Homer’s General Manager Mike Fratt sent out his annual sales letter to the media a few days ago, and it’s good news: Homer’s business was up 4.5 percent in 2016.
“Vinyl drove the increase, though lifestyle helped,” Fratt said, referencing so-called lifestyle products — i.e., non-recorded products (i.e., trinkets).
Vinyl sales boomed by a robust 18 percent, and new vinyl sales overtook new CD sales in gross dollars. That’s because vinyl costs about $25 per unit, while CDs cost on average around $11. In fact, CD sales slumped 2 percent last year at Homer’s partially due to retail price declines, Fratt said. Overall CD unit sales were basically flat, off by only 110 units.
“But unit sales in new CDs were were well over two times that of new vinyl,” Fratt said.
Despite that impressive 4.5 percent year-over-year business increase, Fratt says Homer’s has no plans for expansion in 2017. “Running one great store matters more than a handful of average stores,” he said.
Fratt also had some thoughts on my “vision of 2017” that said vinyl sales will plateau in 2017 nationally. He said that peak won’t be reached until 2019 or 2020.
“While the increase (in vinyl sales) is not as great as the last couple years, it’s still significant,” Fratt said. “Add the fact that boomers are now digging out their turntables and playing records again. It’s really quite stunning how wide the demographic is buying vinyl now. So lots of gas still in the tank on vinyl.”
And, Fratt added, Homer’s sold 150 8-track tapes in 2016. Somehow I can’t see that medium making a return.
Top vinyl sellers for Homer’s in 2016: Twenty One Pilots: Vessel and Blurryface; David Bowie, Blackstar; Adele, 25; Radiohead, Moon Shaped Pool; and Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago.
Top CD sellers for Homer’s: Twenty One Pilots, Blurryface; Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome; Melanie Martinez, Cry Baby; Chris Stapleton, Traveller; Kevin Gates, Islah; and David Bowie, Blackstar.
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Todd and Orenda Fink as seen in negativeland…
Closeness, the dreamy electronic duo of Orenda and Todd Fink, will release their debut EP, Personality Therapy, Feb. 24 on Graveface Records. The Savannah label counts Xiu, Xiu, Whirr, Dosh, The Appleseed Cast and Black Moth Super Rainbow among its roster.
Check out the first single below. BTW, the Finks will be performing at SXSW this year….
When the first New Music Friday happened last week — forever changing release date for new albums from Tuesdays to Fridays — I asked Homer’s General Manager Mike Fratt for his take on the change. Here’s what he had to say, via email:
“I fought very hard against this while on the Music Business Association board. The idea came from Universal’s Global head of digital sales. There was no research to support this move and when we pushed back they presented this trumped up nonsense they called research. Funny to see it mentioned in the NPR piece as it was total bullshit.
“I am against removing a traffic driver from the middle of the week to the weekend. As the face of the fight against this I was on the cover of the Wall Street Journal back in November of 2014.
“It is stupid to move the dependency to just the weekend and to move away from the release date we shared with books, movies, comics, video games, etc. Doing so creates logistics issues for our suppliers, who ship all the products to stores together. Now they will have to manage new release shipments twice a week to accommodate music separate from the other categories.
“There is also concern about sales. Currently, if a new release blows up stores can easily restock for the weekend. Now, if something blows up on Friday there will be no restocking ’til Tuesday at the earliest. Dumb.
“We were for a global release day, just not Friday. We (U.S. retail) and the trade association for music retailers in the UK (ERA) agreed to both use Monday in an effort to keep it during the week but align to one day.
“Universal threatened to leave the Music Biz Association if the board approved the move to Monday as they were invested in it being Friday. I had the votes on the board lined up to approve Monday. That threat would have crushed Music Biz Assoc as Universal is the largest member and pays the largest dues. I was so disgusted by this unprofessional action that, after nine years on the board, I resigned.
“Soundscan has yet to get all retailers to alter their reporting of sales dates (during the week) to reflect this move to Friday through Thursday from the current Sunday to Saturday, so the first eight weeks’ sales numbers will be royally fucked up and very likely just made up.”
I asked Fratt, in this new streaming age does the release date matter to anyone except brick-and-mortar stores? Are we headed toward an age when music is released digitally whenever? His response:
“Regarding your question about digital, this aligns digital and physical even more so. So, I don’t see digital going rogue and releasing on different days than physical. But pay for digital album sales are falling faster than physical. And if all indie stores sales were actually counted (only 60 report to soundscan) we would see physical sales are actually pretty healthy.
“Streaming is the new radio, as you so often write. It creates awareness for releases, artists, music. We’re seeing it positively impact physical sales.”
A post script to all of this:
Last Friday the Saddle Creek Shop, located in north downtown in the Slowdown complex, announced it no longer will stock non-Saddle Creek Records titles, and that the store will only be open one day a week — Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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In other news, Protomartyr released the first song from their upcoming album, The Agent Intellect, out Oct. 9 on Hardly Art. Check it out.
