Tag Archives: Vinyl

Burying The Formats

“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.

Now where did I put that Mini Disc…

The End of HMV, Part 2

‘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.

https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-6222335/Now-thats-record-HMV-sells-Britains-vinyl-CDs.html

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.

Bumblebee (2018)


It’s fair to say that I’ve recently fallen out of touch with the latest cinema releases. Work commitments have met that I haven’t been obsessing as much as I hoped. Hearing of Bumblebee long before actually seeing it, I was aware this project existed, but given the lack of a now traditional Star Wars release at Christmas it seemed that this ideal summer blockbuster had been delayed to fill the void. Whether or not this film had actually been purposefully delayed, I’m not sure, but I did find it amusing that with the Christmas decorations all around us we went to see a movie set in the height of summer.

Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is a young woman working at a summer’s fair in 1987. Grieving the loss of her father and listening to The Smiths, Charlie spends her time obsessing over an old Mustang she owns in the garage, hoping that the open road will bring freedom and change from suburban life and her mother’s new boyfriend. In many respects, it’s a very atypical script, but I did find it was written with a view to this being 2018. Supporting character Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr) is not your typical “boy next door” and Charlie – although sometimes jealous of others – is not outwardly looking for fame or popularity.

There are several scenes in which you’d expect the typical Shia Le Beouf attitudes, and yet they’re not forthcoming, so as Tears for Fears blasts from the tape deck in the Volkswagen you remember all the fun you can have with your clothes on for a change. In an era of ‘Me Too’ it’s actually rather refreshing to see some elements adapted and incorporated into the film, but it does drag you a little out of reality, and also reminds you just how ridiculous (and possibly dated and even sexist) Shia making moves on Megan Fox was in the original film. The jury’s still out on that.

Into this rather interesting mix comes Bumblebee, fresh from the war on Cybertron, which provides G1 Transformer fans like me with their greatest few minutes on film in the franchise so far. I’ll say early in my review that this film is worth watching but it’s the scenes on Cybertron – which in themselves amount to a relative sprinkling – that bring the film together. Cameos from Cliffjumper, Shockwave, Soundwave, Ravage and Arcee are just the beginning as we learn some vital clues as to B-127’s original mission.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this film was the minimal casting. Asides from Bumblebee and a few cameos, the most predominant involvement comes from two no name Decepticons. To be fair, they do have names, but I found it rather unusual that a female Decepticon would be so well positioned as to climb the ranks in the organization. I’m not being sexist, it’s just that any G1 Transformers fan will tell you that Arcee was about the only female Transformer with a back story; and she was an Autobot!

Shatter and Dropkick (don’t look them up, they don’t have any linage) are introduced as new one shot characters and, to be fair to 2018, it’s a refreshing change. My feeling is that they’re soldiers on a mission and we’re not necessarily dealing with a command line here, which makes the story far less contained then it could have been, and I actually think that’s a real bonus. The appearance of Blitzwing early in the movie is something that caught me off guard, but I was pleased that he was at least given his real name, if not that he used the colours of Jetfire – something that could have made for a really interesting plot dynamic.

The film is set in California and looks glorious, even if it limits the use of urban areas due to the timeframe of the plot, but at least one shot of the Golden Gate Bridge from the coastline is enough to put on a postcard. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a real lack of money with this film, but I think this easily makes it my second favorite Transformer film after Michael Bay’s original – something I remember adoring so much about that first installment. There are so many glorious nuggets of 80s culture that I don’t want to ruin it for you, but look out for that moment where Sammy Hagar is playing on the radio and there’s a scene in the tunnel from Back to the Future. Also, for those film fans, it’s the same song Marty hears as he arrives in an alternative 1985 during the second installment.

Of course, as this film is a prequel, there are some serious plot holes. Sector 7 features in the film primarily through Agent Burns (John Cena) and Dr Powell (John Ortiz) but there’s no mention of either Witwicky or the All Spark and – if I remember correctly – it was Sector 7 who built the Hoover Dam around the All Spark and MBE1, that is, Lord Megatron. His complete absence from this film is unsurprising but it’s also interesting that nobody from Sector 7 – especially upon encountering the Decepticons for the first time – doesn’t believe they bear a striking resemblance to a creature that’s been in the basement since 1907.

Looking past plot holes like this, and the one in which Ratchet is still trying to fix the vocal processor Bumblebee had damaged (try ripped apart) almost 15 years after it was first lost, you actually do have a really good film. The soundtrack is nothing short of phenomenal and the first twenty minutes of the film paint a picture that between Duran Duran, Bon Jovi and The Smiths we really must be in the 80s…though I myself took a real shine to the scene in which we take a moment to appreciate that Vinyl truly is better to cassette while Bumblebee watches The Breakfast Club on VHS. Oh nostalgia, you’ve done it again.

Private Photography

I’ve taken some time recently, with a new camera, to capture some photography and I’d like to share it here for the first time. Photography is something I’ve always loved and I just tried to capture some things within my life that make me smile. And find something each session that makes me happy, whether it’s fleeting (because it’s food) or it means a lot more (because it’s radio)

       

Grave Formats

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.