Music lovers are taking to buying their music online instead of than buying CDs, records and vinyl’s in record stores. Our Price, Zavvi, Music Zone, Tower Records and Woolworths are some of the national music selling-firms that have disappeared from the high streets. It’s not just chain shops that are closing. But independent record stores are struggling to keep their doors open to the public as well. Research has shown that nearly three in four independent record shops in Britain have closed down in the last ten years. John Smith, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, said: “When independent retailers go out of business it threatens the existence of small music companies that rely on these shops to promote new artists.”
However, it is a different story for one city. From rock to jazz, dance to soul, Leeds is the best place to be if you are in need of some brilliant musical retail therapy. Leeds has over ten independent record shops across the town. They are standing their ground and don’t seem to be going anywhere either. But why are the record stores in Leeds so well established?
“We stay competitive, have good regular communication with customers and are friendly and unpretentious,” Richard Adam, from The Norman Records Music Emporium, explains “If you do anything for 20 years people are going to find out about it.”
The Norman Records Music Emporium was founded in 1996 and was initially advertised in the back of Record Collector magazine – this was, of course, before the internet. The store slowly built up from there. Richard wasn’t too sure exactly why the store started but thinks it’s: “probably an alternative to getting a proper job.”
Ian from Crash Records in Leeds, thinks that their store is well-known for the: “community spirit, and friendships… we have the same people come in everyday and week buying music on traditional formats.”
If it wasn’t for the local and loyal number of people who still put their trust into these small independent shops of musical genius, the stores would probably be long gone by now – but luckily that’s not the case here.
Crash Records has been part of the Leeds music scene for over 25 years and the store specialises in indie, rock, punk and metal. The shop sell everything music related from, CDs to vinyl, merchandise to gig tickets. The store is located smack-bang in the centre of Leeds and is easy to find and access. Another reason this store is so well established in Leeds may be because they also sell tickets to gigs and festivals around the area. Crash Records also had a basement where band signings have taken place, the basement has seen the likes of Bring Me the Horizon, The Cribs, Lamb of God, Sky Larkin and many more, although it has now been replaced with rows of vinyl records instead.
There’s been over one million vinyl records sold in the UK alone this year. This figure is extremely surprising in an industry which is seen to be dominated by the internet and digital sales. “In an era when we’re all talking about digital music, the fact that these beautiful physical artefacts are still as popular as they are is fantastic,” said Martin Talbot, managing director of the Official Charts Company.
It’s incredible to see that vinyl is coming back as a significant earner for the music industry as well and surely this has to be another way of keeping the independent record shops alive.
“The growth in the last years has been incredible,” Richard, from Norman Records, explains “too good, in fact the major problem now is that pressing plants are struggling to cope with the demand.” Although this doesn’t seem to worry Richard too much, he has regulars from the public who come in to buy vinyl from him every week. He has also seen an increasing amount of customers coming into the store since vinyl became more popular.
The appeal for vinyl appears to be spilt into two very dissimilar groups. On one hand you’ve got the generation who grew up buying vinyl, so they continue to buy it and increase their collection over time. And on the other hand you have the younger generation – who a lot of people are calling ‘hipsters’. When speaking to Matt, from Jumbo Records, he thinks the younger generation are taking over vinyl because: “those in their 30s and 40s are only just getting the hang of the internet and iPods, so they’re not going to go back to buying ‘older’ versions… so it’s down to the younger generation to keep vinyl going – and they’re certainly doing it.” Which I’m sure we can all agree on, we have all seen those ‘oldies’ attempting to use iTunes and that’s certainly not something anyone wants to see again.
Jumbo Records is another independent record store in Leeds, and has been trading for over 30 years. Similar to Crash Records, this store is also located in the centre and sells everything you could want from a record store – they even have the facility to find out whether what you’re looking for is in their store and if it isn’t they can order it in for you.
Although, the up sale of vinyl may not be all it looks to be for record stores. Ian, from Relic Records explains that: “the fact Tesco is starting to sell vinyl is a thought that’s hard to contemplate.” When the high streets shops such as Tesco start to sell items like vinyl it almost takes away the special touch. Going to super markets for the weekly shop and buying vinyl then is much easier than going to the local record store for just one item, and with Leeds having plenty of super markets, perhaps this could be where the downfall begins.
With the closure of numerous independent record stores around the country, surely this would leave other owners worried or distressed about what’s going to happen to their store.
Ian, from Crash Records, has never been worried about his store closing and continues to have high hopes for it.
“It’s obviously sad to see other record stores close. But then their business has to go somewhere else… We’re in no danger of closing down.”
That’s exactly what it’s like out there in the big wide world – for every shop that fails, there’ll be another one succeeding. “You’ve got to listen to your customers, give them what they want. If not, they’ll take their money elsewhere.”
The reason for closure of many stores around the UK is obvious – the internet!
“People can just buy online rather than trailing to a local store,” Richard, from Norman Records, describes “There has definitely been a sea change where in the past stores could exist without providing the kind of customer service they need to now.”
There is much more of a connection being buyer and seller in independent shops, there is
more time to stop and have a chit chat with the customer, to get a rapport flowing which will encourage them to come back to you again. Unlike the larger chain shops such as HMV, there is no one-to-one conversation it is just a quick sale passing through.
HMV had to close down up to 60 stores back in 2011 due to a drop in sales. “[HMV’s] core music and DVD market is falling faster than expected,” said retail analyst Nick Bubb of stockbrokers Arden Partners, despite attempts to change their sales mix, offering iPods and live music.
The biggest HMV in Leeds, located in the White Rose Shopping Centre was shut down, this may have added to the fact the Leeds record stores are still going.
Record Store Day is an annual event held every third Saturday in April. Over 200 independent record shops from across the country get together to celebrate their unique culture. Many shops and cities host performances and events to mark the occasion, and there are even special vinyl released that are made exclusively for the day. Record Store Day coordinator Spencer Hickman, who also runs the Rough Trade East record store in London, said: “I can’t believe just how busy Record Store Day was again this year.”
Many artists supported the campaign and released plenty of exclusive tracks, limited edition released by Arctic Monkeys and David Bowie helped boosts the sales. For Leeds, this was a truly exceptional day all the record stores were thriving with people from everywhere. This day in particular is one you don’t want to miss and if you’re in Leeds, you definitely won’t miss.
Leeds has a vivid music scene and has done for a long time. The city has produced quite a few well-known artists such as Kaiser Chiefs, but more local bands who play small venues around the city make up the majority of the music scene. Having such a vibrant music scene means the record stores have the opportunity to get these smaller bands a bigger publicity. “We stock releases by local bands and hopefully bring them to a wider audience” Ian, from Relics Records, explains. The stores are not only doing well for themselves, but for others in the area as well. Record stores have the connection with their customers larger shops do not have, this means that when customers enter the store they can actually talk to them about local bands – those who go into local stores are often interested to find out about smaller bands in the area.
Leeds is a well-established city home to a lot of cultural aspects. The independent records stores which are situated all around the town are very popular with people of all ages are definitely not going anywhere yet. Even with the rise of downloads and streaming nothing is getting in the way of the stores. The younger generation are helping to keep them alive with the rise of vinyl and as Ian, from Crash Records, says “If everyone wanted to buy music in store, we would be too busy and then there would be no time for cups of tea.”