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.
There is a common misconception that vinyl just naturally gives a “warmer” sound. Of course in reality if you use a digital master it will sound no better than a CD. More importantly an awful song on vinyl will still be dreadful. A great song will be great on any format. A vinyl sleeve is the perfect “shop window” for a band and it should never be underestimated the importance of a band’s name or its album and song titles but vinyl itself is not cool. What matters is the music.
It was bad enough when the focus of Record Store Day went from supporting independent shops to buying vinyl but now the focus seems to have switched from the music itself to the format it is presented on. While I’m always happy to talk about music and especially new music at least 80% of customers’ conversations these days now seems to revolve around “I see vinyl is making a comeback”. It is clear that many have no problem with this trend and while I’m all for young people in particular discovering older music, in fact I would encourage it, however if that is all there is then along with other factors (of which more later) it will be impossible for a new generation of musicians to come through with anything but the most minimal success.
The Wedding Present are just the latest band to sell to their fans via PledgeMusic with an album “Going, Going …” not due out for another six months. Founder Benji Rogers’ original plan to help small bands raise funds is long gone and well established bands taking this route is now the norm as it is all about maximising revenue from the superfans.
They join Malcolm Middleton, Primal Scream and a host of others from The Blake Babies and UK Subs to Gary Numan who interestingly reveals the number of pledges curently at 4.639. More current artists with deals still tend to sell through their own website supported by their label. A wide array of bundles (t-shirts, prints etc) only avaialble from the artist or label are often available while some may simply offer a limited number of signed items or limited vinyl.
At very best this limited vinyl may be an “indie’s only” and also available to shops but even then as for instance happened with The Explosions in the Sky album it will be on sale from the label long before the shops have any details. Labels regularly send me personal emails telling me about these “exclusive” releases but somehow fail to mention they will also be in shops.
Avalanche’s policy has always been to offer the customer the best deal available and that is simply not possible with virtually all the important releases due in the next few months. I understand none of this is a problem for the casual fan who pops into HMV or FOPP to buy a new release CD for a tenner. Also if there is an endless stream of in-stores as happens with a very few select shops down south then these issues are at least mitigated.
Avalanche’s strength is its international reputation for selling Scottish music and that has not changed. What I do find is that customers are now often not aware of even the biggest bands so I will recommend Frightened Rabbit and Mogwai along with Laurie Cameron and Trapped Mice via Emma Pollock and Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat. As I’ve said many times before selling to fans is easy but creating new fans is the hard part and apart from the most loyal of customers that is what is left to us. Our stromg social media and online presence can certainly bring an artist to the atention of a worldide audience but sales is a different thing.
With HMV the home of the casual local fan and artists and labels selling to fans directly that just leaves us the rest of the world ! That Histoty of Scottish Music Centre would be the perfect platform.
After some soul searching I decided that I would register the shop for this year’s Record Store Day. It may now be nothing like the event we envisaged when we had that first Record Store Day in 2008 with no product at all, just in-stores and a few special offers, but that doesn’t mean Avalanche can’t celebrate the way it was intended.
Given that every day is Record Store Day these days with limited edition “vinyls” released every week it will be interesting to see what releases are planned.
Personally I’ll be disappointed if there isn’t an Adele sings the songs of David Bowie picture disc but hey let’s not be too cynical, at least not yet !
My favourite part of RSD these days outwith Avalanche is a week later on twitter as some shops and some pretend shops reassure customers that they have done all they can to not have their websites crash as “remaining RSD stock” goes live online at midnight. Many thousands of RSD items (much more than most shops sell on the day) are sold in a matter of hours at a time when any sensible record shop owner is asleep. I try never to go to bed until at least one site has crashed.
It has been said understandably we would never have anything more spectacular than 500 people for Frightened Rabbit in the shadow of the castle. It’s a tough ask but I’ll give it a go !
One thing that has changed is that when music is new to somebody they only buy the music they love. Whether new music or simply new to the customer it doesn’t matter so for instance if I recommend The Twilight Sad to somebody who has never heard of them out of 5 people one may not be keen, one may buy but the other three will say how good it is and how they will go away and listen to more. Especially with local bands there was a time when the only way to hear more was to buy but now of course there are several options.
