So last month I did an interview with the band Buckcherry, and the interview piece I did was considered too feature like to publish, so it was changed in accordance with the magazine’s format. This sometimes happen and is not something I can be upset about – but gives me the chance to share with you my original vision for the piece here. Enjoy.
Listen to Buckcherry for about 15 minutes and you’d probably think the world had gone to hell in a hand basket. “All music sales have gone down the sh**ter” says guitarist Stevie D. It’s an interesting start to our discussion, but one I’m more than willing to explore further; “Yep, it’s the ‘age of streaming’ and recorded music has become the loss-leader, a kind of trail of breadcrumbs to the live show.”
Yet, despite the perceived negativity of this statement, there are actually a lot of positives. Why shouldn’t more fans get the chance to see their favorite artists performing in a live environment as well as the fixed impression traditionally immortalized inside the song? And nobody quite does live performances like Buckcherry. Although the band has seen a lot of change over the years, the one constant has been founder and lead vocalist Josh Todd, who has remained firm at the helm guiding the band through uncertain waters. Stevie agrees, saying “the one constant, and probably most important [thing], is Josh’s vision and songwriting in Buckcherry… It’s no secret there’s been a few different players along the way, some integral, some not, but the fact remains Buckcherry is one of the last, successful, uncompromised rock n’ roll bands out there.. And musically, it’s the best it’s ever been.”
Formed in California in 1995 the group has toured worldwide, releasing two albums before dissolving in 2002, being ‘re-imagined’ in 2005 and releasing the biggest crossover hit to date; ‘Crazy Bitch’ from 06’s ‘15’ – a song about as crazy as they come. Todd’s distinctive vocals are unmistakable, as unique as Chris Cornell’s or Axl Rose’s belong to those artists, and he once recorded with Guns N’ Roses Slash and Duff McKagan, in what was rumored to be the forerunner to Velvet Revolver featuring the late Scott Weiland.
Personally preferring the track ‘Lit Up’ myself, there’s something for everyone in this band, with Stevie reminding me of the multifaceted layer of their own performances; “One thing’s for sure, you’ll get the hits. We’re in rehearsals now for the Warpaint record cycle, and since the musicianship in this band is at an all-time high, I’d like to stretch out musically during the segues and solos…” proving, if nothing else, you’ll get a full night’s entertainment. Before we part there’s just a little time to talk about their support for the night, which comes in the form of fellow veterans Hoobstank (remember ‘The Reason’), as Stevie explains “I met them back in ’06 and would run in to them at festivals, and eventually we would end up doing shows together in SoCal. The singer Doug Robb is a downright kickass front man with a solid machine behind him”.
We can definitely agree with that. As if you needed another reason to see this band live. Sorry
“I definitely believe the next decade is going to be streaming plus vinyl – streaming in the car and kitchen, vinyl in the living room and the den. Those will be the two formats. And I feel really good about that.” Jack White, Rolling Stone
There’s been a lot of talk in the last few weeks about the death of music. 2019 is barely five days old and already I’m reading how it will be the last year in which we expect to buy physical formats on a large scale as consumers. Of course, it’s early January, so there’s no doubt an endless amount of copy that has to be written and the statistics published commemorating the achievements of the last year always seem like a good place to start.
According to the BPI, or British Phonographic Industry, 2018 has seen a decline of 23% in CD sales compared to the twelve months previous. Year on year this equates to a drop of 9.6 million but comparing figures from ten years ago, there’s been 100 million fewer CDs sold.
That in itself is easily explained. Changing consumer habits, including streaming services, have meant that we’re now far more likely to purchase digital downloads or a subscription than a physical product. Less cars feature CD players, of course, and much like its predecessor the cassette it’s simply not cost effective to produce them on such scale. Shrinking shelf space in supermarkets doesn’t help, of course, but HMV’s recent woes would suggest we seem less interested in actually owning our own music.
Last night I spoke with a friend and commented that, aged 17, it would have been abhorrent for me to think of being a fan of a band and not owning the majority of their albums at that time. Singles, EPs, Albums, live releases, you name it – I would have wanted it – and yet nowadays the proverbial snowflakes of the generation are probably uninterested in purchasing and acquiring such physical content. Almost 17 years later it seems that my way of expressing interest in a band is simply not the same and this change can easily be seen.
