In 30 years of Avalanche it has never been about the money. It was always about the music and more importantly new music. Not necessarily Scottish music just new music. Good, interesting, exciting new music. As someone who started listening to and buying music in the 70s I moved from Wizzard and The Sweet as a kid onto punk and never had a liking for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and their peers. Sure The Beatles were great and as a kid in Liverpool everybody knew someone who knew one of The Beatles but they were for a different generation.
Now three decades later is has to be about the money. It still has to be about the music but it has to be about the music as well. Edinburgh council don’t accept anything but cash for the rates and no shop in Edinburgh is cheap to run. At the same time as we all know music has never been valued less and been so easily available for free. The propping up of HMV and FOPP with terms indies could only dream of has been well documented already as has the fact record companies, labels and artists all now want a share of a cake that gets smaller every year.
Against this backdrop there has to be a plan for the future. Not a survival plan but something more positive than that. So what are the options ? Edinburgh Council has recognised that looking “cool” to tourists is a good thing and have a brochure to that effect out later in the year in which they have asked to feature Avalanche but whether their plans to help with council buildings or have a creative quarter like so many other cities comes to anything is a big “if” indeed.
We could find somewhere not so central with a rateable value under £10K and therefore not pay any rates at all under the council’s scheme to help small businesses. It would give people a base to visit and while I’m not totally against it it would need to be about more than just surviving.
We could find bigger premises in conjunction with other like minded businesses. If this was the case I can no longer take the risk of leading the way. There is interest in this from others and I’d be keen to hear from anybody else who thought they had something to bring to the idea.
We could “go online”. Not in a sad selling on Amazon/eBay kinda way but developing the website to cover Scottish music comprehensively and using our strong social media presence in a way nobody else is really doing at the moment. Again others have expressed an interest in being part of this option without compromising what Avalanche stands for.
Lastly and by no means least we crowdfund or possibly Pledge. I have had offers of investment but what is needed is customers as well as investment and involving customers ticks both boxes. I’m interested in the Pledge model and know Benji Rodgers the founder and president from his indie band days. As part of the council involvement I spoke to various agencies, which is a blog in itself, but when it came to funding even they suggested that with a worldwide brand we should raise funds this way. It would be a case of how we pitched it given we will also be doing more with the label, looking to commission posters and have a couple of other merchandise ideas in the pipeline too.
Whatever we do we will need to sell stuff and therein lies the problem. Dan’s Withered Hand album this year may be the last album we ever sell in any quantity. Scott very kindly tweeted our link for the Owl John album but as soon as Warners own site listed the album at a price we couldn’t match and with a signed poster sales just stopped. We have an indies only James Yorkston vinyl and again James publicised we had it not once but twice but Domino his label are very efficient at taking sales for themselves. And so it goes on. Today We Were Promised Jetpacks put their album up for presale and we were immediately offered tote bags and t-shirts to help compete and the guys tweeted we had them but it is an uphill battle achieving sales anything like they used to be.
Which brings us to the Twilight Sad and their new album. As I said in the last short blog it will be more important than they can ever know. Sure there will be an indies only vinyl but that will be available from the band and their label too. Whether I sell 20 or 200 is completely out of my hands depending on what is available to fans. Again I know I can count on their support but understandably fans will go with the best offer they can get.
And that in turn brings us back to making money. If we can’t sell a lot of these albums with great support from the artists themselves then more than a major rethink is needed. Our destiny has to be in our hands and I do have thoughts on how that can be achieved. I’ve really just touched the surface here but I need to move forward quickly now and encourage folk to add to all the input I’ve already received.
This break has done me a power of good and let me see things in a new way. We hold our own best online now but there is also a huge amount of goodwill towards the shop and in particular a need for a physical presence. Can I just say a general thank you for what have been some very kind comments and apologise for not replying individually to everyone. I really do appreciate the thought people have put in to our future as well as understanding both Avalanche’s history and what makes us tick.