Often people make lists on their phones of things we have recommended and these days may not even feel obliged to buy anything at all. Of course this is not always the case and only yesterday a customer from Greece, in especially for the second Broken Records album on vinyl, asked for a recommendation and after listening to the Oran Mor Session eventually plumped for the limited Twilight Sad RSD double LP.
This is a problem not just for shops but for small bands trying to build a fan base. The constant talk of making the most of superfans is all good if you are an established band but not so good for bands starting out. On the other hand there is no reason for people to spend their money on music they simply like. The one explanation that artists seem to understand is comparing someone who is a talented musician with somebody who is a talented footballer. Somebody may be a good footballer while not playng professionally but they would never expect their workmates to all come along to watch them. Similarly these days people simply have other things to do (even if that is watching 6 episodes of Breaking Bad !) than go along and watch a band be “quite good”. They might find time to give their music a listen but pay for it !
To be fair this is why I recommend only a limited amount of things each year and we can still have successes as Laurie Cameron proved. I find having an album of the week simply daft. Also if I’m honest while those whose job it is to constantly claim there is lots of great new music out there do so, the truth is that there isn’t. More importantly now the customer can listen to anything before buying they agree. Some things will appeal to a niche audience and that is fine but there aren’t many albums each year which we can play in the shop and guarantee to have people coming to the counter asking what we are playing. Clearly this is not a great business model for selling. However if we sold huge amounts of Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin reissues or even god forbid Adele there would be a safety net there but of course we don’t. Much as I love Joy Division and The Smiths when kids do buy them a part of me wishes they were buying something at least a little more recent like The National.
Playing in a band is a great hobby to have as is playing football but online all bands are the same and people simply don’t have the time or inclination to wade through the average to find the few gems. Also there is if truth be told only a limited number of folk out there with any interest in new music. Take away all the Adele, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith fans, add to them all those who go no further than the Arctic Monkeys and the Libertines and there aren’t a lot of people left. At the height of music sales the average person only bought six albums a year. Now it is down to one or two.
Of course bands who do reach a certain level then often clog up the small arena that is left with solo or side projects and of course if they split up several more bands can be spawned. That new artist trying to get their first break simply doesn’t have a chance. If you are as good as Withered Hand, There Will Be Fireworks, Star Wheel Press, Quickbeam and most recently Laurie Cameron we may indeed be able to sell your album along with a handful of other artists customers may not have heard of. Interestingly more and more we find that customers have not heard of the “big names” like Frightened Rabbit, The Twilight Sad or even Belle & Sebastian ! When a customer asks for Scottish post rock we would assume they had heard of Mogwai. Now we have to ask.
Incorporating all this into any sort of sensible business plan hasn’t been easy but hopefully there is now a way forward more of which at a later date.
For a variety of reasons I’ve had to look through old Avalanche blogs recently and was amazed to find my self reading over them not knowing what was coming next ! It often seems a long time ago now. People still refer to the blog a lot, even old posts and I can now sort of see why. There is quite a lot of “this isn’t good” or “if we don’t do something bad things will happen ” and to be fair to myself a fair amount of “this is what we should do to stop the bad things happening”.
I say that because simply moaning isn’t good enough if you don’t have positive ways of moving forward. Whether I was talking about the music industry and record shops in particular or the high street and the Grasmarket in particular I simply felt that wrong paths were being taken that would eventually prove disastrous not specifically for a record shop in the Grassmarket trying to support local music but disastrous in the far bigger picture.
What I didn’t predict was the “vinyl revival” which has very much muddied the waters and the level of support that would be given to HMV/FOPP by the music industry and landlords in order to make them a viable business.
More recently I felt that a blog that simply pointed out how I had been right about things or simply recorded how bad things had got served no positive purpose without some new way forward. Twitter is great for not letting the current situations be ignored but anything more lengthy seemed pointless. The old ideas still remained valid but had been universally ignored by those with the ability to instigate them so until I was able to bring about change myself or indeed things changed to make new ways forward possible there was nothing left but to look for those positive ways.
So after several false starts I’m fairly confident we have a plan in place that will make a difference. What will follow is a series of blogs on the current state of things clearly from a personal perspective but they will explain how ideas have been formed and plans put in place. Issues can be very different now in other parts of the UK while in some matters problems are indeed global. What will then follow will be a solution for what Avalanche faces both locally and globally. Others may have a model that works for them but so far I’ve seen nothing that would help Avalanche. I have no interest in purely concentrating on the past or indeed relocating to London !