According to the BPI, however, there is hope in some areas. Vinyl sales have grown just 1.6%; and although this is not an astronomical rise, it is a rise nonetheless – with 4.2 million records sold. That in itself is a rise upon previous years sales and means sales have yet to stagnate or even decline. Considering this format was originally abandoned due to its ‘impracticality’ I would still equate this to ‘new’ Vinyl being a successful format.
A younger music fan I met recently in HMV was heard to remark to her friends that she wanted to own only Vinyl albums, with the artwork and design being the main reason for doing so. From a practical point of view, they also make excellent mementos, should you be lucky enough to get them signed or obtain a limited ‘colour’ edition upon release. Some record labels, such as Germany’s Nuclear Blast, will regularly release the same album in several variants from popular artists – and it’s not uncommon for hard-core fans to want to purchase every single one. I mean, somebody has to be buying them, right?
It’s certainly true to say that we’re becoming more consumer conscious, watching everything from our weight to our spending habits, and choosing things a lot more carefully than the generation before. Even so called ‘luxury’ items or disposable income simply isn’t as clear cut as it once was. Ed Sheeran’s album ‘Divide’ definitely divided fans, with 59% purchasing the album digitally and yet 40% purchasing the album physically; making it one of the UK’s biggest selling albums of 2018. The biggest, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the soundtrack to ‘The Greatest Showman’.
The film stars Hugh Jackman as PT Barnhum, an American showman, businessman and politician who perhaps equates more to Donald Trump and Vince McMahon today as he does to the actor who plays him. Sales of this film – whose soundtrack remained atop the UK Album Charts for 23 uninterrupted weeks – led to record breaking sales. Christmas week alone, it’s 22nd week, the soundtrack sold 57,000 copies alone with 48.7% Digital and 51.3% physical confirmed sales across 2018 in the UK. This soundtrack hasn’t left the Top 5 of UK Album Charts all year and is just one reason why Hugh Jackman is one of Hollywood’s hottest properties.
The picture is the same in America, where CD sales have fallen 80% in the last decade, from roughly 450 million to 89 million. “Lots of us have changed the way we consume music and film, and more people are streaming from Netflix or Spotify,” Kim Bayley of the Entertainment Retailers Association recently told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“But I think we should remember that [physical music] is almost a £2bn business. Even HMV has sales still of a quarter of a billion pounds, so that’s not a small business.” Others see it differently;
“I don’t buy it that physical music is necessarily competing with streams. We all access music and film on the internet, and that’s fine and healthy and valid, but you wouldn’t look at the Mona Lisa on your phone and think it’s the same thing as going to see it in a gallery.”
“The reason vinyl sales are at a 25-year high is because people are rejecting this part of modern society where everything is immediate and nothing means anything.”
Jon Tolley there quoted from a BBC article, who runs the independent record shop Banquet Records in London, arguing that perhaps Vinyl is a way for consumers to rebel against a disposable society. A novel concept, if not somewhat expensive.
Perhaps the most surprising statistic, however, is Vinyl’s effect on sales in 2018. Of course, we all know Vinyl has made an impact, but the artists who make the biggest sales – Nirvana, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Oasis, David Bowie and Amy Whinehouse are either well past their critical peak or long since departed. These are artists who are appreciated for their sound, their legacy, and whom many fans (young and old) can collectively appreciate as not just a flash in the pan. Which would seem to support the idea of a “rebel rebel” philosophy.
On the other hand, cynicism might lead one to suspect it’s because Vinyl is only released in such large quantities through albums that can be assuredly guaranteed sales, with Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ at my local Tesco for a tenner and Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ not far behind it. Vinyl is, by a large margin, an expensive format – so selling classic albums for cheaper is bound to encourage those looking to build their collection for an affordable additional purchase.
But Vinyl’s strength is not just limited to a private collector and his secret stash.
I attended a Vinyl night in 2017 that has gone from strength to strength ever since in Newcastle, England. Hosted at the Tyneside Cinema, Drayton’s Record Player invites fans to enter a darkened room and listen to a Vinyl album uninterrupted (except briefly pausing to change sides, of course) – paying for the privilege. It’s an interesting concept, though not unheard of to physically pay money to do something you could do for free, simply to feel committed to take the time needed to achieve the act in the first place. Yet at this point I’m willing to admit Vinyl is nothing if not surprising, revisiting 2018’s highest selling albums in the UK on the format, with The Greatest Showman’s Cast Recording easily the youngest and second placed record on the list. Doubtful that I am Drayton would play it.
