Despite the continued sharp decline in CD sales and doomsday predictions about the imminent end of physical retail, local record stores can still play a key role in establishing indie artists and music scenes.

It’s how many bands got their start: If someone at a local store likes a new album, they’ll recommend it to their customers. Even in this age of file-sharing and digital downloads, it’s the kind of endorsement that any act craves.

Mike Worthington knows the value of word-of-mouth promotion to underground music. The music industry veteran is head of sales, international and radio promotion for Tommy Boy Entertainment. He also manages artist-owned labels by veteran acts like Tesla and World Party. Worthington shares his thoughts on how emerging bands and labels can work with independent retailers to their mutual advantage.

(1) KNOW WHERE PHYSICAL DEMAND STARTS

The fact that you record and manufacture an album does not necessarily make it a good with market value that a retailer will make room for in his store. For a band starting out, I consider venue sales to be the equivalent of a traveling indie record store–if you can first get people at your show to buy your CD, then the next phase is getting people to buy your CD at a local indie retailer. You can easily load up the digital storefronts, while you build consumer demand in your local market through shows, venue sales and the word-of-mouth they generate.

(2) COURT CONSIGNMENT

Retailers that are highly engaged with their local music scenes, like Newbury Comics in New England, have had consignment programs with bands for years. This means you give the store a certain number of CDs and you get paid as they’re sold. Become friendly with your local store, find out who the buyer and marketing people are, work out a consignment deal and then work on building demand: You can get all of your family members to buy out a store’s stock, but you don’t want the next batch to sit on the shelves.

(3) GIVE TO GET

The best retailer-artist relationship is one in which each side has genuine enthusiasm for the other. For example, the Record Exchange in Boise, Idaho, reached out to us because they love our band Plushgun. So we totally followed up–sent them buttons for a gift with purchase, a signed poster for the store display. Now we’re planning the tour for July, and Boise is on the schedule, so we’ll consider bringing the band by the store, or we might offer a bunch of tickets to the show for the store to give away.

The next phase is that we’re looking to all the retailers like Record Exchange who have supported the band early, and we’re putting their logos and links on Plushgun’s MySpace page, which we expect to have a million hits per month by the end of the summer, doing a whole “Plushgun hearts indie retail” kind of thing. It’s just another way to drive home the concept of how important these stores and their communities are to the band’s success.

(4) MAKE IT SPECIAL

If your music is really special to you, then it’s up to you to make it really special to your potential fan base. So whether you’re a small band that will only release locally or a band with a larger base, consider making your local release (or core release) something deluxe and limited, available only through your local indie retailer. Interesting packaging that’s numbered for a limited run, unique local posters, rare tracks–some incentive so that anyone who takes the plunge feels like they’re a first adopter, part of the inside-the-rope team.

(5) WEIGH THE COSTS AND BENEFITS

Just as you don’t want to invest in manufacturing far more albums than you can sell, you want to carefully weigh your optimal level of retail promotion. Are we meaningful enough to do an in-store appearance? Have we built enough of a relationship with this store to ask to do such-and-such with our upcoming album? Finally, determine if you’ve achieved a level of success at the indie retail level to reach out to a small, hip indie distributor like Junketboy, of which [indie rapper/comedian] MC Chris and I are big fans. Good luck!

by MIKE WORTHINGTON, TOMMY BOY ENTERTAINMENT

Nagy, Evie


One of a series of stripped-down Custom Shop San Dimas guitars built for online retailer The Music Zoo (themusiczoo.com), the SD-2H features a body made from old-growth recycled redwood–which must have spent time in the bottom of a river from the number of small worm holes in it–and a bolt-on neck of beautifully flamed maple. As with other models in the Carbonized Natural Series (which includes versions with recycled ash and pine bodies), the SD-2H‘s woods are subjected to a kiln drying process that uses heat and pressure to drive out excess moisture in order to make the woods lighter and more resonant, and also very resistant to changes in climate. The “cooking” process effectively ages the wood by removing the hemi-cellulose that gives woods their flexibility, and the end result is that the stiffness to weight ratio of the woods is increased by 15 to 25 percent (depending on the species), which enhances the tonal response and also makes the woods easier to cut and machine. The lightness of the SD-2H is instantly captivating, and since the only finish is a thin coating of gunstock oil on the body and neck, the surfaces have a very warm, natural feel. This no-frills guitar has a pair of uncovered Seymour Duncan humbuckers (SH-2N neck, Custom 5 bridge), which are screwed directly into the body. The Volume and Tone knobs, as well as the exterior parts of the 3-way selector, are all made from machined brass.