Saturday is a very special holiday for vinyl record lovers and all fans of recorded music. It’s Record Store Day, that annual event that brings out music fans by the droves eager to snatch up as many valuable, limited-edition sheets of plastic as they can find… or afford.
Almost Music in Benson — a veritable shrine to used vinyl — is going all out again this year. The store opens at 10 a.m. with live music beginning at noon: Here’s the schedule:
Sun-Less Trio 12:00-12:30
Kate Berreckman 12:45-1:15
Dereck Higgins 1:30-2:00
The Broke Loose 2:15-2:45
Wagon Blasters 3:00-3:30
Andy Berkley 3:30-4:00
Those Far Out Arrows 4:45-5:15
Big Slur 5:30-6:00
Matt Tillwick 6:00-6:30
Dead Flower Preservation Club Band 6:30-7:00
Well Aimed Arrows 7:15-7:45
Brad Smith, Almost Music’s proprietor, promises food and drink along with RSD exclusive releases, new T-shirt designs by Robert Cook and, of course plenty of used vinyl and new arrivals.
Now if only someone could do something about the forecast. The weatherman says it’s going to rain tomorrow. Then again, they said it was going to rain yesterday afternoon but there was nary a drop as I lounged on my patio with an ice cold Blue Moon.
Certainly the folks who will be waiting outside of Homer’s down in the Old Market tomorrow morning will be praying for dry weather. But nothing short of gale-force winds is going to stop that dedicated horde from pouncing once Homer’s General Manager Mike Fratt swings wide the door at 10 a.m.
While they stand, Fratt says line-waiters will be serenaded by Saddle Creek Records band Twinsmith (starting at 9:15), and there’s talk of donuts, breakfast burritos and coffee to keep their energy levels up.
“Of course we ordered a gargantuan amount of product this year, even more than last year,” Fratt said of RSD merchandise. Fratt rattled off a long list of special edition merch that Homer’s is offering tomorrow in this week’s Lazy-i Podcast (listen to it here or below). Among the goodies is an exclusive pressing of 311’s Hydroponic, originally a cassette-only local release. Fratt said it was pressed in small quantities for the 311 Fan Club. “They allowed us to buy some directly from them, so we’ll have 50 of those,” Fratt said. “We’ll be the only retailer in the country with that item.”
Among the items Fratt listed in the podcast is RSD releases by Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Citizen Dick (fake band from the movie Singles), Graham Parsons, Black Keys, Freedy Johnston, Bob Dylan, Foo Fighters, White Stripes, The Replacements, Miles Davis, Elvis Presley. Fratt said there is somewhere around 450 releases, and he bought so much stock that he’s “nervous.”
What record store owner wouldn’t be when you consider that vinyl is “one way” and stores can’t return unsold stock. Fratt said Homer’s still has some RSD merch from previous years in the bins. In the podcast, he talks about the risks involved in RSD for retailers, efforts to keep product out of the marketplace before the official RSD start time, and the impact on small labels. Give it a listen.
Along with Almost Music and Homer’s, records stores Drastic Plastic and the Saddle Creek Shop also are participating in Record Store Day Saturday.
Drastic Plastic Records (DPR) is releasing fan-favorite songs by Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, and Tones on Tail with the release of Daniel Ash’s album, Stripped. “The double record pressed on 180 gram yellow vinyl, features these songs reimagined and re-worked by Ash into infectious, synth-driven, dance music and also includes one new song titled, ‘Come On,‘” said DPR in a release.
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So what’s going on this weekend?
Tonight (Friday) Super Ghost plays at The Barley Street Tavern with Blue Bird and Two Drag Club. $5, 9 p.m.
Also tonight Mat Shoare headlines at fabulous OLeaver’s with Uh Oh and Nathan Ma and the Rosettes. $5, 9:30 p.m.
Saturday is Earth Day (in Omaha anyway). The Earth Day folks are having their usual bash in Elmwood Park all day, and it includes the usual live stage. The most notable performer on the schedule is McCarthy Trenching at 3 p.m. It’s free.
And then Saturday night is a show dear to me heart: The Hear Nebraska Vol. 3 Compilation release show at The Waiting Room, just in time for Record Store Day. Headlining the festivities is Ladyfinger, who’s joined by the beloved Jake Bellows and hip-hop act Both.
HN Compilation Vol. 3 features tracks from all three of the above bands, along with tracks by John Klemmensen and the Party, Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers, Cursive, M34n St33t, Halfwit, Outlaw Con Bandana and The Bottle Tops. You need this limited edition vinyl. Pick up a copy at the show. Cover is $7, and it starts at 9 p.m.
Also Saturday night, Clarence Tilton celebrates the release of their debut CD at the Reverb Lounge. Opening is Monday Mourners and Kelly Maxwell. $7, 9 p.m.
