Music Biz observations from our first year

The following blog is actually an email that was sent to our “Music Biz Bigshots” (which is how we lovingly refer to all of the record label and distributor people that we have done business with for twenty years now) email list. We always made it a point to let the industry know what we think of their hilarious decision-making while we were at ASU, and we are still doing it out here.  This time, we figured we’d at least leave it out there for the customers. After all, you guys are affected by their short-sightedness as well.

Hello fellow music biz geeks,

Are we still in this crazy business?  Man, it seems like forever since we talked.  Back in the old days, back in the time when we thought we understood the phrase “uncharted waters”, we used to send charts out every week.

Steve Wiley - Professional HoodlumAnyway, down there you will find a chart.  It’s our top 99 of our first full year at the new store.  Although the old store has a totally new personality, mine is still the same (insert smart-ass comment here), so I figured I’d comment on some of the industry-related things we noticed in our 1st year at the new joint.  If you want to scroll down and skip the babble… we’ll never know.

So what’s been going on at Hoodlums, you ask?  How’s biz and all that?

Well, we are officially a year old.  If you remember, we soft-opened on Saturday, September 20th, and our grand opening was in early October.  Two days later the stock market dove, officially signaling the start of the freakshow economy.

Since then we’ve had our first real holiday season, six art shows, and Hoodstock.  We’ve stirred up conservative radio hosts, interacted with our community, learned how to buy used vinyl, and watched another unbelievable year’s worth of changes in the music industry.  Joey Kramer used our bathroom.  So did Peter Yarrow.

We haven’t sent you charts because we’ve been focused on the customers and building up the store.  It isn’t cause we haven’t been paying attention to this crazy $#%& (I haven’t turned anti-vulgarity, I have to do that in case customers are on the list) industry.  As usual, we can’t speak for other stores, or any of you cats, but we can tell you how the music biz looks from our tiny little vantage point.

1. Prices are getting better on catalog.

Let’s start positive.  Those WEA 7.99 titles (Talking Heads, ZZ Top, Bonnie Raitt, Faith No More, etc.) and those Sony 6.99 (Ten Years After, Mike Bloomfield, Milt Jackson, etc) titles have been huge sellers.  We brought a bunch in around February and they have been moving along better than we had hoped.  For 6.99 new, people will buy that David Bromberg album they used to love.  Now, with most of those great Sony 11.99 titles selling at 9.99 (don’t give me that “we don’t have a list price” bullshit, we still base price on cost, not the margin Sony decides we should lose), we are sporting a pretty mean selection of classic CDs at ten or less.  That’s what we’ve been talking about for eleven years: Cheaper prices = More sales.

2. Prices are still too high on catalog.

In the meantime, I shudder to think of how many CSN, Radiohead, or Led Zeppelin CDs we could sell at a realistic list.  18.98?  17.98?  In this day and age?  I can’t even believe those are still a price points.  Is there an economist in the house over in those Ivory Towers?  There must be someone who understands supply and demand.  Call me crazy, but since I’ve been lobbying lower prices to the industry for years to little avail, I’ve decided to make a plea to the artist.  Read the “Robert Plant – A Story and Video Plea” blog here.

3. High list prices more or less kill plans to develop and sell newer jazz, blues, and world.

While the catalog pricing offers some reasonable options in these genres, when it comes to new releases, who can afford it?  Note to the Ivory Tower: After years of watching the way you market these genres, we assume that you don’t ever want to target any young adults at all… but we should at least mention that baby boomers are price conscious too, and pricing every artist on every adult genre at 17.98 or 18.98 list is a bad idea.  I’d love to turn someone, young or old, on to a new Joe Lovano or Roy Hargrove CD, but why bother trying when you can turn them on to a classic Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, or Sonny Rollins CD for under ten bucks?

4. Hang on to your obscure, and not so obscure, CDs.

We are starting to see a lot of CDs go out of print.  Speaking of supply and demand, you want LeRoy Hutson’s Greatest Hits?  It’s gonna cost you no less than $150 on Amazon (pretty much the same price they wanted for the Beatles boxes, isn’t it?).  That plays right into our little hands, because when it comes to finding special orders… a scrappy little joint like ours is the place to go.

5. Label reps that set up records are a dying breed.

It may be because we are just a little joint – but we rarely see a label rep set up new releases any more.  There’s still a few out there that can be counted on to consistently do so (Jay from Sony/now Nettwerk, Melissa from Epitaph/Anti, and the gang at Fearless come to mind), and some that are starting to come on board, but for the most part it feels like we are on our own when it comes to deciding what it worthy of promoting or not.

That’s not all bad, and we aren’t necessarily upset.  After all, we are more than capable of finding stuff for the posts.  But for sure on the right releases a great set-up makes a huge difference… and for sure a great rep that know what to push at your store (or in this day and age, one that pushes at all) can make all the difference.  Look at all the Sony and Epitaph stuff that made the chart.  There’s no way that NASA makes this chart without support.  Would we have brought it in?  Sure.  One copy.  Would we have put it in the post?  Probably not.

How does the lack of set-up hurt?  If someone would have worked with us on the recent Noisettes or Raveonettes CDs, we probably would have quadrupled sales so far.  Do we react once we see demand?  Sure, but it hurts at first, when it matters most.  In this economy, in this industry, we do our new release buying with caution.  Often, we aren’t quite sure what customers are going to want (since the internet has given every customer the ability to find out their own street dates, we don’t quite get the “pre-buzz” like the old days).  People just sorta show up on street date and buy.  It’s easy with proven champs like Flaming Lips or Built to Spill, but since we don’t listen to the radio or monitor internet activity, its tough to judge whether those mid-level groups still have interested fans.  If we don’t hear from anyone at the label, we assume the label isn’t really behind them anymore.  If we buy the CD at all, we buy one.