I think I’ve exhausted all the avenues that need exploring and while there is by no means a definitive answer the options are as clear as they are ever going to be. I must thank everybody for all the input and now is the time to see what is feasible. The challenges to the very premise of what a good independent record shop on the high street should be about increase almost daily but I think it is fair to say that nobody wants to leave. For Avalanche favourite’s the Twilight Sad their new album will be more important than they can ever know.
We will be at the Platform 2 market in the Waverley Station with a large selection of new vinyl, a stunning collection of used vinyl we have just acquired and our usual selection of local/Scottish bands. The used vinyl is nearly all mint and includes many titles from Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, The Beatles, John Lennon, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan. There are also many classic indie title from The Pixies to Swans and a lot of electronica which is mostly on Discogs but I can bring in if there is anything customers want .
There will also be some great boxes of used vinyl at £5 covering all genres and sections for Jazz, Blues, Soundtracks etc. We will have the new Mogwai “Come On Die Young” 4xLP box set, the indies only King Creosote double vinyl and of course the Owl John CD (vinyl is later). I have a few free Owl John badges left.
Regulars and the many Festival visitors will be able to find us at Platform 2 every Friday in August. News of a new location after the Festival very soon.
So what has been learned in our hiatus. Well mostly it has confirmed what I already knew. Vinyl is bloody heavy to carry about, it will always rain when you don’t want it to and people have a very strange grasp on publicity especially in the age of social media. Most of all even well meaning folk regularly fail to deliver.
Also more than ever music buyers are split into fans and the casual listener. Avalanche has always been a shop for fans though not necessarily of a band. Fans of Scottish music or just good music would come to the shop looking for recommendations and we would do our best !
At a time when less people are buying less music choosing instead to stream there have never been more people wanting a slice of what is by now a much smaller cake. On top of that vinyl for all the chatter is only 1.5% of that cake ! By the time a release reaches a shop these days artist, label and record company will have done all they can to divert sales their way. Shops will then be expected to compete with the Amazon tax dodgers online and HMV/FOPP on the high street who operate on terms beyond an independent’s dreams.
Even HMV survive by hopping from shop to shop for cheaper rent while it does no harm to Rough Trade having Martin Mills on board. However I realised that even with investors, and I’ve had several offers, in Edinburgh that simply wasn’t enough. As Pitchfork pointed out in its recent article about vinyl most sales are indie / rock which you would think was good for Avalanche but actually it means that every type of shop from HMV to specialist independents have gone a bit “indie” and now compete for sales. At the same time whether I sell 10 or 100+ of a bigger Scottish band is completely in the hands of whether they decide to offer fans a better deal directly. These days the assumption has to be this will indeed happen and clearly it is not a sensible business model to have what was a USP so out of our own hands.
So what can be done ? Well I can pass the buck ! I know what I will be doing. I’ll be selling second hand vinyl on Discogs and some new stuff too. It would be good to do that in a shop too. I’ll be supporting Scottish bands online especially those who generally lack the profile they deserve. It would be nice to do that in a shop too. I’ll look to PledgeMusic and its direct to fan ethos to help bands but with a tweak or two ! I’ll definitely start commissioning posters and not just music ones but again that doesn’t need a shop.
It is very clear from customers they want a base they can visit Avalanche and believe me I would be very happy with that but I have lost enough money over the last three years with no support from organisations such as the SMIA or Creative Scotland who put all their efforts into producing music and none into getting it heard. They don’t have a box to tick I’m told ! Scottish artists could receive support from UK shops all year round but instead vast amounts of money are spent recording songs that will never be heard and supporting gigs that achieve few if any new fans.
It has even been suggested we should start our own PledgeMusic campaign to finance a new shop and it isn’t the daftest idea ever but with margins as they are while Pledge are well worth their 15% for artists it is more difficult to justify for a shop. I know there are other funding platforms but what I like about Pledge is it involves the fans and that is what we need as a shop – customer involvement and not just somebody’s money.
