WITH 2018's RECORD STORE DAY THE MOST SUCCESSFUL ON, ER, RECORD, WE LOOK AT THE STATE OF VINYL AND HOW ENTERPRISING RECORD SHOPS CAN SURVIVE IN THE DIGITAL AGE
On April 21, over 200 stores across the land (and hundreds across the Atlantic) took part in Record Store Day, an annual celebration of indie record shops that’s packed with in-store gigs, special events and exclusive releases - this year, vinyl-lovers camped out on pavements to get their hands on limited edition vinyl from the likes of David Bowie, Arcade Fire and the National.
The day is always music to indie stores’ ears, but this year, the 11th edition, was the most successful ever. Nearly 100,000 records were sold - a 16% increase on last year. And vinyl sales are rising across the board - 2017 was the best year for the medium since 1991, with over 4 million albums sold.
But the market is still tough for physical music. With many stores shutting their doors in recent years, Record Store Day is vital for sales, and stores have to think outside the box to stay in the game. Among them is Les Aldrich Music in Muswell Hill, North London. Going strong for 100 years, they sold the Kinks their first guitars (and hosted our very own Nash for a special in-store performance on Record Store Day). Here store manager Ross gives his tips on weathering the storm as an indie shop:
The shop is well-tuned to the local community and its needs, which include classical music. ‘It’s always been a specialist shop, and that’s kept it afloat’, says Ross. ‘We’ve got a good library of sheet music - if you want to learn an instrument, chances are we’ve got the instrument and a few books that will send you on your way. And this shop’s known for its classical CD selection.’
#2 BE INNOVATIVE
‘We've always tried to do more than just what you’d expect, and be a bit ahead of the curve’, says Ross. The shop’s offerings range from CDs, vinyl and instruments to lessons and repairs, and Ross has lots of new plans in the works, including an innovative vinyl scheme, shop revamp and events programme…
#3 LOOK THE PART
The look and layout of the shop can also help draw customers and create sales. In Les Aldrich Music, this has included comfy sofas for perusing sheet music, a ‘guitar corner’ with instruments, music and space to jam, and plans to revamp decor and move their workshop to the front so people can see it in action (they repair guitars, bass, cello, violin and soon flutes and clarinets). ‘There’s a lot of space that we could use.’
#4 GET LIVE
In-stores are a great way to raise awareness of the shop - from record launches to secret performances with Sofar Sounds. ‘That would be great for the store and a lot of fun,’ says Ross. ‘I want to get more bands in - On Record Store Day lots of people asked 'is this every weekend?’ so that’s definitely an incentive!’
And it’s not just gigs - events in the works include ukulele workshops with a local teacher and book launches (next up: author Genevieve Helsby launches her children’s book My First Piano on May 26, with a demonstration and workshop).
#5 DON'T FIGHT THE DIGITAL TIDE...
Digital’s obviously here to stay, so record stores also need to adapt and consider the non-physical market. ‘We’re selling a lot of stuff online now, and it’s good to have different areas of revenue.’
#6 ...BUT MAKE THE MOST OF VINYL TOO
Vinyl sales are on the up, and the appeal is clear. ‘‘You could download the album, or stream it, but if you’ve ever had any experience of hearing vinyl, you’ll know how nice it is’. Record Store Day is obviously important: ‘It’s like a midyear Christmas’, says Ross. ‘Every year I hear people walking past saying, 'I didn’t even know this was here’. Plus, it’s just fun.’
But it’s not enough on its own: ‘It’s about getting people to come back after Record Store Day as well. That’s why we’ve really started pushing the vinyl’. The shop has expanded its collection of new and second-hand LPs: ‘I’m working on restoring a huge selection, and creating a subscription service with the House of Vinyl. That’s quite exciting’.
‘The sky’s the limit for what you could do - you could even take the rough trade approach and have different shops, get your own label - that would be a great thing to do.’