Of course, streaming services have yet to eradicate the reflex nature, or whatever phenomenon it is that prevents Now That’s What I Call Music records from dominating sales across the country. Volumes 99, 100 and 101 make up a large part of the biggest albums sold in the UK in 2018 and other entries (like the Greatest Showman) are Cast Recordings from musicals and motion pictures that have dominated cinema attendance.
Nostalgia serves a huge part in our consumer habits, as does affordability and ease of access, so there are many reasons to see why these albums prevent such an attractive purchase. Whatever people’s reasons for purchasing them, it’s unlikely that our obsession with Vinyl is likely to go away, especially as CD now ironically becomes the obsolete format.
‘Despite the well publicised state of the UK retail environment, HMV remains profitable, demonstrating the success of the turnaround programme instituted five years ago,’said Paul McGowan, executive chairman of HMV owner Hilco Capital (September 2018).
As Nipper may be silenced from barking permanently, I felt that it would be a good idea to write down some thoughts on the closure of HMV, considering that it so forcefully impacts the world in which I reside. You probably didn’t know that the name of the dog in the HMV logo was Nipper. If truth be told I only found this out when I actually worked for the company. But I want to make clear that I’m not writing this article as some insider or some higher authority, since I spent a few months working for HMV in Edinburgh and a few weeks over one Christmas working for HMV in Newcastle, and that pales in comparison to the hard working people I met during that time who’d spent years – if not decades – working for the company.
In Newcastle, for example, I met a man named Keith. I always loved the phrase that he used when he said he wore the HMV shirt to work like a footballer strolled onto the pitch in his kit. There was a certain sense of passion I always encountered in HMV that was sorely lacking from other establishments. I first started visiting HMV Newcastle regularly in 2012 and the genuine knowledge of the staff stood out from a typical high street chain. I mean, granted, I’m not sure I’d ever strike up a conversation with someone about my Whopper in Burger King but I do think that stores like Game have never really employed staff with the kind of passion for their market I’d of expected.
In 2013 I watched on as, having already worked for HMV in Edinburgh during 2008, it looked as if HMV was closing down. Several stores paid staff redundancy, they cashed out their pensions and walked away, yet after two weeks they were getting phone calls asking them to come back. It’s funny now because I suppose in that situation you’d have to see anything as temporary. But as the years began to pass once more you couldn’t help but get comfortable. Yes, it was a new contract, but this was the job you’d held all those years previous. And lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it?
Vinyl is a great passion of mine, but there’s no doubting it’s expensive, with the average record costing anywhere from 20 to 30 pounds. Tesco sell Vinyl, and so do Sainsbury’s, but the selection in HMV is unrivaled. And unlike cassette – or even CD – it’s relatively difficult to just walk out the door with Vinyl records under your coat. I’m not saying they’re theft proof, I’m sure some have tried, but it would be a lot more challenging than your average Blu Ray. When HMV announced the administrators in 2013 several thousand flocked to stores in the space of days, purchasing goods that were discounted up to 80%, sales which ironically held a part in saving the company. But this time you have to imagine that HMV simply doesn’t own their stock, that so much of it is held on credit, agreements made that ensure closing the store would result in that stock being handed back to its legal owners.
I remember when HMV sold iPhone in 2009 and people were quick to blame expansion like this as the reason for its downfall. The “rebranding” in 2013 promised that they’d be reevaluating their position in the market. I know that in 2015 they were reporting financial profits and their Vinyl sales had an exceptional profit margin. You didn’t have to be a staff member to know this, an article dated from September 2018 explains that HMV had outsold Britain’s four biggest supermarkets combined, and was experiencing a 27% surge in sales. The same article also quotes HMV’s profits before tax at 8 million in 2017 compared to 10.7 in 2016.
Reading this article you wouldn’t imagine it was only a few weeks ago. So what happens in just a few weeks that threaten the jobs of 2,200+ people and countless other distributors and marketing chains? If we do live in a world where Amazon is being told by the consumer that, while it has its place, they prefer the physical touch – why has HMV struggled to get through another Christmas?
The largest part of my belief is that credit can only be extended for so long, and that although certain elements have performed well, the sales of DVD and Blu Ray have massively fallen. When I visited my local store last night I considered purchasing Rick and Morty Season 3 (Pickle Rick!) but sadly reminded myself that I would be spending 20 pound for something already available as part of my Netflix package. There’s even an argument to be had that downloading illegal files is more time consuming then just powering up Netflix, Prime, Hulu or whatever you fancy and scrolling for something to watch.