The workmanship on the SD-2H is stellar. The jumbo frets are crowned and polished to perfection, the neck fits super tightly in the body, and the intonation in all regions of the fretboard is very good. The action is extremely low, and the playing feel is light and quick. I dig the neck’s slim profile, and my only gripe is that the brown position dots on the fretboard can be difficult to see in dim light.

The machined brass NOS trem is an old-school affair that features adjustable saddles and an arm that has to be threaded in carefully to avoid cross threading. It’s not great for bending anyway, so I just left the arm off and enjoyed the solid, sustain enhancing contact with the bridge seated flush to the top with three springs in place. If you’re a serious trem user you’re probably going to want to put a Floyd on this guitar and keep the NOS unit around for a paperweight or something.

The SD-2H sounded great whether dialed for crisp clean tones, warm solo textures, or moderately overdriven sounds when played straight into either a Fender Deluxe Reverb (view best guitar reverb pedal) or a Victoria Ivy League combo. When using best distortion pedals (including a Hermida Audio Nu-Valve and Fuzz Face), the SD-2H tended to get a bit wooly sounding when pushing high gain settings, but by slightly backing off the Volume control (or lowering the gain slightly) the clarity instantly returned and sustaining notes sounded stringy and well detailed.

Light, toneful, and fun to play, the SD-2H definitely brings a sly, “parts guitar” attitude to a price category where the norm is flame tops and fine gloss finishes. This guitar radiates coolness, though, and anyone looking for a different take on a twin-humbucker solidbody should give it shot.


Group buys 50% stake in agency in deal based on “mutual recognition”

The indie sector has increased its presence in the mobile music market following a significant deal between Wall Of Sound parent group Pias and Indie Mobile.

In the deal Pias has taken a 50% stake in the Bristol-based mobile marketing and digital distribution agency after making a “significant”, but undisclosed investment in Indie Mobile, which represents more than 400 indie labels. A senior Pias executive is likely to join the Indie Mobile board as a result of the deal.

Both Pias group director of digital and business development Adrian Pope and Indie Mobile managing director Seth Jackson promise the synergies between the two groups will deliver better services to their labels – and the independent sector – while significantly increasing the revenues they are currently earning from the market.

Pope says Pias, which also includes Vital: Pias Digital, Vital Distribution and Pias Recordings within its group, has been performing well in the mobile market, earning revenues of the order of “hundreds of thousands of pounds”. However, with the market for full-track downloads doubling each month and a bigger appetite for indie repertoire, Pope explains that the company had a choice – to either grow organically or link with a suitable partner. He believes Indie Mobile fits the bill because of its focus on indie repertoire.

Mobile is already a significant part of our business. The deal was born out of a mutual recognition that the synergies were such that in combination we can create the definitive, professional mobile solution for independent labels and artists. We could have grown organically and invested in new people or invested in a company which could give us synergies. Indie Mobile understands the indie spirit and gives us new routes to market,” he says.

Pope believes the deal with Indie Mobile will also provide a better range of services it can provide labels, such as digital marketing and SMS campaigns. He adds, “There are several key points from this. The deal brings together all the premium content we represent and Indie Mobile has great content as well. It genuinely means revenues will increase and there will be a better resource for a route to market. There is also the opportunity to swell the labels’ digital marketing offer.”

On his side Jackson, whose company represents more than 200 rightsholders and distributes their mobile content across 23 territories, says a “bunch of money helps everything“. “It gives us more commercial clout and makes it easier to do network deals or get better commercial terms,” he says.

In addition to the resources and roster Pias provides, the Indie Mobile managing director also believes that Pias will be able to provide better accounting and feedback to labels because of the music company’s expertise and experience in royalty accounting.

They (a music company) are always going to do that better than a mobile aggravator,” adds Jackson. “The deal will allow us to do what we already do, just better and on a larger scale. We have always believed that independent music has the potential to be a significant player in the mobile arena.