Finally Sunday night Captured Tracks artist The Soft Moon a.k.a. Luis Vasquez plays at the Reverb Lounge with Noveller. $12, 9 p.m.
That’s all I got. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend.
Check out a brand new episode of the Lazy-i Podcast (above)! In this week’s episode:
— Saturday is Record Store Day! Homer’s GM Mike Fratt talks about what his store has to offer, the promotion’s impact on smaller labels and risks involved with stores going “all in” with RSD merch.
— Live Reviews of BUHU and Peach Kelli Pop.
-– Modest Mouse headlines a strong Maha Music Festival line-up. Will this the best Maha ever?
— The list of the hottest shows happening this weekend in Omaha.
— Music from Modest Mouse, Alvvays, Wagon Blasters, BUDU, Peach Kelli Pop, Oquoa, John Klemmensen and the Party, and Clarence Tilton.
It’s 21 wasted minutes of your life you’ll never get back, but who cares, it’s free. Check it out.
I spent all day yesterday cooped up in my house watching bad pre-Super Bowl television and playing Trivia Crack on my phone. That’s the extent of my weekend. It wasn’t a total loss. I did score some very fine original artwork created by Brian Tait, which I spent the daylight hours hanging. Tait’s the guy that runs Midtown Art Supply. He also makes great art, including the large, giant possum painting I’m looking at over my shoulder right now.
But what does any of this have to do with music? Maybe this:
Last Friday AV Club published this bit of click-bait called “Vinyl is just a fad, record executives say.” The piece compiled quotes from RCA Records president Tom Corson and Universal Music Distribution general manager Candace Berry pooh-poohing the recent jump in vinyl sales (up 52 percent last year, while digital sales dropped 12.5 percent).
Among the executives interviewed for the story was Saddle Creek Records exec Robb Nansel. Says Nansel about vinyl in the story, “It’s always going to be a niche…Not to be negative about it, but I feel like it’s going to peak, if it hasn’t already.”
Turns out the AV Club story is merely a rehash of this more detailed Rolling Stone article, and the AV Club writer left out the rest of the Nansel’s quote, which was: “From a label perspective, it’s expensive. You’ve got to ship it. There are environmental concerns. But we love vinyl. It’s our preferred format.”
Robb’s “niche” comment sounded eerily like one of my 2015 predictions, which went something like: “The vinyl craze will slow, this after a year that saw 49 percent increase in U.S. vinyl sales vs. 2013 numbers. The growth will level off as younger music fans refuse to embrace a medium they see as an interesting but inconvenient gimmick that costs twice as much (or more) than what they pay to download the same album (if they pay at all).”
Both my comments and Nansel’s raised the eyebrow of Homer’s general manager Mike Fratt. Fratt said (on his Facebook timeline) that the AV Club article caused him to spit out his drink in laughter. In response to my 2015 prediction, Fratt emailed me saying. “Vinyl is still on the way up and we don’t anticipate a peak until 2017 or 2018. 16 to 24 year olds make up 22 percent of the vinyl buying public. This means they will remain invested in the format for another 10 years until they start getting married and have babies which can curtail music/purchases/discretionary items.”
Fratt went on: “Right now vinyl pressing plants cannot meet demand so as more come on line this year sales will continue to increase. Also, less than 100 indie stores report sales to Soundscan, so actual sales are WAY under-represented. Soundscan reports 6 million; (the) real number is over 10 million. This holiday season we sold more turntables than the last three years combined and reports are there is no stock to replenish stores as they sold so well everywhere this holiday season. I believe three or more vinyl titles sold over 100,000 units in 2014. Pretty amazing.”
Amazing indeed. Only time will tell who’s right in predicting the future of vinyl. The only thing I have on my side of the argument is personal experience. The few 20-somethings I’ve spoken to who aren’t already vinyl collectors find the idea of acquiring a turntable amusing. They love listening to music, not collecting it. And believe me, there is a distinction.
As a 40-something guy, I grew up with vinyl, switched to CDs, bought a click-wheel iPod and now subscribe to Spotify. That said, when I buy music (and not rent it), I almost exclusively buy vinyl, and then download the album via a digital key that comes in the package. I doubt I’m alone. But then again, I’ve always been a collector, as evidenced by the bookshelves filled with comic books and albums, drawers filled with CDs and the local art hanging on my walls (like those amazing Taits). For many, collecting vinyl is like a fetishist activity — just ask the dudes standing in line outside of Homer’s on Record Store Day.
Where do I listen to the vast majority of my music? On my iPhone, while I’m running, shopping, working. I rarely listen to the vinyl copies of new albums more than a few times because I’m never sitting where my turntable is located very long (unless I’m writing, in which case, I don’t have music on at all). I think that could be the case for most people, especially those who work in an office or go to school. If you want to listen to music during the day, you probably have to take it with you. It’s that necessity that will limit vinyl to a collectors’ market.