On the same token, Spotify can be told what to play by Alexa, so why do we need to purchase a CD with limited capacity for playback or – god forbid – fill an MP3 player. Why spend money on an iTunes account when their streaming services will simply play you an unlimited amount of music, whatever your mood or your feelings, and you can toss away that music just as soon as you’ve found it. I could write another article on that alone. But the point is that it does impact the way we spend our money. A friend of mine has a car that he uses his CD player in, and if it wasn’t for this device and the fact he too used to work in a retail store, he tells me confidentially he’d never buy another album that wasn’t on Vinyl.
When it comes to the rows of Funko Pop vinyl and T Shirts, HMV is leading the charge, but the reality of what people will buy is far different. Regardless, I’m hoping my colleagues are able to begin this year with a sprinkle of hope and that even if the worst doesn’t happens they find themselves back on their feet as soon as possible.
McBusted – The Ultimate Supergroup Metro Radio Arena April 28th 2014
“I’m Looking for Tom Fletcher – and a clean pair of pants!”
McBusted are, according to the PR displayed upon the Metro Radio arena site, the “ultimate super group” and consist of the merging of both Busted and McFly. Both bands have had a clear amount of success on their own but when forces are combined it leads to a nationwide arena tour in which tickets sell out in 300 seconds flat. My girlfriend has been screaming about this gig for weeks – she’s got McFly lyrics tattooed on her back – and she’s also a little bit cranky that I’ve just walked in for free!
Support tonight comes from three up and coming acts, up and coming because I’ve never heard of them before, which is a real shame as they all possess some serious talent – serious enough for me to give a considerable word count appearance to them all in my write up. Young Brando has a sound not unlike a young Pearl Jam meeting Elbow – a combination few will understand – but which nobody should ignore. E of E (featuring a Newcastle native on drums) take to the stage performing Nirvana’s “Smell’s Like Teen Spirit” quickly combined with the lyrics of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” and the track works exceptionally well.
While E of E have a logo resembling Van Halen and a sound not unlike them either its “perfect crossover rock” is followed – well, perfectly – by 3 Dudes. This band is comprised of three young men who look like they’re probably not even young enough to drink their first beer here, never mind their native South Carolina. The crowd is getting fairly anxious and the band is unfavorably jeered by most of the young women in attendance tonight as they work their way through a cover of Blur’s “Song 2”. Their set – which goes in much too fast for my liking – finishes with an absolutely blinding performance of Sweet’s 1973 anthem “Ballroom Blitz” – it’s Life On Mars all over again as I look to be the sole person in this arena who gets the joke.
A swift turnaround later and McBusted are emerging onstage – a rather ingenious intro video cues a real life De Lorean to bring two of the band members to the podium and “Air Hostess” kicks in before a literal hurricane of female emotion screams the entire building down. In fact, while I won’t claim to be a hard man by any stretch of the imagination, I will tell you that neither fans of Slayer nor Pantera really quite terrified me just as much as these adoring females here tonight. At one point – quite possibly during the track “Sleeping with the Light On” – I’m punched in the back of the head by an overly excited fan that I just “got in the way of!”
There’s a lot of gimmickry and tongue in cheek antics tonight, one of the band members mentions that both Cheryl Cole and Ant & Dec are in attendance, but neither can be confirmed – and it’s clear that by the time a full sized UFO helps the band land “in the round” to play a short portion of the set towards the back end of the arena we’re seeing probably the most well oiled production touring in the UK at the moment.
References to Tom Fletcher’s wedding speech – a video which nicely cued up “Crash the Wedding” as one band member wore a wedding dress onstage – and Russell Crowe seemed to be taken well by the band. They poked fun at each other and attacked their own opinions but the realization was that these men are, whether you like it or not, rich beyond their wildest dreams and don’t mind taking the piss out of themselves in the name of revenue.
As I left the arena that night I felt a strange sense of entertainment – “All About You” and “Year 3000” are great Pop songs, even if I abhor the genre, and while it might not be my own personal taste – you can’t deny the skill of these five men to give those in attendance one of the best performances of their lives. And then repeat that process almost 35 times over for the rest of the dates.
