Going Indie: Why your local record store might save your music career

On July 24, 2014

The independent record store is in the midst of a fantastic revival; stores are seeing a renewed popularity being driven by the cool factor of vinyl and events such as record store day. This is great for business, but also opens up fantastic opportunities for independent artists – ones that might save you from mediocre and help you to build a better fan base.

Records - Public Doman CC0

(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. Consumers are still buying CDs and it is still the most popular format at gigs. Vinyl comes with its own fans who prefer the event of unwrapping it, placing it on a turntable and valuing it as a piece of art. Some may argue these are the biggest music “fans” as they seem music as a more tangible element rather than treating music as 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 also give you the ability to sell other physical products like merchandise, but also give you the opportunity to sell your music in other ways. The ability to attach download codes to any tangible item has seen people sell toothbrushes to potted plants rather than CDs or Vinyl. 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 CD next to it.

Local acts performing at Truck Records, Oxford

Localising your fanbase

Getting in some community face-time is just as important as your social media strategy, if not more so. Whether your 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. There are a lot of bedroom acts who don’t have the talent to get themselves in front of an audience a do it live. Doing in-store events and performances can help separate you from those who are only able to do the 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 and other projects. If others have confidence in your ability, they will invest more time and attention into what you are doing.

Going offline

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 are fine, but remember that these interactions may only equate to a few seconds of attention before they move onto the next tweet on their feed. Find creative ways to keep fans interested – secret gigs, living room gigs, or why not host treasure hunts for fans (geocaching 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 other people passing through.

Record store networking - CC 2.0 - D Double U -

Network hubs

It’s not all about fans; promoters, producers, engineers, label reps… all frequent the local record store. Trying to find and contact these people online are 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 middle man 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 will work to help you explore and be exposed to 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.

Record Store Queue - CC 2.0 "Man Alive"

Local foundations 

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 to base and build again. Returning to that base at the highest peak is a way to cement these fans and ensure that you are not alienating them or forgetting your roots. Keep track of those who were supporting you in the very beginning and find a way to keep them close. Showing value in this group will echo through your entire fan base and if cultivated well, the impression will last through your career.

The local record store can be your epicentre – the very core of your local fan base and everything built upon it.

Going Indie is a series of blog posts dedicated to the independent music scene. 

Dean McCarthy is an alumnus from SAE London, the Programme Coordinator for Audio Production at SAE Oxford and has 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. More of his work can be found at http://www.athingcalledmusic.com

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