February 25, 2009

Saving the Record Store

My first Mecca when I started DJing and collecting music was Trackmasters in Romford; a great place, run by an awesome guy with a solid knowledge of dance music; it was purely the digital revolution that killed them off. All across the UK, independent music stores are closing at an alarming rate, as the buying habits of the general public have changed remarkably, and the shift from CD to digital is now obvious for all to see.

The 'adult' shoppers who were wanting to replace all their vinyl and cassette collection with new CDs have pretty much completed that transition. Getting them into new music on a regular basis is pretty rare. That leaves the general music buying youth, and, well, they are obviously all illegal downloading pirates (according to the RIAA/PRS/ASCAP etc), who rarely set foot in a physical retailer for anything anymore.

There is hope. In order for these traditional retail stores to keep afloat, they must adapt to the new music 2.0 world and attract customers by a variety of means. They must expand their revenue sources in order to survive. I’m sure that some if this will involve mp3s, and developing a working strategy for in-store downloading. For example, a customer can come in with their personal mp3 player, maybe share a few songs with an in-store music specialist, then receive recommendations for new music purchases. A ‘top-up card’ system could be implemented, where a customer can buy 5/ 10/ 25 downloads in advance, select tracks from in-store machines, then insert the card and link up their mp3 player to receive their new tracks. This will also sell well as presents for friends and families at Christmas. Branching into mp3s can also tie-in with the sale of personal mp3 players, mobile phones with music packages and the accessories that accompany them i.e. headphones, earphones and mini-speaker / home stereo link-up systems.

Box sets and limited edition CDs are a good way to add extra value, relative to the price of a ‘normal’ CD. They could have extra features that are not available with the original, such as extra photos and information published in the inlays(s), enhanced CDs that will play music videos in home computers, and possibly bonus tracks / unreleased mixes / original studio recordings / remastered versions. Much of this would not be available online, or at least would mean more to own physically for the loyal fans of each artist.

Brick-and-mortar retail outlets should also consider moving into other products associated with a variety of mainstream and niche artists and strong music brands, from Michael Jackson concert DVDs to Marilyn Manson dolls to Def Jam T-shirts to Glastonbury / SXSW tickets. Supporting local bands is one way they can even have an edge over the large brands such as HMV / Virgin etc. Rather than trying to sell a thousand megastar albums, selling 25 albums of 40 different local acts will create the same income and possible evolve more loyal, longer term custom.

Anything they can do to think outside the box and expand their store into a community once again is the way that the physical retailers can fight back and survive. I, for one, would hate to see the last remaining few disappear from our streets, and honestly think that by becoming more of a community / lifestyle / hang out joint, and turn the shop itself into a trusted, authentic and knowledgeable brand, then they can regain not just one-off customers, but regular long-tail fans.

Lee Jarvis.

Also posted at UK Music Jobs - the premier online community for music industry professionals

February 09, 2009

Build a following without a record label

Traditionally, most artists and bands would dream of getting a record contract. In the modern digital music world, this aim has diminished, as it is no longer a necessary part of a successful music career. The most important part of your music career today is the ability to build a following. If you think that’s not possible without a major label spending big bucks on your marketing campaign then think again, and think ‘online’.

The internet has brought together networks of people who are geographically spread far and wide, and with a good online promotion plan you can provide a place for them to socialise on the web and ultimately become loyal fans. Artists are managing to do this with success on many levels, in all genres. Scouting for Girls built their reputation on social networking sites (plus their performance at the UK Music Jobs launch party!), and once their fans and followers started to increase, so did media interest. Both of those can....

Read the full post at UK Music Jobs Blog

Lee Jarvis.

February 01, 2009

The rise, fall, and rebirth of Muxtape

Muxtape was one of the most exciting ‘music 2.0’, forward-thinking companies to emerge in 2008. The website allowed users to upload their own mp3 playlists as virtual ‘mixtapes’, and to listen to other users’ playlists. The site became immensely popular fro day one - with 8,685 users registered in its first day and 97,748 in its first month (stats from Wikipedia). Creator Justin Ouellette explains that the important part of a mixtape, which he tried to preserve on his site, is about discovering new music instead of someone finding music they are already familiar with. He therefore purposefully made the site unable to search for tracks in playlists.

Differing from Napster in the way that users would stream playlists, and then hopefully move on to purchase (with the help of Muxtape links to Amazon) new music, many musicians, consumers, labels and web enthusiasts alike hoped for a bright future for Muxtape. Alas, the RIAA had other ideas, and in August last year the Muxtape homepage displayed the grim message “Muxtape will be unavailable for a brief period while we sort out a problem with the RIAA”.

September last year brought a new message, explaining that the site is being re-formatted to create a platform for independent artists to distribute their music. Yesterday, the website appeared in a new ‘preview’ mode, with a selection of artists that Muxtape had asked to trial the new platform. Other bands will be able to sign up themselves in the coming weeks, and users will once again be able to create playlists and share around the web.

Will the new version of Muxtape work? I really hope so. The death of the original version was a real shame, and yet another indicator of major labels and governing bodies failing to realise the potential and future direction of digital music. Fresh start-up companies such as Muxtape are driving the music industry forward, and I am glad they are not letting the previous issues keep them down. It will be interesting to see what emerges of the new site and how users react / interact over the next few weeks. If nothing else, just by visiting the new homepage I have discovered 12 new bands, some of which I really enjoyed listening to, and will be likely to purchase music from them or see them on tour as soon as possible. Oh, wow, look at that.... free streaming = potential future revenue....

Lee Jarvis.

Cross-posted at US Music Jobs - The premier online community for music industry professionals.