The other day I found myself in HMV while my parents visited in the run up to Christmas. As it was a festive occasion, my parents had suggested we purchase a gift, something they could enjoy wrapping and leaving under the tree for me before their return to France. Not being one to ever miss out on a present I gladly accepted and proceeded to rummage through a number of my mental ‘wish lists’ attempting to come up with something I’d like to physically obtain.
As I proceeded to leaf through the copious amount of Vinyl on offer I realised just how far HMV have evolved. December 2012 seems like a distant memory, but more tenured employees of HMV will remember the time well, as it spelt a certain end to the company. At the time, economists took great pride in appearing on news programs, telling us just how obsolete a store like HMV was in today’s marketplace. And yet, it remains. The store I was standing in, in Gateshead’s Metro Centre, had recently located to a more premier retail location and a new store, in Boston Lancashire, opens its doors in the very unit its predecessor was forced to close in March 2013.
In many respects, it’s hardly surprising that HMV has managed to remain, but commendable and worthy of praise all the same. It’s current business model meant that more high priced items like phones, electronics and games took a back seat; while shelves were recently filled with comics, collectables and even Vinyl. Having worked for the company briefly in 2009 and again in 2013, I defiantly experienced some of this change first hand. Vinyl itself presented something quite unique; as if we’d suddenly travelled back in time and embraced a format which should – by all rights – be extinct. Just as many analysts argue HMV should be.
Compact Disc has been a regular fixture in the marketplace since the late 80s, swiftly seeing off competition from Mini Disc, VHS and even Laserdisc; they even buried Vinyl considerably in an episode of Tomorrow’s World recorded around 1992. Whereas a lot of music fans have embraced the digital revolution a decade ago, retailers are limited in their selections, admitting that embracing MP3’s and Spotify subscriptions would leave them out of a job. So CD has found a bizarre and unchallenged equilibrium; until the return of Vinyl. Asides from their popularity with collectors, their physical appeal, their openness to customisation (who doesn’t love a good picture disc?) there’s also an exceptionally unique quality to Vinyl which makes it a more attractive proposition for retailers; it’s practically impossible to steal.
Consider for a moment walking into a store on a cold Christmas day and shoving a cassette tape into your pocket. Even a CD would fit snuggly into an inside pocket without much effort. Vinyl, on the other hand, presents twelve inches of self-resistance to petty theft; for both customers and staff alike, making it the perfect product. In 2017 HMV predicted its most successful year of Vinyl sales in almost 20, thanks in part to the efforts of mainstream artists like Ed Sheeran and Noel Gallagher embracing the format, with UK sales for that year topping four million.
In 2018 this trend continues, with the average purchase of Vinyl made by a consumer younger than those purchasing CDs, according to information from the website Kantar. According to their estimates, the overall value of the vinyl market in the UK for the latest quarter (in the 12 weeks to 1 July) was £25 million. 420,000 people bought a vinyl record in this period, up by 6.6% vs. Q1 (that is, the 12 weeks to 1 April). And this is despite the evident proof that not all collectors of Vinyl have the means to play them.
What might be even more remarkable is that this trend has led to a number of other ‘Grave Formats’ returning to the fold. Swedish band Ghost released their latest album ‘Prequelle’ as well as their live compilation ‘Ceremony and Devotion’ on Vinyl, but perhaps more surprising is their choice to release it on 8 Track Cassette. Although a limited release, initially available through the bands website and the result of Spotify giveaways, their operations are not unique to just cult bands – with Metallica remastering their classic ‘And Justice for All’ album and releasing a special cassette version; which is available to purchase through Amazon and was also stocked in HMV alongside a Nirvana cassette release earlier this year.
The introduction of the cassette tape by Philips in 1963 would lead to it becoming one of the most influential ways people consume music for over 30 years, and yet, it was somewhat ironically never intended never to rival the audio quality of the existing larger tape formats. Once Sony released a portable cassette player called the Walkman in 1979, such anti-taping arguments were more or less dismissed by the general public. Complete with portable headphones, the Walkman encouraged a generation of music fans to take their sounds with them wherever they went, and the advent of the boom box, which featured dual cassette decks, provided portability and seemingly encouraged music duplication through its design. By 1983 it was cassettes which outsold Vinyl.
And yet, as I made my selection that evening in HMV, my father looked on slightly baffled as to why – at 63 – it was his 33-year-old son who was purchasing albums on Vinyl, Cassette and 8 Track in 2018. Everything it would seem, has its place.