I hope I’m wrong; I hope Fratt is right. I’d like nothing more than to see vinyl sales continue to grow, and believe me Nansel would like to see that, too.
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Speaking of music portability, Yahoo! Tech shoots holes in Neil Young’s PonoPlayer High Definition music device, saying it lost in a blind taste test vs. a regular ol’ iPhone. A summary is here at 9-to-5 Mac, that says: “For the blind trial, Pogue assembled 15 people aged 17 to 55, asking them to flip between three songs on the iPhone and PonoPlayer, each song in the device’s best resolution. In separate tests using ‘standard Apple earbuds’ and Sony MDR-7506 headphones, more people preferred the iPhone to ‘Pono’ or ‘neither.’”
Interesting. Reminds me of all the articles comparing vinyl to digital. In the end, can anyone but those with the most expensive audio equipment tell a difference in sound quality?
By now we’ve all seen the Facebook posts that point to articles declaring that not a single album has sold more than a million copies so far this year. The Forbes‘ version doesn’t point any fingers. Instead, it’s usual the person who posted the article that blames streaming (i.e. Spotify) for the downward sales spiral.
First off, it’s only October. We’ve got the entire Christmas season ahead of us. Second of all, the authors seem to forget that Taylor Swift has a record on deck to be released this year. Swift’s latest LP, 1989, will most certainly go platinum in 2014.
But in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter that a flavor-of-the-month pop act hasn’t moved a million copies of their bland-ola music to the great unwashed? Who cares if Beyonce only sold 3/4 of a million copies instead of a million? Does it matter that Adele hasn’t pulled the industry out of its perceived “slump” by releasing an album this year? What does any of this have to do with people who like good music or to your run-of-the-mill indie band? Do mid-sized indie labels care?
The only people who might be shaking in their boots are folks who run record stores, say someone like Mike Fratt, the general manager of Homer’s. So I asked Fratt if the lack of a million seller so far this year matters.
“Does it matter? Well, for online journalists who are all digital, maybe it’s some kind of victory in their ever-present need to bash physical music,” Fratt said. “We’ve been hearing for 15 years that record stores will go out of business. Tired narrative.”
Fratt reiterated that a couple late-2013 releases will likely end up selling a million copies before year’s end. He also pointed to the Swift album, Lorde’s latest, Luke Bryan and Sam Smith releases as possible platinum contenders.
Instead of dwelling on the dark side, Fratt pointed to the continued resurgence of vinyl.
“Vinyl is likely to (sell) over 10 million units this year,” Fratt said. “After a new reporting service to rival Soundscan finally debuts late this year or early next year, we’ll find out vinyl is actually closer to 15 million units annually as Soundscan only pulls data from 61 indie stores. 61! Look at the Record Store Day web site. There are 1,200 listed.”
Fratt said overall business is down 13 percent, but indie stores are only down 2 percent. “The real number is indies are up 2 percent,” he said. “Heck, even our CD biz is up this year.”
Indie sector market share is growing as well, up from 9 percent from a decade ago to 13.5 percent today, Fratt said, and more likely somewhere around 17 percent.
So what about those who say streaming is killing the music business? Fratt said sales of digital downloads are feeling the brunt of the Spotify effect.
“Digital is struggling as more adopt streaming,” Fratt said. “Streaming, as you have written, is the new radio. Data supports that heavy streamers are also very active buyers of physical. We see it every day. But, just like vibrant radio from the ’70s caused many not to buy music because they could listen every day, there is a quantity of streamers that only stream. Those that subscribe, pay for streaming, are even more active purchasers.”
For what it’s worth, I’ve purchased more music so far this year than any post-CD era year, and almost all of it is on vinyl. The packaging, the experience of vinyl albums are special to me, and I believe that’s the case for most serious music fans.
Does that mean that vinyl is the cavalry that will save the industry? No. But I believe there always will be a market for music and music-related “hard assets,” such as vinyl and CDs, if only to support the “collectors market.” People who buy Taylor Swift or Adele records aren’t part of that collectors market, and I have no doubt that if it wasn’t this year that it would be 2016 (Adele’s new one comes out in 2015) when we finally go without a having platinum-selling record by a vanilla-flavored pop star. And it won’t make a bit of difference to anyone.
In this week’s column, a discussion about 2013 music sales and industry trends with Mike Fratt, general manager of Homer’s Records. While national album sales were down, Homer’s enjoyed a double-digit increase in business vs. 2012. Read about it in this week’s issue of The Reader or online right here at thereader.com. Or, since the column is centered on music, you can read it below…
Vinyl Sales Help Homer’s Buck Industry Trend
by Tim McMahan
After spending the last two weeks writing about the current state and predicted future of the music industry, it’s time for a dose of reality in the form of the 2013 Nielsen SoundScan numbers.
