallow in nostalgia is not lost on me but that is exactly what is needed. We need to celebrate the past but look to the future but unfortunately too many people at the moment have a vested interest in pretending all is well.