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Record Store Day in Wales

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James McLaren James McLaren | 08:33 UK time, Monday, 12 April 2010

This Saturday, 17 April, is Record Store Day: a celebration of the independent record shops that were once a common sight on high streets up and down the country, but today are becoming are rarer than those proverbial hens' teeth.

Record Store Day was set up in America, but the demise of the archetypal record shop has common factors the world over.

Primarily, digital downloads and streams are being blamed. With the likes of iTunes, Last.fm and Spotify making it simple to purchase or listen to individual tracks, people's desire for instant musical gratification can be met with the click of a mouse button.

Secondly, UK supermarkets all stock CDs, but in parallel to the value toasters and freeze-preserved plums, they're all mass-market chart music. Selling them at low-profit prices means that the independent shops simply cannot compete on price.

So, attacked on two fronts, what is the future for the independents? I suspect that the days of indies stocking Christmas chart-toppers are long gone, but could there be a way to sidestep the twin assault of downloads and cheapo bargain-basement supermarket fodder?

Like all businesses, record shops can turn a profit if their stock fits their audience. Increased specialisation, catering for a particular audience, seems to be an answer.

Shops like Cardiff's Catapult have long been specialising, in their case to the dance market. Speaking to the Western Mail's Karen Price, store manager Simon Thomas says: "We have had to specialise a lot more over the last year - we now specialise in dance music across the spectrum. A lot of dance music relies on low-end bass frequencies and you can't replicate it in a download. It means that we are safe."

Dance music is also reliant on vinyl to a larger degree than any other genre. Vinyl was once predicted by many to completely disappear, but sales have plateaued in recent years. Shops like Catapult are able to cater for this market, and vinyl should continue to be a large ingredient in the continued success of independents.

As far as other genres go, the vinyl market is the preserve of what might unkindly be termed 'geeks' - the indie and rock superfans whose relationship with vinyl extends from the aural into the physical. That demographic is one that Newport's Diverse Records is well able to exploit. Again talking to the Western Mail, Diverse's Matt Jarrett says: "Our core customer has a few quid in his pocket and a music room and they like buying vinyl as it sounds better than downloads."

Jarrett and Thomas both touch on one factor that suggests that 'serious' music fans will be less inclined to go down the digital download route: an mp3 file contains far less information than a full lossless audio file and, as such, can't communicate the full depth and complexity of music in its original form.

But is the 'serious' music fan an endangered species?

Now admittedly my partner's 18-year-old niece had never seen a piece of vinyl before a few weeks ago ("That's a big CD" she said of a seven inch single) but there's hope for vinyl specialists, according to Jarrett. "American labels are including download codes with their records now," he told The Western Mail. "So instead of buying CDs, the younger market will buy vinyl, because they like the quality and then download it for free to listen to it in their cars and on their mp3 players."

Some independent stores have the luxury of a captive local market and do well from physical sales in the face of the download menace. Andy Davis of Andy's Records in Aberystwyth says of downloads: "Have you ever seen one? If I can't see it or touch it or feel it, it doesn't exist". Davis might sound like he's spitting in the wind, but his healthy local record-buying community uses his shop as all independents used to be used: as something of a meeting place and hang-out.

Cardiff's own Spillers Records also has that ambience - a dark cave of musical fandom in which the merits of new folk or glam rock can be debated with knowledgable staff. Spillers also has the advantage, even in the face of pressures including rent increases in the newly-revitalised city centre, of having a well-orchestrated public profile stemming from its status as the world's oldest record store. Public goodwill and its famous fans - not to mention getting people to pay to advertise your store by buying those de rigeur t-shirts - mean it's better-placed to weather the current storms than many other independents.

"I think of record shops as being your favourite uncle who you never go to see, but then you feel sad when he dies," Andy Davies says. It sounds maudlin, but as the cliché goes, you don't know what you've got till it's gone.

For the time being, Wales' independent record shops are doing a good job of targeting the small numbers of enthusiastic customers that are the secret to their longevity. It's economies of scale: ignore the chart fodder and stock material that sells to the cognoscenti. The independent record shop is part and parcel of our cultural life and it would be a great shame to hand over completely to the faceless electronic vendors of music.

What are Wales' independent record shops doing for Record Store Day?


If you know of any other Record Store Day events taking place around Wales, please leave a comment below.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Andy Roberts, BBC Wales' South East Wales producer, has written a feature about his love of record shops:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/southeastwales/hi/people_and_places/music/newsid_8002000/8002258.stm

  • Comment number 2.

    I would like to add to the list of record shops in Wales. Tangled Parrot is an independent record shop based in the market town of Carmarthen. Tangled Parrot caters for the DJ community and the more discerning listeners based in South West Wales with a shop based on 15 Bridge Street selling Vinyl, CDS, DVDS and other stuff. We also have an online presence at www.tangledparrot.com with a new site coming soon. Tangled Parrot will be celebrating Record Store Day with live music from Alex Dingley, Y Cyfoes, The Conductors and Dapper Cadavers. Please come down on the day and say hello.

  • Comment number 3.

    Thanks Harish! Our blogger Adam Walton will be blogging later this week with more about Record Store Day. I'm sure more shops' details will be added as we go towards Saturday.

  • Comment number 4.

    I have bought my first pieve of vinyl in Spillers Records Cardiff when I was 17. Nicky Todd and I have been friend for almost 40years.

    In the early 1960 Nick was asked by the owners of the shop to become the manager. Almost over night Spillers with Nick in control the shop became a place for to buy ones records. I can remember on a friday afternoon'DJ's would fill the shop trying to get their hands on a certain record before anyone else did. Take to the club where they worked and hopefully be the first one to play it before any other DJ.

    Then as now' Spilles is the place to pick up a Ltd release of a album or single' knowing you were one of only 500 to 1000 people having got a record in your collection.

    This is where Spillers come into its own' Spillers can order. maybe just one for you' the big named stores in the center wolld not be alble to do it for.

    The thing I enjoy going into the shop' its the staff that Nick has got together' if one cannot answer what you are looking' you can guarantee there is someone else who can.

    Spillers is also the place for PA's' they have had a vast amount of groups etc who are only to pleased to play live in the shop. I really believe one would never see such a cross section of groups etc anywhere else in Cardiff or through out South Wales.

    I'n back into the shop on Monday to buy some more vinyl' then go home' place it on my turntable' hear the arm go across and then' its heaven when hearing the record I have purchased in Spillers' then I will sit down close my eyes and I'm in heaven yet again.

    I would like to wish Nicky Toddd and his staff the very best for the rest of the year and into 2011.
    Keep on Rockin
    Phil

  • Comment number 5.

    Nice text it is interesting. Keep creating more great articles.

 

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