The independent record store is in the midst of a fantastic revival; a renewed popularity driven by the cool factor of vinyl and events such as Record Store Day. Great for business, but also a fantastic opportunities for independent artists – ones that might save you from the mediocre and help you to build a better fan-base.
by Dean McCarthy, MA
(Un)traditional physical distribution
It is easy to lean towards the digital side of distribution because it’s cheap and accessible, but that doesn’t mean physical should be left behind. Customers still by CDs and remain the most popular format at gigs. Vinyl comes with its own fans, many of whom prefer the event of unwrapping a record, placing it on a turntable and valuing it as a piece of art. Some may argue these are the biggest music “fans” as they see music as a tangible element rather than a utility. They are the ones more likely to buy on impulse – rather than play once on Spotify and get distracted by something else.
Stores may also sell merchandise, helping to sell your music in other ways. Artists have attached download codes to tangible items, although maybe a bit gimmicky, an interesting twist might be the difference between someone grabbing your mug with a download code attached versus someone buying the top 40 CD next to it.
Localising your fan-base
Getting in some community face time is just as important as your social media strategy, if not more so. Whether you’re a DJ/producer type, a singer, songwriter or a hip hop group, you need to get in front of your fans and show them your talents. Doing in-store events and performances can help separate you from those who are only able to do hidden bedroom production. Utilising your record store to do this will help to build your local fan base and may even secure you more local gigs. Hometown fans can often be the most passionate and will cling to artists when they make it big. How many times have you heard phrases like, “I knew them when they were only cool in Oxford”? These events can also help introduce you to other local artists and could lead to collaborations. If others have confidence in your ability, they will invest more time and attention into what you are doing.
The digital age is great and connecting with our fans has never been easier. But don’t make your whole game about ‘Likes’ and ‘Retweets’. Building these numbers is fine, but remember that these interactions may only equate to a few seconds of attention before fans move onto the next tweet on their feed. Find creative ways to keep fans interested – secret gigs, living room gigs, treasure hunts for fans (geocaches with items and download codes). Get your fans on their feet and doing stuff and they will be sure to talk about you a lot more. Use your local store as a base of operations and include them in all local events you are doing. Create buzz around the store and amongst the staff so they want to mention this to their customers.
It’s not all about fans; promoters, producers, engineers, label reps… all frequent the local record store. Trying to contact these people online is often unsuccessful, but opportunities can be crafted from being in the right place at the same time. Being a regular may lead to important introductions, and your record store may be the middleman in establishing these contacts. If you are successful creating buzz around the store, these contacts may even come looking for you.
Get exposed to something new
Record stores are great for finding the music you are looking for, but they are also great for being introduced to something new. The staff, at most stores, pride themselves on being knowledgeable and passionate about music, and can help you explore something different. While digital services are still refining algorithms to capture your musical tastes, those services can’t converse with you in the same way a record store staffer can. You are also surrounded by other music fans where an exchange of knowledge can take place.
Fame and popularity are usually the ultimate goals, but those peaks can sometimes be short lived. By building a solid local foundation, you will always be able to return and build again. Returning to that base at the highest peak is a way to cement these fans and ensure that you are not forgetting your roots. Keep track of those who were supporting you from the beginning and find a way to keep them close. Showing value in this group will echo through your entire fan-base and the impression can last through your career. The local record store can be your epicenter – the very core of your local fan base and everything built upon it.
Going Indie is a blog series dedicated to the independent music scene.
Dean McCarthy is an alumnus from SAE London with an MA in Music Industries from Birmingham City University. His academic work focuses on technological and cultural convergence and he freelances as an audio engineer in Oxford.