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Record Stores Still Exist
Here's How to Work With Them
by Christopher Knab - Fourfront Media & Music -
April, 2010

Back to Music Business 101

It's Not Personal... It's Business...
Until You Make It Personal

When record store buyers choose records to buy, itís a business decision, not an emotional decision.

I know this from first-hand experience. I owned a record store for ten years in San Francisco. In fact, Aquarius Records is still there, still supporting new alternative sounds, and as I learned recently... now the oldest-still operating record store in SF, (very cool! Keep it up Aquarius!)

Anyway the first lesson I had to learn when I owned the store was that I couldnít carry every record I wanted to carry. I had to choose the ones I felt I could sell, out of the thousands of new releases coming out each week.

Today that decision is harder than ever to make.

Itís estimated that over 2500 new CD titles are released each week! Yow!

Just a couple of years ago, there were about 1000 new CD titles released each week.

No store on the planet can carry even close to that many new titles. So, music retailers can only select those titles that they feel they must have and are fairly certain will SELL!

This gets us back to the marketing plans you must create to get your music on the web, on the air, reviewed in the press, and heard from concert stages.

Do those things well, and the report cards youíll get from the record stores will look pretty good.

If the buzz you create about your music reaches store employees, and you can create excitement about your release, then that can make it a necessity for the store to stock your record.

If you want record stores to carry your record, itís your job to convince the store buyers that they have to have it.

  • Keep the stores up to date on your other marketing efforts (radio airplay, press reviews, concert attendance figures website visits and blog subscribers).

Contact the music retailers you work with regularly.

  • Think up some value-added promotions to offer the retailer. Value-added promotions are things like giving a free live-CD to all the customers who buy your record, or discounts off your older, back catalog releases, or discount coupons for your upcoming live shows.
  • Give things to the retailer to make their job of selling your record easier. For example, a packaging option that can make CDs more appealing as holiday and birthday gift ideas like slip covers that come in shapes, (heart shapes, etc.). You must create these slip covers, but they go a long way toward showing a retailer that you want to help them sell your CD. Think... what cool item could be a future collectible?
  • Work with your distributor to offer a special price on your new release. Even though you want to price your CDs competitively, do what many labels do when they introduce a new artist: make the list price cheaper.

So, instead of making your release $16.98, make it $9.98! That is the new price the music industry is advocating now anyway.

This way the storeís price is cheaper for them to buy from you and/or your distributor and of course itís cheaper for the customer too.

  • One of the most common tricks the labels use to create demand for a record is to release a song to radio three or four weeks ahead of the street date (the day the customer can buy the record).

This will only work for indie music and the indie radio stations you have playing your release. If you decide to do this, work with the retailer to encourage them to take advance orders, or set up a special late night purchase party if the demand for your record merits it.

  • Give them point-of-purchase items to put up in the store (posters, postcards, bin cards).
  • Check with your local retailers to see which independent distributors they buy their product from. Perhaps you can get in on some seasonal promotion campaign or new artist program one of these outlets are offering.
  • If you use a distributor, get to know the Sales Reps and find out which stores they call on to solicit new releases. Much of this business centers around personal relationships and a Rep who knows and respects you, your label, and your artists, can do a lot for you at the retail level.
  • Many independent record stores have comprehensive listening station programs that record labels can buy in to, but be sure to research this carefully. This may be too expensive for you to participate in.
  • The best indie stores leave room for staff favorites or CDs from local bands and solo artists. Also, since many of these independent stores belong to a coalition these days, find out which coalition your independent stores belong to.
  • Give free copies of your CD to the store owner or buyer, and be sure the record store clerks who might like your music get their own copies. I canít tell you how many records Iíve sold simply by playing them in the store. Actually a good record store is much like a good radio station. In this case the customer is a captive audience and to this day youíll spot hip store clerks scanning the shoppers and finding the perfect record to pique their interest.
  • Ask permission to post your live show posters or flyers at the store and give some free passes for your shows to the staff.
  • Check for any in-store artist promotions, like store concert series or autograph parties, and be sure to bring your mailing list sign-up sheets to these events.
  • Put your records on consignment (at a competitive price with other artists of your style) and call the stores regularly to check up on how they are selling.
  • Consider pressing up some cheap limited edition sampler CDs that can be given away to store shoppers. Put your contact information on these.
  • Many independent and chain stores have their own music publications, so be sure to submit your records for reviews. Also research the cost of buying ads in relevant store magazines.
  • Ask about the storeís website and/or Blog. Do they have any online promotional opportunities for you to take part in? How about links connecting your site to their storeís homepage?
  • Think about any combination of online and offline experiences your fans will use while shopping for music. The future of music retailing will be one that finds creative ways for a music fan to go from a store's actual brick-and-mortar site, to the storeís website, to a favorite bandís homepage, to radio stations that are playing the band's music, to content at cool Internet magazines and e-zines ó with links allowing the fan to hear the music all the way down the digital line.

And, donít forget to include some clubs and other live venues in your linking strategies. 

To sum things up, every record store is in business to do one thing; sell music. Granted, the music retailerís world isn't what it once was. Gone are the days when they could make a buck selling music and nothing else. But this change can work in your favor as well. If they sell entertainment lifestyle products like t-shirts and other stuff, give them a reason to sell your products. 

It will be a long time ó like never ó before the record store disappears from our cities and towns. So, take some time to study the stores available in your area and in the regions of the country that your marketing strategies expand into. Internet or no Internet, youíll always need to work with record stores. Bank on it.

The creative record label and entrepreneurial musician will make sure to leave no stone unturned when working with a retail music store. It may not always be a music fanís final destination, but it will be an essential player, especially for your 'Early Adopter' fans!

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