There are any number of ways and reasons shops are surviving but supporting local bands and new music isn’t one of them and if I can’t do that I’d rather move on to something new that doesn’t involve the overheads of a shop. I’m continually told it would be a huge shame to lose that focus in Edinburgh and I agree but these are changing times and simply financing the support we give from shop sales plainly doesn’t work. Edinburgh council recently agreed at a meeting to start supporting the music community in general including shops as has happened in other cities such as New York and Sydney. I’ve been in touch after I was interviewed by The Evening News on the subject and await a response. The council have also asked Avalanche to feature in a brochure to attract visitors in September/October. When I said I didn’t know where I would be I was told “don’t worry they”ll find you”.
There is a plethora of agencies to help people start businesses and a few to help them grow but none labelled as helping established businesses hold ground against the challenges of online sales and the decline of the high street. It seemed only fair to ask this rather than assume but after being passed from pillar to post I finally ended up at Business Gateway who said they would get back to me. As yet they haven’t.
It is end times for the old ways even though they have much to commend them. Generally bands are pretty unoriginal at using any sort of funding platform and are not much better with social media with of course some fine exceptions. Shops have fan/customer bases far greater than the vast majority of bands and yet that is now to a large extent ignored by bands. Avalanche will have to work to its strengths. To a large extent online the playing field is far more level and few can match Avalanche’s history and current social media presence.
It is not a business model for a shop to support new music and local bands. I have no interest in looking for a box to tick or helping create a box I’ll leave that to the relevant organisations. Even the haters know I care and what is so frustrating is to see great bands settling for being a big fish in a small pond. I want nothing more than to help good new emerging bands and give those not so good bands at least a chance to find that out. We have the contacts and the knowledge you won’t get in a month of Sundays on the internet and that is true of any good indie but that has to come at a price as unlike before it is never going to come from shop sales.
Of course I’m very keen to hear from other businesses who can maybe help but help is the key word there. We bring a little bit of footfall with us, a big chunk of credibility and access to social media platforms way beyond what most can offer. These posts always generate comment so it will be easiest to address points made as they occur rather than second guessing what people want to know.
And yes the Eels do now try to sell direct to fans just like everybody else. As for the Godspeed quote in the headline some of you may remember this
I’m convinced that soon for at least the music I’m interested in selling people will be divided into two camps. Those who simply listen to music and use streaming and those wish to own “stuff” and will continue to buy physical product. There are of course two markets Avalanche doesn’t really touch upon now which is the huge chart seller such as Ed Sheeran and the collector who buys everything by an artist. We do have customers who fit the latter category but not in the numbers other shops seem to have. We have three David Bowie fans !
Anyway I simply don’t see Spotify as a threat to sales. Some listen and then buy and those who just listen were not going to buy anyway. Virtually all artists seem to make their album available to be heard before the release date which I’m still not sure works. People listen and either think it is OK but not worth their hard earned cash or mean to buy but having heard the album either don’t get round to it or think they will wait for it to be cheaper. Certainly if we get a new shop I would install Spotify for customers if that were possible.
As for the “engaging with your fans” model it is clearly one that works if done properly but can have several flaws. If a band has a deal and are big enough that they can sell to hardcore fans and through HMV and Amazon to casual fans then all is well except they have cut out the indies completely. However most sell to dedicated fans and any casual fans they have will be happy with Spotify. It really limits their sales and quickly the album dies.
It is early days yet but if shops could be included in the process somehow much could be gained by both sides. Often I’m not sure bands are the best people to be organising their campaigns anyway. They tend to follow the same formula and really only get away with what is often a poor pitch because they are preaching to the converted.
Whatever route artists are taking they nearly always now use a site that will mean their sales are counted chart wise so when the figures are so low this is not because sales have been lost somewhere it is because they have sold very little even after including fan sales. That is what amazes me when I see figures. While sales of music would undoubtedly be falling anyway the highly organised and aggressive targeting of fans does not seem to have arrested the decline at all. Some might even say it has accelerated it.
