Back in 2007 the self proclaimed “Top Dog For Music”, HMV, announced a slide in profits of 73% for 2006, blaming “profoundly changing markets” and closing a record amount of shops across the country. In the same year the music industry association IFPI revealed a 5% drop in global music sales and musicians were told to strap in for a “hair raising rollercoaster” by the CEO and chairman at the time John Kennedy.
And what a rollercoaster it’s been. Since then Apple have been at the controls of a musical transition, exponential growth of iPods sales have spelled the end for the single cd and it seems there’s no slowing the the technological advance.
However there is a word of caution to Apple’s hostile take-over, iTunes hit its 10 billionth song sold back in February this year and amidst their celebration their was a grim forecast for their next 10 billion, it seems there are signs that the trend is slowing. People who have iPods or iPhones although nicely filling their 32 GB allowance aren’t necessarily doing so by buying more MP3’s. Unlike replacing a cracked Vinyl or broken cd’s the clever consumer is using the likes of Spotify or using the resources at heir fingertips to find and download free music.
With it being so easy to share a new Rihanna album, has the modern age of music shot itself in the foot? And if so, where does this leave the Vinyl, a staple of the British music culture and the last physical reminder of non computerised music?
This is the question Liverpudlian writer Graham Jones asked in his book, Last Shop Standing. Taking readers behind the counter to see the rise, fall and re-birth of record stores in the UK Jones is well versed on the subject. Having travelled the country selling records, to independent stores and ran his own stall in Ellesmere Port Market.
When word got out that someone had finally accounted for the good times and the struggles the independents had faced, the book inspired film makers to develop this idea and take to the road asking record stores and music legends like Paul Weller, Johnny Marr and Billy Bragg their thoughts on the importance of the record store and the future of Vinyl.
The film is sparking much debate and nostalgia across the board. Being set to screen this Saturday in the countries most famous musical City, Liverpool I asked the new owner of Bold Street’s only record store (previously Hairy Records now The Vinyl Emporium) what would make him invest in such a threatened business?
“I’m a vinyl junkie, I can’t help it. I don’t do crack anymore, I just do vinyl. You can quote me on that.” admits Spike Beecham “I’d been a singles collector and a customer in Hairy for a long time, I came in one day and saw they’d had a clear out, when I joked and asked if someone had died, the answer was yes and the family were looking to sell. So I thought, why not? And did.”
After getting over his initial foot-in-mouth moment and thinking about the commitment he’d just made, Spike’s first thought was despair, record stores didn’t make much money these days and with competition from the likes of Probe, Liverpool’s other leading Vinyl dealer, they’re slick operation and fancy new digs over in the Bluecoat seemed unbeatable.
But Spike knew that his dated and dusty little shop had more to offer than just good music.
A Bold Street institute with history and a niche following of dedicated music junkies gave Spike the upper hand over his more commercial rivals. It would take more than a lick of paint and taking a feather duster to a window that “hasn’t ben cleaned since 1985” to prove there’s life in the old girl yet and thankfully the new owner had more than a little experience on the music scene to get people in.
“You have to do more than Vinyl. Bringing the shop into the 21st century and having a clean shop, a man that knows his shit and stocking music that people want, whether it’s the new rush album or the new Adele vinyl, we’ll find it. More importantly, offering customers some new discoveries too that they weren’t around for the first time, because that’s what it’s all about.”
It seems a little TLC has worked its magic and with the shop turnover heading in the right direction Spike can start to introduce a new audience to vinyl. “It’s not quite enough to earn a living from yet, but the 40plus music anoraks are still ordering their specific records and the 20 to 30 year-old’s are being invited in with us putting performance’s on and offering coffee upstairs.” The key in that sentence was coffee. This generation’s addiction and a necessity to entice them in off the street and spend their conservative wages. A hefty mix of good coffee and great music is the future according to Spike and i’m inclined to agree with him.
So what does Spike think the magic of Vinyl is? And why it’s still kicking around after the digital take-over?
“People use to make records to give people the opportunity to listen to them perform live and now it’s the other way around, people expect to hear the record when they go and hear a band live and it shouldn’t be like that. It should be a totally different experience” Simple but at its core the subtle imperfections of a record are what make it so perfect.
S maybe vinyl will be coming with us into the 21st century after all. Sure it might have to offer extras, a little coffee, a live set here and there but as long as it offers up some of the most imperfect, perfect musical performances I don’t think it will ever be without a home.
Saturday December 1st with Q and A at 4pm.