Off the record: are record stores on the last track?
Ahead of next weekend’s Record Store Day, you’ll find a piece I wrote for the paper at the weekend about the current health of the music retail sector here. It’s probably the most pessimistic I’ve ever been about the record …
Ahead of next weekend’s Record Store Day, you’ll find a piece I wrote for the paper at the weekend about the current health of the music retail sector here. It’s probably the most pessimistic I’ve ever been about the record store sector because I really don’t see any future for the record shop as we’ve known it. There are no white knights in shining armour who are going to come to the rescue. There’s no magic solution. There’s no way back.
While there will be plenty of obituaries to come for the sector, we should remember one thing: even as record stores downsize or disappear from the retail landscape, there has never been so much music on release.
As I say in the piece, “It was often felt that a vibrant record-shop culture was essential for the health of a local music ecosystem…this does not appear to be the case. It’s true that some independent record shops played an important part in promoting and highlighting new acts and releases. But most shops were not so proactive when it came to supporting new acts and preferred to concentrate on mainstream acts and releases. Even trying to persuade these stores to stock an independent Irish release was a Herculean task.
“Last year, as important Irish shops such as Road were pulling down the shutters for the last time, more than 200 new Irish albums went on release. Some of the albums were only available as downloads or streams, but many releases were on CD and vinyl and could be purchased from the bands’ websites and at live shows. It turns out bands at every level can survive without the shops, as fans find out about the bands and acquire their releases elsewhere.”
There is still, of course, some life in the old dog yet. We still have some great record stores out there – the piece lists what I consider to be 10 of the best Independent record stores around the world right now (not the 10 best, music nerds, but 10 of the best) – and, as I write in the feature, some will survive. We’ll see more innovations like the Independent Label Market (Domino, Tri-Angle, Rough Trade, Heavenly, Moshi Moshi, Bella Union and other labels selling their releases direct to the public at a market in central London in May) in the months and years to come, as well as stuff like Jack White’s big yellow truck and Gilles Peterson’s pop-up record shop. We may even see more new shops like Beats Working in Limerick and Head in Belfast. But they’re going to be the exception rather than the rule – and let’s not even go near HMV and its woes. The game as we have known it for a couple of decades is over. Time to move on.