One major Scottish band had a 7″ single out recently. Ironically the sort of thing that would sell 500 on Record Store Day no problem at all. Now their label is registered for the charts and you can be sure all sales logged. The total sales for the 7″ was 35. That is for ALL sales outlets. Now undoubtedly more were sold abroad but that is a label emailing what I’m sure is a considerable fan base and yet selling very few in the UK indeed. When I moaned at one big indie setting up a monthly album club that again could only take away sales from shops they admitted only 11 people had signed up.
What is needed is some balance between the frenzied madness that is Record Store Day and the complete apathy that accompanies most releases the rest of the year. Of course I am biased but I think nobody handles selling music online better than shops and yet now labels and artists take the easy pickings and still expect shops to show support. There is no argument more annoying than the one that labels need to cater for those without shops as that is exactly what the shops’ online presence is for.
It will surprise none of you who read the blog regularly to know I have familiarised myself with PledgeMusic, Kickstarter, Indiegogo etc etc. I follow on twitter and I’m amazed at the industry that surrounds them. There is no doubt these are powerful tools currently being massively underutilised. I intend to remedy that !
1. Withered Hand – New Gods
2. Mogwai – Rave Tapes
3. Owl John – Owl John
4. King Creosote – From Scotland With Love
5. PAWS – Youth Culture Forever
6. Broken Records – Weights and Pulleys
7. Hamish James Hawk – Aznavour
8. Jack White – Lazaretto
9. Phantom Band – Strange Friend
10. James Yorkston – Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society
11. Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes
12. Morrissey – World Peace Is none Of Your Business
13. Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
14. Young Fathers – Dead
15.=Remember Remember – Forgetting The Present
15.=Bwani Junction – Tongue Of Bombie
A great result for Scottish bands in the top 10 with only Jack White breaking the stranglehold. Of course the two big selling reissues have been the Record Store Day release of the Twilight Sad’s “Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters”on double vinyl followed by Mogwai’s “Come On Die Young” with over an hour of extra material available as a deluxe double CD or a 4xLP box set. The God Help the Girl soundtrack is a healthy third.
You can of course buy any of these titles from our website shop http://vsilly.com/avalanche_shop/index.php
I should say I never intended these blog posts to be any sort of reference material for those interested in the music industry and where it is heading. That I regularly get asked if I can be quoted in academic papers is frankly quite bizarre. That those in London with no idea of the real world read my blog I can understand ! One thing I have come to realise is that while interaction on social media is useful it is no indication of how many people are following Avalanche’s journey.
We have always enabled our support of local bands by selling other things and in the old days it was hundreds of Bright Eyes albums or Arcade Fire or even Kings of Leon. If we are to reappear on the high street then we need something that makes the money “that pays the rent” or in Edinburgh more accurately the rates. We do well with posters and they are a good USP more of which later but we need something more and that has to be second hand vinyl and more accurately big collections of collectable vinyl. Again I’m very lucky to have investors prepared to finance the buying of large collections something I could certainly not afford to do myself.
It is of course the model for most new shops opening and it isn’t hard to see why when on average I sell one rare item a day online that will make me more money than 95% of new releases. I would never be happy simply selling second hand vinyl even the interesting valuable stuff but as part of a bigger picture and if it brings in the money that pays for everything else ………………………..
Expect a blitz soon but for now if you have a large collection of vinyl or know of somebody with a large collection who is looking to sell please put them in touch on the shop email firstname.lastname@example.org
While I embrace the old skool ways I don’t think anybody will see our next move coming !
When HMV/FOPP was in administration it gave me a glimpse of how things might be. Run by the administrators and only stocking releases they felt were essential all vinyl was deemed unnecessary and Scottish artists such as Rick Redbeard and Conquering Animal Sound weren’t stocked at all. The result for Avalanche was huge sales of the new Biffy Clyro and Frightened Rabbit albums on vinyl and probably an extra 50 sales of the Rick Redbeard album mostly on CD. I could tell they were extra sales as so many of the customers commented on FOPP not having it and interestingly more than half bought other things nearly all local Scottish bands.