Billboard Magazine reported last week that album sales suffered an 8.4 percent decline in 2013, CD sales declined 14.5 percent, even digital music sales declined last year for the first time since the iTunes store swung wide its online doors in 2003. Digital track sales fell 5.7 percent, while digital album sales fell 0.1 percent, all according to SoundScan.
The Billboard story said industry executives concede that “ad-supported and paid subscription services were indeed cannibalizing digital sales.” Call it the Spotify effect. Those same execs went on to say growth in streaming revenue offset the decline in digital sales.
But what about brick-and-mortar? That’s where Mike Fratt comes in. Fratt is the General Manager and buyer at independent record store Homer’s Music, 1210 Howard St. In the face of all the doom and gloom, Fratt said 2013 was a good year for Homer’s.
“Sales were up 10 percent, vinyl was again a big driver, up 40 percent for the year,” Fratt said. “DVDs, gift, accessory and lifestyle sales were also up.” It’s a trend that began in 2010. But it wasn’t all good news for Homer’s. Fratt said CDs saw their first sales decline at his store since 2009, slipping 3 percent.
So is it time to go all-in with vinyl? Not so fast. According to SoundScan, vinyl sales indeed rose from 4.55 million in 2012 to 6 million last year, but that’s only enough to make vinyl 2 percent of all U.S. album sales. CDs are still king of the mountain commanding a whopping 57.2 percent of the market, while digital albums sales comprised 40.6 percent.
Still, Fratt says Homer’s business plan is to continue to focus on vinyl and lifestyle/gift items. “We embarked on a project to replace all our vinyl browsers in 2013 to increase space efficiency and improve merchandising of 7-inch singles,” Fratt said.
In addition, Homers will continue to broaden its CD selection. “We have been adding new distributors that stock imports, budget and rarities,” Fratt said. “Despite potential declining sales (in CDs), customers will still expect a large selection.”
Fratt said streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora actually have driven his sales numbers. Customers often come into his store asking to buy an album that’s streaming on their phone.
He said overall, consumers’ buying habits are shifting. “As mall music stores have disappeared and mass merchants (Target, Walmart, Best Buy) reduce selection to below 1,000 different titles, music buyers are forced online to buy CDs,” he said. “This has also helped the indies.” Billboard reported that indie merchants as a whole saw a nearly 12 percent decline in album sales last year. Fratt said that number was wrong, and closer to a 5 percent decline.
“Right now, SoundScan only pulls sales data from about 60 indies nationwide and attempts to determine total national sales for indies,” he said. “Record Store Day website lists 1,000 stores in the U.S.” Fratt thinks vinyl sales were probably closer to 10 million last year. We won’t know the real numbers until a new media company begins tracking physical and digital sales this year.
I told Fratt I noticed another shift in consumer buying. More and more, record buyers are following a model similar to comic book collectors — they’re buying vinyl and limited edition hard product based on collect-ability (and maybe investment).
I speak from personal experience, as both a record and comic book collector. There is certain vinyl I collect just because I want to own it — Factory Records stuff, early copies of Smiths albums with unique cover art, for example. These are albums I probably will only listen to once, but will display in my house or just want to have. If I want to listen to the actual music, I listen to a digital version.
The amazingly successful Record Store Day in some ways supports my idea — it’s a great way for collectors to find and buy cool collectible limited-edition pieces. But I wonder how many people who buy rare or limited edition stuff actually play the recordings, especially if the music is already available online via Spotify?
The old arguments about purchasing physical seem to be dying away. The “need for a back-up” argument will disappear when people become familiar/comfortable with cloud computing. The “inferior audio quality” argument will eventually fade when technology provides a better, flawless audio file type (which is inevitable). Spotify gives access to nearly everything now, and if you’re a paying user (as I am) you can even listen when you’re away from a wi-fi/cellular connection.
So why buy hard assets like vinyl? Because you want to own it. You collect it. It’s finite. It’s physical in a world where fewer and fewer entertainment options involve physical things. If the above is true, than records stores will become like comic shops. Maybe they already are?
“Collectors certainly make up a strong customer group for us and play a large roll in RSD, but vinyl has become so big, it draws all kinds of customers, both casual and hard-core collector, young and old,” Fratt replied.
He said cloud computing, streaming and cars with internet will impact how people collect and access music, but early adopters (like me) remain a minority. “Over the last few years I’ve read that CD is dead, is dying and will be gone. Yet it is still 60 percent of album sales. So, a lot of people are still buying CDs to listen to and load onto their phone or PC.
“Vinyl is a fad,” Fratt added. “Yet, even a recent iPhone commercial started with the image of a record spinning on a turntable only to have an iPhone set down next to it. It’s 10 million new (vinyl albums) being bought (per year) and another 30 million used trading hands. Somebody’s playing this stuff, not just collecting.
