Oberst record sales good for No. 19 (and vinyl’s impact); See Through Dresses, Simon Joyner tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:55 pm May 30, 2014
See Through Dresses at The Waiting Room, Nov. 30, 2013. The band kicks off its summer tour tonight at O'Leaver's.

See Through Dresses at The Waiting Room, Nov. 30, 2013. The band kicks off its summer tour tonight at O’Leaver’s.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Billboard is reporting that first week sales of Conor Oberst’s Upside Down Mountain came in at roughly 11,000 units, enough to put him on top of the Folk charts.

Conor Oberst starts at No. 6 on Top Rock Albums and scores his first No. 1 on Folk Albums with “Upside Down Mountain” (11,000),” says the Billboard article. “It’s Oberst’s first title credited to his name alone (as opposed to his moniker Bright Eyes, or Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band) since his eponymous album in 2008, which debuted and peaked at No. 3 on Top Rock Albums. “Mountain” is Oberst’s first major-label set, released on Nonesuch/Warner Bros. He crowned Top Rock Albums in 2007 with Bright Eyes’ “Cassadaga,” which also earned him his highest rank on the Billboard 200 (No. 4).

According to SoundScan data, the Upside Down Mountain came in at No. 19 in overall sales with 10,674 units sold last week. FYI, Coldplay’s Ghost Stories was No. 1 selling 382,665 units. Mike Fratt, general manager at Homer’s Records, said Oberst would have finished higher on the sales charts had his vinyl been available — apparently it wasn’t and isn’t.

“There was a production issue, so vinyl is still not at retail,” Fratt said. “Just checked WEA b2b and (the record is) still not in stock. So, that hurt sales. Maybe as much as 4,000 to 5,000 units.” That would have been enough to push the record to No. 15.

Fratt’s estimate of vinyl sales seemed way high to me — 5,000 units would have represented about a third of the record’s total sales had it been available. But Fratt says his estimate is right on.

“Vinyl for an artist like Conor could be as high as 40 percent of first week sales,” he said.  “There have been a a handful of indie releases in the last year where the vinyl share has exceeded the CD or digital component. These have been releases that have sold less than 10k total for the first week. Vinyl now represents approx 30 percent of an indie store’s sales now.”

Fratt added that in Omaha alone, Upside Down Mountain sold 140 units, according to Soundscan.

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Onto the weekend. Two good local shows tonight.

At fabulous O’Leaver’s, See Through Dresses kicks off its 2014 Summer Tour in support of the self-titled debut LP released last fall. Opening is personal faves Gordon along with Worn Out, which I think is the band formerly known as Adtrita fronted by the man known as Steve Micek formerly of the band The Stay Awake (I’m making a massive assumption about Worn Out based solely on the fact that the link on the show’s Facebook invite for Worn Out goes to the Adtrita bandcamp page)(And you know what happens when you assume?) $5, 9:30 p.m.

Also tonight, Simon Joyner opens for Portland’s Marisa Anderson (Mississippi Records). Also on the bill is Mike Schlesinger. $8, 9 p.m.

Unless I’m misreading the data, that’s it for this weekend. Let me know if I’m missing something. And a Denny Lewis used to say, ‘Good living to ya.’

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Are record collectors the same as comic book collectors? (in the column); Jake Bellows tonight…

Category: Blog,Column,Interviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:56 pm January 9, 2014

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

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 tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

First published in The Reader, Jan. 8, 2014. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

* * *

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.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Homer’s, Lips score big at Record Store Day (but not according to Soundscan); Live Review: The Drums, Craft Spells; Dim Light tonight…

Category: Blog,Interviews,Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:08 pm May 2, 2012
The Drums at The Waiting Room, May 1, 2012.

The Drums at The Waiting Room, May 1, 2012.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

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.

* * *

Craft Spells at The Waiting Room, May 1, 2012.

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.

* * *

Snake Island headlines a show tonight at The Waiting Room with Lightning Bug, Dim Light and  Swamp Walk. $5, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.