Many commented how FOPP was nearer to their work but they would be in more often now they had seen how they had been missing out on local releases. Some did return for Conquering Animal Sound but by late summer when Hilco took over and consignment meant FOPP could stock whatever they wanted without worrying about payment all these “extra” customers had melted away.
I didn’t mind competing with the “old” FOPP as they never got enough stock in of obvious big sellers so would be sold out by Monday and might not get more all week. No matter how big on vinyl an album would be they never took more than 5 copies. We might take 50. These are now changed times and there is no prospect things will get better so we just have to accept this is simply not an area we can apply our limited resources. I’ve had very kind investors offer to help with both location and stock but it simply isn’t possible to compete when the competition isn’t having to pay for stock and in the case of HMV isn’t paying anything like the market rent.
This is really just a preamble to what we hope to do and an explanation for all those who can’t understand why we aren’t doing well “now vinyl has made a comeback”. We stocked new vinyl simply because that was what we did but now vinyl is used as a way to look “cool” a la Urban Outfitters. That as much as 30% of all vinyl bought is never played hints at a large section of buyers who simply “collect” an artist or see buying as an image thing. Old people will shudder to hear that most young people claiming to have a collection of “vinyls” own less than 20 !
So we won’t be opening a shop in Rose Street selling new vinyl so what will we do ?
So today should be the kind of day I wish the shop was already back open with new albums from Morrissey, Honeyblood and Slow Club. Instead it only highlights the problems we would face. In the US the limited Morrissey 10″ EP was available from indies but in the UK things are different. Available exclusively for £6 from HMV and FOPP it also gives you a £3 discount off the new album and for anyone who didn’t have it the recent Morrissey book is £3 too. This price driven approach harks back to the bad old days and is simply unnecessary. With customers polarised these days between fans and those who will be content to listen on Spotify the result is clear.
As with virtually all bands these days should you watch their latest video on YouTube Slow Club will direct you to iTunes, Amazon and their own site for exclusives. No mention of the indies that support them unless you check for their live appearances when they play the obligatory in-store at Rough Trade East and then later in the week at the new RT acquisition Rise in Bristol. You want a signed CD ? That will be an exclusive from their own site I’m afraid.
Never mind long time supporter of Scottish bands Fat Cat have a highly touted album out by Honeyblood and there is a limited clear vinyl their Scottish fans many who have followed them from the start understandably are keen to obtain. Afraid not ! That would be a Rough Trade exclusive.
Now shops tell me what to do is to play the albums in-store and pick up sales from customers who are unaware that they are missing out on a limited version. Many seem reconciled that they will be shafted week after week by artists and labels they have supported and fear saying anything will lose them what crumbs remain.
As I have always tried to get over to people my position is not some stand against labels and bands and it is not about punishing bands by not stocking their album. It is about quite simply giving the customer the best service we can. Nothing highlighted this more than when the House of Love album came out on Cherry Red a while ago and there was an exclusive vinyl with an extra track not available to shops. I could not in all conscience sell the CD to customers I had known for decades in some cases when I knew that they would want the vinyl if they just knew it existed. Shop policy was to tell them that they could get the vinyl directly from the label which many did insisting to a man that they at least bought something else while they were in.
Every shop faces different circumstances and for Avalanche with strong competition from HMV and FOPP for the more casual music fan we have always catered for the very knowledgeable fans of bands and music in general which of course in these days of direct sales is a major flaw in our sales strategy. I do get annoyed when I’m told to accept this is how things are because that is exactly what I do. However in the same way that it is hard to balance streaming’s popularity with decent payments to the artist so it is just as hard for a shop to justify a commitment to new bands, new music and new releases when they are put at such a disadvantage by direct sales.
I do have a plan that may or may not work that will depend on that very strength that our customers are so knowledgeable and at the same time will embrace all the changes we face especially direct sales and streaming. Justifying a physical shop is even harder but as cunning plans go it might just work !