“Collecting occurs in so many categories anymore. What you’re saying is not untrue. I think only a small minority sees it the way you do. Right now. We’ll see how that evolves. Ask me again next year.” I’m sure I will.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tonight at Pageturners Lounge, 5004 Dodge Street, it’s a homecoming of sorts for Nebraska’s favorite wandering musical soul, Jake Bellows. On a brief tour through the Midwest, Jake is taking a evening between gigs to play a show in his hometown. If you have yet to check out Pageturners (and I haven’t, even though it’s been open for more than a year) tonight might be the perfect opportunity. The show is free and starts at 9:30.
Also tonight, Lincoln blues rock guy Josh Hoyer and his band The Shadowboxers are playing at The 21st Saloon, located way the fuck out on 4727 96th St. (south of L on 96th). This is their International Blues Challenge send-off show before they head to Memphis for a battle royale. $10, 6 p.m.
Record Store Day is Saturday. This Saturday. All the usual local shops will be participating (except, of course, for The Antiquarium, which no longer exists). Mike Fratt, who runs Homer’s, said his shop is going “all in” this year.
“We ordered about 45 percent more product compared to last year so we have a lot of product,” he said. “Well into the tens of thousands of dollars worth. We have 20 to 40 of a number of items, so we are really well stocked.”
Some things are heavily allocated, like offerings from Dave Matthews, Moby/Mark Lanegan, Sigur Ros, “so we have only a few of these,” he said. Some items were region specific, meaning primarily for the Southeast, and those items were pressed in very small quantities. Homer’s might not have those.
“Of the 350 or so titles, we probably have 325ish,” Fratt said. “As for the rest of the store, we are stocked in new vinyl and CDs at a level we have not been in almost 10 years.” He said the staff is struggling trying to find places to put all of it. While you’re in the store, check out the new custom-built vinyl browsers.
The store opens at 10 a.m., and rock band Pretty & Nice will perform for those of you who are standing in line at 9. Fratt says they’ll be doling out coffee and donuts for you greedy bastards who get there before the shotgun start.
If you’re into this, it’s worth your time to check out recordstoreday.com and see what’s going to be offered. The releases that caught my attention include a Big Star double 12-inch, Brian Eno releases, new stuff by Bowie, a Husker Du 7-inch, that Moby/Mark Lanegan release, and whatever’s being released by Pulp. Sounds like numbers will be tight on all those items, which means I’ll probably be SOL as there’s no way I’ll be down there by 10 a.m.
I told Fratt that this has to be exciting for he and his staff, like Christmas in April. “Yes, bigger than Christmas,” he said. Ho Ho Ho…
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In this week’s column, Pt. 3 of The Project series, wherein I discuss a homeowner’s trepidation about letting go of his past. It’s in this week’s issue of The Reader and online right here.
My column in The Reader this week focuses on 2012 album sales and includes an interview with Mike Fratt who runs Homer’s Records. I typically don’t include my Reader column here at lazy-i.com, but make exceptions for music-focused commentary (such as this). You can also read the column online at thereader.com right here, or in print in this week’s issue (on stands now):
Over the Edge: The Compact Disc is Alive and Well (for now)
Billboard Magazine last week presented the final music sales numbers for 2012, and it appears to be filled with woe for the future of the compact disc.
The CD, which first became commercially available in 1982, has seen a steady decline first with the emergence of Napster (the first effective mp3 distribution device) in 1999 and then with the launch of Apple’s iTunes (and the invention of the iPod) in 2001 that made downloading digital music files “legitimate.”
But despite the constant heralding of its demise, the compact disc continues to survive, though its pulse weakens ever-so-slightly year after year. Case in point: Billboard reported that for the Year of Our Lord 2012, the sales of physical CDs (according to Nielsen SoundScan) were down a whopping 13 percent compared to 2011, reflecting a decline in U.S. album sales of 4 percent to 315.96 million from 330.57 million in 2011.
While CD sales continued to flounder, digital album downloads continued to increase their share of the overall album sales pie with a 14 percent gain to a record 117.68 million. Says Billboard, 37 percent of all albums sold in 2012 were downloads, up from 31 percent in 2011. For the first time in January 2012, digital surpassed physical with 50.3 percent of all music sales.
You might be scratching your head thinking, “Gee, 315 million albums seems like a lot to me.” Contrast that number with 2001, when Nielsen SoundScan reported CD album sales of 712 million. We’re talking a nearly 50 percent decline in album sales (of any format) in 11 years. It begs the question: Are people listening to less music or simply buying less music because they’re either 1) stealing it or 2) getting it from “free” sources, which could include anything from websites to free streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify?
For a local perspective, we turn (as we always do) to Mike Fratt, general manager and head buyer at Homer’s Records. Fratt said what’s driving the decline in sales over the past two years is the “huge reduction in (physical inventory) and square feet devoted to music retail at mass merchants” like Best Buy and Target.
“This is driving many people to online stores like Amazon,” Fratt said. “Non-traditional sales (online stores, non-music retail, non-mass merchant) biz was way up again this year. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to make up the difference, as many consumers think (record) labels have stopped making CDs. We heard that comment a lot this holiday season.”
