Archive for HMV

The future of sound

Posted in Music with tags , on February 1, 2009 by James Osborn

The future of sound

The last five years has seen such a colossal transformation in the way music is purchased and listened to that the traditional record industry model has been left all broken and sad – a bit like France gets every hundred years or so.  The greatest moment in the revolution was, no doubt, when the Arctic Monkeys became one of the most talked about bands in Britain without any record company involvement whatsoever.  But no sector of the industry has been left more shell-shocked than the retail outlets, which have struggled – and are struggling still – to adjust to a world in which people can browse through a warehouse-sized record shop at the click of a button whilst snuggled up in bed.

Various and, in retrospect, slightly inane ideas have been tried and tested by the traditional record shops in order stem the flow of customers out their doors and on to the internet.  Most of them reveal just how apprUtterly uselessehensive the industry is when it comes to tackling its massive problem.  Like the brief phase of installing in-store music download portals (no point – still have to leave bed), or putting Apple Macs in the shop in order to provide potential customers with free internet usage (might get them in the store – but still won’t buy a CD if more expensive than Amazon.)  These failed initiatives have been embraced almost exclusively by the large chain stores, whilst the once ubiquitous independent record shop – typically owned by a sole trader and operating one or two shops – has become almost extinct, having neither the floor space or the capital to stray far from what it has always known to be profitable.

 

However, in the last few months, two distinct patterns have emerged; the first being exclusively related to the major chains, and the second being led by the independents.

 

HMV’s decision to expand into music venues is long overdue, and the company’s rich music heritage makes the idea easier to swallow than corporate sponsorship in the vein of Carling’s pillage of almost every small venue in the country (although even that was preferable to the unstoppable town planners’ bulldozing of the London Astoria.)  His Master's VoiceThe venture will allow it to tap directly into the UK’s live music market, which in total is worth a staggering £1bn annually.  Not only will it encourage people to visit the existing stores to buy gig tickets, it will allow the company to promote the shop via merchandise stall-style units in venues; basically, taking the shop to the potential customers, rather than the other way round. 

 

Music fans like the ‘feel’ of being at gigs – a sensation that will eventually be paralleled in atmosphere by visiting a once-standard HMV store; a branding trick that is likely to rejuvenate the music chain and its original stores.  DSPAdditionally, and perhaps most importantly, direct association with HMV and popular venues at which the nation’s pocket money-wielding teens hang out will have a positive effect on the historic music store’s reputation: Cool HMV gig = HMV cool place to buy a record.

 

But what of the independents?  Sponsorship at anything more than a local level is beyond the realms of possibility, and it’s now firmly established that there is no use in creating downloading zones on the high street.  Instead, they are staying true to the idea of the physical shop.  The original concept alone offers something that online stores cannot touch, but, when expanded and realised in the form of a gorgeous environment in which to browse, all of a sudden record buying becomes an ‘experience’ that can widen its customer base (only the hardcore music fan had a positive experience trying to find rarities in the junkshop style record shop.)

 

Imagine the scent of the chiselled oak, still present on your purchase when you get it home; a reminder of quality and individuality – everything that the brutal efficiency of play.com cannot touch.  A recommendation from friendly shop staff, or words on the screen from a stranger?  Sipping complimentary Earl Grey in a comfy armchair whilst listening to a potential purchase, or gasping from the glass of stale water on your bedside cabinet?  All of sudden, a couple of pounds mark up in price begins to seem worth it.  Okay, you have to leave your bed, but, once converted, it’s difficult to go back the ‘new way’.  And this isn’t about the gentrification of music buying; simply a more enjoyable, satisfying version of what we already have.

 

A lovely cup of Earl

 

This change is being compounded by the resurgence of vinyl and a shift to listening to records, instead of CDs, at home and converting them to MP3s for listening when out and about.  Music was very heavy in the olden daysThe CD won’t necessarily go the way of the cassette tape, but its role as the dominant format is already waning – people like to see the music ‘being made’ on the turntable, but love the convenience of carrying their whole collection in their pocket.  But the emphasis is on that initial purchase: Give me delicious hard copy, selected by my own hands in an actual, physical shop.

 

The only catch is that there are still very few of these glorious stores in existence, although one  starting to come close is Resident in Brighton.  Let’s hope the idea is replicated and the physical, independent record shop, this time better than ever, becomes as an unshakable an institution as the music venue which – thankfully – will continue to survive always, with or without big business sponsorship.  Unless, of course, the government starts taxing airwaves to pay for banks.  Then we’ll all have to stay in bed anyway. 

 

 

Also published at Choon Online

 

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