Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Shooting yourself in the foot: Part 1
Those poor people who work for Zavvi received their Christmas present from “The Man” with a grim sense of stoicism. As soon as the weird shop chain that no-one ever admitted shopping in went to the wall (Woolworths), taking with it the distribution arm of eUK, the writing was on the wall for Tricky Dicky Branson’s offloaded albatross. With the demise of eUK Zavvi had nobody running their websites, handling fulfilment and sales; an absolute fatal blow in the new world of online sales. We’re not talking about digital sales here either, this is people wanting physical product.
With outfits like Play.com and Amazon powering ahead with the online sales, both download and physical, the high street chains need every weapon in their arsenal to keep ahead of the game. Zavvi lost the plot somehow and have paid the price. The saddest thing about this is that there are now several hundred people who know and love music out on their ear with no prospect of ever finding a job in the industry again.
Real record shops, like Rough Trade, continue to thrive. In fact Rough Trade posted sales gains for the year way above the industry norm and against the run of the market. Why? I hear you ask. Well….they are a proper record shop. People like going into these places and browsing, actually touching the product and marvelling at the walls plastered in posters both new and historical. They like standing around talking all nerdy about music, while listening to whatever it is that the wonderfully fine people who work there play all day long.
In my local Rough Trade, Talbot Road off Portobello, you often see generations of the same family buying music. This is no exaggeration. Not only is the love of music palpable in the atmosphere but there are sales people who can advise and direct you; they breathe music, they are often in bands or they DJ. It might all be a bit Hi-Fidelity but, y’know, I liked the Jack Black character in that film. I’ve seen people in that shop walk out smiling after buying 250 quids worth of music, knowing that ever album they have bought is a doozie. Solid gold easy action. You are not going to get that kind of bliss hanging around a fucking laptop looking at the iTunes store or hoping to find someone in Tescoburys who may have half an idea if the new Killers album is as good as Hot Fuss or even Sam’s Town.
Which brings me to the point of my ramblings; who is to blame for the state we’re in? Well who do you think?
Yep. Our old friends the major record labels.
As the boy band girl band explosion of pop started to generate the last drops of money to be drained from the pockets of the pop hungry masses the labels looked for outlets that guaranteed big units. At the same time the major supermarket chains were looking for new loss leaders that would be one more reason for the consumers to come through their doors; a little Northern Line with you pot noodle? Initially the labels were printing money. The grocers took delivery of the product at the required price, at first. As they proceeded to mop up the life blood for the small independent record stores, that is the sale of chart albums and pop frippery, the number of outlets for new music or off the radar material dried up as the indies lost business and started closing down.
There were a lot of shouted warnings from the likes of ERA, the retailers’ body. The majors didn’t care, they were coining it in. As usual the men (they are always men) in suits (they are always in suits) could not hear the calls, the warnings, the sound of the future drying up. Just like they never understood what was coming down the digital road at them. The people who run the music industry are, by and large, ignorant, stupid and greedy people. They have as much empathy with the makers of music as the Lord of the Manor does with the peasants tilling his fields.
Blinded to the realities of fashion and the market these ugly men got so involved with the grocers that they became no more to the grocers than another hill farmer. That is someone to be exploited, ripped off and abused. So there was no surprise then when the grocers turned around and said “we don’t want to pay these prices anymore”. The ugly men were surprised, but then they are ignorant bastards and never read the papers. They didn’t realise that this is what our rapacious grocers to – to everyone.
Meanwhile the independent shops, the brave purveyors of love for music, the frontline in musical movements, the spreaders of the word and the builders of careers, well they had all gone to the wall. On top of that the shifting flimsy market for pop had discovered that they could download it for free from The Internet or somefink. The major labels put no value on music, they saw it as just another commodity in the slash and burn days of the Noughties. So why should the public think any different.
Hell, they’ve seen it on telly. All these popstars are millionaires; they win X factor Celebrity On Ice and then that lovely Mr Cowell makes them really rich and their life is wonderful. Isn’t that right Gareth?
Now the majors want to get it all back. Though too many stable doors have come off their hinges and they have no real idea what to do, they want it back. But there aren’t any small shops left and now we’re losing the chains. Even the people in the chains were lovers of the art, they could tell you the difference between Bon Iver and Bon Scott, point you towards new good stuff and generally tolerate spotty teenage boys, and sometimes girls, hanging around the shop looking for inspiration.
That is what drove us forward. That is what made the music sing. That is what it was all about. And the people who should have known this? Well they are still being paid stupid money, they are still whining that it’s not their fault and they still don’t understand.
Musicians need to be paid to make music. If they are smart enough to make their own records and you like them then go and buy their music. Go and buy it from a shop like Rough Trade, or Rounder Records, or Ray’s Jazz at Foyles; buy it from someone who might sneer at your choice and suggest that you “check this out”. Buy it from the beating heart of the music industry, and, if possible, buy it on an independent label. Or it will all disappear.
It’s a love thing.