In fact, there are no plans to abandon compact disc production before the end of this decade, Fratt said. NARM (not the North American Registry of Midwives but the National Association of Recording Merchants) and the record labels project that sales of compact discs will remain an important part of the total retail music business through the next five years.
The big box stores’ retreat from music sales would seem to be boon for stand-alone record shops. Unfortunately, the shift came too late for many. According to The Wall Street Journal, the number of physical record stores dropped 77 percent between 2000 and 2010 and is expected to decline another 11.6 percent by 2016. HMV, Tower Records, Sam Goody’s and Virgin have all gone the way of the dinosaur.
Meanwhile, there are still about 2,000 independent music stores like Homer’s, according to the Huffington Post. And their sales are growing. Fratt said Homer’s CD sales were up last year in both dollars and units.
“Being up in dollars is significant because the average price of a CD has fallen to nearly $10 as labels have radically reduced prices in the last two years,” Fratt said. “We now have a quarter of our CD inventory below $8 and a third below $10.”
Fratt said music lovers who want to buy an entire album’s worth of music still choose physical over digital 65 percent of the time. “New music (digital sales) is driven by songs,” Fratt said. “Very much like the ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s when 45 rpm’s drove the business before albums took off.”
But the other life blood for independent record stores is vinyl — that’s right, those old-fashioned records that you play with a record player, the format that everyone shoveled dirt over when the CD emerged as the medium of choice in the ‘90s.
For the fifth consecutive year, more vinyl albums were sold than in any other year since SoundScan launched in 1991, reported Billboard. In 2012, 4.55 million vinyl LPs were sold — up 18 percent compared to 2011’s then-record haul of 3.87 million. And 67 percent of those vinyl albums were purchased at independent music stores.
“While some indies are reporting lower CD sales for 2012, everyone was up in vinyl again,” Fratt said, adding that vinyl was “huge at Christmas, but was up all year long.”
So with all this in mind, when was the last time you bought a CD or a vinyl album?
Maybe even more important: When was the last time you printed out a photo you took with your cell phone? When was the last time you printed a letter or clipped a newspaper article? When was the last time you burned a DVD of a home movie? These were all activities we used to do regularly when we felt we needed a physical backup of our digital memories for fear that our computer hard drives would crash and we’d lose it all.
Today we have backups of everything, and backups of backups that reside in the mystical “cloud.” We’re becoming confident that our digital memories are secure (whether they are or not) and are throwing away the backups, clearing out the clutter, selling back our compact discs.
More than anything, it’s this new confidence in digital security that could kill off the compact disc once and for all as we begin to walk the digital tightrope without a net.
Some additional thoughts….
Fratt says that vinyl now represents almost 20 percent of Homer’s sales, and that they’re looking at building new fixtures to hold more vinyl product in the same space. As for labels going “digital only,” Fratt said a record label is more likely to go out of business before going that route. “There are still infrastructure costs associated with digital,” he said. “It is not cheaper to be digital-only.”
In addition to that, I’m not sure why a label would want to go “digital only.” I guess it would still control licensing and get a portion of the download revenue. But why would an artist want to be on a digital-only record label? The label maybe would pay for an album’s recording costs (studio time, producer) and help with promoting the album. The label also could help sell the artist’s publishing rights to television, movies and Madison Avenue. Certainly there’s cache to being associated with a brand like Saddle Creek, Sub Pop or Matador. Plus the artist could leverage the label’s connections for booking, tour management, etc.
Beyond that, I don’t know. These days a bands can record and release their own material digitally rather cheaply, but what good is having a record available for download if no one knows it exists?
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If you ever wondered what kind of hi-jinx bands get into on the road, read Icky Blossoms’ tour diary, written by the frontwoman Sarah Bohling, who proves if the rock and roll thing doesn’t work out she can always have a successful career as a writer (or strip club owner). The article is right here at Paste.com.
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Tonight at The House of Loom Chris Aponick presents Wintertime Beach Party with bands Sun Settings and Dads. This will be the last-ever performance by Sun Settings, according to the band’s Facebook page:
“It has been decided that we took Sun Settings to an end. Over the last year we did some Big things and we would like to take the next step and do even bigger things. Since everybody has different opinions, the best thing we can do is disband and move on to form new ideas. Don’t worry though there will be NEW NEW NEW things from the members of sun setting…“
Come bid them adieu tonight at House of Loom. The show starts at 9 p.m. and is absolutely free. More info here, including apparel suggestions.
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Lazy-i Best of 2012
It’s winding down, folks. Only a few short days left to enter to win a copy of the Lazy-i Best of 2012 compilation CD. The collection includes songs by The Intelligence, Simon Joyner, Ladyfinger, Twin Shadow, Ember Schrag, Tame Impala, Paul Banks, Cat Power and a ton more. The full track listing is here (scroll to the bottom). To enter the drawing send an email with your name and mailing address to email@example.com. Hurry! Deadline is Jan. 15.