Like I said, our little store may not rate the coverage… and we can live with that, but I don’t think that’s it.  We seem to be on the radar still.  We still get visits from out-of-town Music Biz Bigshots.  We still get stuff in the mail.  It seems more likely that either: a) there aren’t enough label reps (Phoenix doesn’t have a WEA, Sony, or EMD sales rep – and our UNI sales rep is covering like 32 states or something);  b) many of the labels out there aren’t focused on on physical product at the indie stores; or c) lack of accountability and direction are at an all time high.  Probably a little of everything.

6. Everything is still free on the Internet.

Somehow in spite of those FBI stickers… in spite of the lawsuits… in spite of the “switched” street dates, the branded play copies, and the Congressional testimony… every release is still out there for a grand total of nothing.   I know because we have to get a lot of our play copies, the ones we need to help sell your CDs, the same way that a huge portion of the rest of the world has been getting their music for twelve years now.

Can you guys finally relent and monetize the file-sharing?  Maybe that way CD prices will continue to fall and those who want to collect and peddle the hard copies can do so – while those that are content with files can do their thing legally.  While we are on the subject: A buck a song is still too much.

7. Labels, in true form, are already stifling the vinyl resurgence with ridiculous prices.

It was totally predictable.  Customers find value in LPs… so labels jack prices until the value goes away.  It’s the same Ivory Tower game plan that has helped kill CDs sales over the past twelve years.

It’s simple, anything over $20 is TOO MUCH for an LP.  Even if the digital file in included.  Each week, as we decide what to bring in… we simply look at the list price. These days, instead of 18.98, which is fine (with the digital info), we see lots of 24.98.  If the price is over twenty, unless it is something we can’t live without (like the Wilco releases), we don’t bring it in.  The biggest recent example is the Muse reissues.  Four releases from a very powerful band at Hoodlums, yet only one (Black Holes..) is priced under twenty.  We brought in Black Holes, and it is nearing double digit sales.  The other three have become special orders.

There is it: Our take on how the music biz decision-making is looking at this little store.  As always, we appreciate your support… and your taking the time to read our opinions.  Have a great day.

Steve, Kristian, and the hoodlums at Hoodlums.

The Top 99 of Hoodlums’ 1st year (September 2008 – September 2009)

The album is the latest release by the artist, unless specified.

  1. Kings of Leon
  2. Neko Case
  3. Animal Collective
  4. Black Carl
  5. Darren Mahoney
  6. Fleet Foxes
  7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  8. Phoenix
  9. Wilco
  10. Bon Iver
  11. What Laura Says
  12. Andrew Bird
  13. Dead Weather
  14. Green Day
  15. Ray Lamontagne
  16. Neil Young
  17. TV on the Radio
  18. Bruce Springsteen
  19. Catfish Groove Farm
  20. Calexico
  21. Regina Spektor
  22. U2
  23. Kinch
  24. Iron and Wine
  25. Ben Harper & Relentless 7
  26. Leonard Cohen
  27. Bob Dylan
  28. VA – Thank You, Goodnight
  29. Fleet Foxes – EP
  30. Iron & Wine
  31. Decemberists
  32. Lucinda Williams
  33. Grizzly Bear
  34. Silversun Pickups
  35. Manchester Orchestra
  36. She & Him
  37. Sonic Youth
  38. Jack Johnson/D. Frankenreiter/G. Love
  39. Steve Earle
  40. Vampire Weekend
  41. Camera Obscura
  42. St. Vincent
  43. Adele
  44. Kanye West
  45. Fun
  46. Dan Auerbach
  47. Bloc Party
  48. Beatles – Abbey
  49. Of Montreal
  50. Dinosaur Jr.
  51. Arctic Monkeys
  52. Ben Folds
  53. Bob Dylan – Telltale Signs/Boot 8
  54. Dave Matthews
  55. Elvis Costello
  56. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
  57. Abba – Gold
  58. Jolie Holland
  59. Jenny Lewis
  60. Beatles – Sgt. Peppers
  61. Ryan Adams and Cardinals
  62. Jeff Beck
  63. Q-Tip
  64. Death Cab for Cutie
  65. Damien Rice – Live at Fingerprints
  66. NASA
  67. Bonnie Raitt – Give it Up
  68. Mars Volta – Octahedron
  69. Killers
  70. Radiohead
  71. Mgmt
  72. Franz Ferdinand
  73. Derek Trucks – Already Live
  74. Milt Jackson – Sunflower
  75. Ben Harper – Live at Twist and Shout
  76. Interpol – Live
  77. Son Volt
  78. Peter Bjorn and John
  79. Bob Marley & Wailers – Legend
  80. Taj Mahal – Taj Mahal
  81. Slumdog Millionaire OST
  82. Byrne/Eno
  83. Eminem
  84. Robert Plant/Allison Krauss
  85. Michael Franti
  86. Black Keys
  87. Talking Heads – Remain in Light
  88. Clapton/Winwood – Madison Square
  89. Coldplay
  90. Lily Allen
  91. Mark Olson/Gary Louris
  92. Uncle Tupelo – No Depression
  93. Kings of Leon – Youth and Young Manhood
  94. John Mayer – Village Sessions
  95. Chet Atkins/Les Paul – Chester and Lester
  96. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
  97. Pearl Jam – Live at Easy Street
  98. VA – Vintage Verve (I love this, as I was on the panel that selected it)
  99. Alejandro Escovedo

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