Just how big was Record Store Day last weekend for Homer’s. Let’s just say sales were at “historic” levels, said Homer’s General Manager Mike Fratt. “We are extremely thankful for all the customer support and all the excitement they create,” he said. “It’s very enjoyable to see fans come out in such large numbers.”
RSD has become a marketing phenomenon of unequaled proportions. The only thing you can compare it to is, say, Black Friday or when Apple launches a new iPhone. It’s huge, not only for Homer’s but for every independent record store in the country. “But with that comes considerable risk as purchases of RSD exclusive product can amount to tens of thousands of dollars, and it’s all sold one way. No returns,” Fratt said. “It is amazing how big an event Record Store Day has become, and it continues to spread internationally. Europe, Asia, South America, Australia. And the indies did this. It dominates Google trends in the week prior, is covered by all major media, and generates positive karma for music and the music business.”
To give you an idea of the enormity for Homer’s: “We brought in more product this year than the last three years combined,” Fratt said. “(It) freaked us out how much we bought, but it turned out well. We sold 66 percent of what we brought in, and have been able to reload on some titles we sold out of since then.”
Among the huge sellers was The Flaming Lips’ Heady LP, which Fratt said not only sold out quickly in Omaha, but sold enough copies that it would have charted in the top 40 on the Billboard charts, and we’re talking about a vinyl release. The key phrase in the last sentence is “would have,” because Fratt said Soundscan somehow didn’t properly report sales on RSD.
“Soundscan showed many cities reported none (of the Lips record) sold (including in Omaha), although we sold all 30 of ours,” Fratt said. “In LA, Soundscan showed just 183 sold when all stores there reported selling all they had, which would have sent the number into the hundreds. Soundscan showed sales in Detroit of negative 400.” Yeah, you read that right.
“Not only did it damage reporting on the three or four titles that would have hit the charts, it also ends up unreporting total impact of RSD, by probably enough to push overall weekly sales up another percent or two — a significant achievement on the part of the indie sector.”
It’s a fuck-up literally of national proportions at a time when the record industry — and indie music stores — can ill afford one. But was Soundscan’s misreporting just a one-time thing or a symptom of a systemic problem? Fratt said the indie music coalition is meeting in LA next week to address the problem. “We are not only concerned about RSD, but ongoing reporting errors,” Fratt said. “Could this loss of reporting move the total national year to date sales up 1 or 2 percent? That is significant if true. No one really knows yet.”
Regardless, there’s no denying that last weekend was wildly successful. Cold hard cash does not lie. “The Indie Retail community saw a 40% increase from last week,” Fratt said. “The overall business conditions were up 3% from last week – which is cool because mass merchants were about even and digital scans were down about 4%.” If that isn’t proof that vinyl is making an impact, nothing is.
While I have your attention, Fratt wanted to pass along some upcoming special events at his store, including in-store performances by My Darkest Days on May 22 and Tech n9ne on May 27, along with listening parties for Beach House and Best Coast May 14 and Sigor Ros May 28.
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Craft Spells at The Waiting Room, May 1, 2012.
Briefly… I am a sucker for ’80s electronic music a la Factory Records bands such as Joy Division and New Order. So last night’s show at The Waiting Room clearly was right up my alley.
Opening band Part Time set the mood with a micro-set that lasted less than a half hour. So shortcthat it was hard to absorb what they were doing on stage. Add to that the fact that they seemed to just want to get it over with didn’t help matters.
They were followed by Craft Spells, who sounded like, well, a cross between New Order and Joy Division. It was all there in the oh so familiar guitar lines, synth parts and up-tempo rhythm section that was straight off of Brotherhood. It’s one thing to be derivative of a style, it’s another to wholly embody it. There’s no question what these guys were trying to do, and they did it well, though I couldn’t tell you a word of what the frontman was mumbling into the microphone during their short set. I can tell you they were the best band on stage last night.
Here I was thinking I might get home by 11, but The Drums put on a long, if not adventureless, performance. With a sound that undoubtedly has its origins in the ’80s, it hinted at something slightly more modern (as in The Strokes). Blond frontman Jonny Pierce spent most of the set sashaying around the darkened stage vocally emulating Bono. In fact, their music tried to harken back to very early U2, but lacked that band’s anthemic hubris.
Watching Pierce skip and sway through his set without engaging the audience made me remember what made Bono such an incredible frontman back in U2’s glory days — he brought his audience along with him on every song. He was mesmerizing, nearly confrontational, determined to make everyone in the audience care about what he was singing about. Pierce could have been singing words out of a telephone book, which is a shame because The Drums lyrics deserve more effort than that.
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Snake Island headlines a show tonight at The Waiting Room with Lightning Bug, Dim Light and Swamp Walk. $5, 9 p.m.