Jackson and Pope also stress the international nature of the deal as helping to grow the business. Jackson recognises that Pias’s network of international offices, especially throughout Europe, will give it an edge on competitors who are not able to call on people with local knowledge of France or Spain.

Indie Mobile

Represents in excess of 70,000 tracks from more than 400 leading independent labels

Supplies the mobile networks and also offers labels mobile marketing and retail initiatives to support their products and campaigns

Indie Mobile campaigns have won the BT Digital Music Award for Best Use of Mobile twice in the last three years

Pias Group

Has offices in the UK, Netherlands, France, Germany and Spain in addition to partners in every other European country and affiliates based in territories such as Australia

Parent of Vital Distribution, the UK’s largest independent sales and distribution company, representing more than 75 labels, including Beggars Group, XL Recordings, Big Brother, Warp and Defected

Owns Integral, the marketing arm for independent labels, and digital distribution business Vital:Pias Digital, which represents more than 100 labels.

Hits in the near future: sales of Klaxons’ debut album increased almost five-fold in the 24 hours after winning the Mercury award.

CMP Information Ltd.


By the time you read this, I may be dead.

Okay, not dead. But I might have had a crusty bread roll thrown at me in anger–or even a tumbler of Sambuca ‘accidentally’ spilled down my shirt.

This was mine and Intent Media‘s first ever Music Week Awards. Our aim was to make the event a bit less stuffy, a mite more funny and a whole bunch snappier.

But if we were hoping to please the whole room, to gift each and every wine-guzzling table with silverware and glee, an extraordinary year for the market was never going to let us.

I’ll admit it: the domination of 2012’s event by the independent sector has probably left a few major label bonces feeling extra sore today–and may even have inspired some rude words to be pinged towards my email inbox overnight. (If you didn’t gently deliver them to me at the after-party first. If so, morning!)

This was an awards ceremony that reflected Adele‘s magic like none other. PIAS, Purple PR and, obviously, XL and Jonathan Dickins were all befittingly saluted for their role in the industry story of the decade. Richard Russell deserved his Strat for a special recognition to the market regardless–but it’s no fluke Ms. Adkins was the first to congratulate him on screen.

Yet that wasn’t the end of the indie triumphs; PIAS, Proper, Bella Union, Kobalt, Sound It Out–the non-PLC prizes just kept on coming throughout the evening.

A freak landslide? Nah. The manifestation of a shifting, thrilling modern market in which anyone–large or small–can grab the ascendancy? You betcha.

These were, after all, winners that you, the trade, decided. We promised the hundreds of Music Week readers who voted that their ballot would remain secret, and that guarantee remains. But I can say that our indie victors received ticks in boxes from senior executives across major labels, heavyweight publishers, dominant media houses, live giants and many more besides.

It was heartening to observe, proving that behind the heat of competition; behind the jovial backbiting and the rabid sales envy, people in this business know a hard-fought success when they see one–and they know when it deserves to be recognised.

It wasn’t all indie mania, of course. It was hardly a miserable night for the publishing arms of EMI and Universal, while Warner Music picked up two prizes. And, for the record, there were very few landslides–notably, the Artist Marketing Campaign, Promotions Team, Catalogue Marketing Campaign, PR Campaign and Live Music Venue categories were very close-run contests.

By now, we’ve all heard the apocryphal tale of the major label boss who says he doesn’t mind the indies having Adele this year so long as the next market phenomenon is all his team’s doing.

Until 2013, then. It should be a cracker.

But before all that–does anyone know how to get a tricky Sambuca stain out?

Tim Ingham,


I fell in love with Dennis Fano’s Alt de Facto SP6 and this Custom JM6 Set-Neck built by Dennis himself has the same instantly-bond-with able appeal. The premise of the Alt de Facto series–Fano’s creation of a “missing link” line of collaborations between the great American guitar makers of the 1950s and ’60s–might read a little clunky on paper, but the guitars are so well executed that I have yet to find a player who hasn’t uttered a heartfelt “oooh!” when handling one in person. While most Alt de Facto guitars are built with bolt-on necks, Fano kicks it up a notch with this JM6, as he does occasionally, by using a glued-in neck joint.

Fano Custom Alt de Facto JM6 Set-Neck

A list of this JM6’s pertinent details reveals the middle ground between Fullerton and Kalamazoo circa 1962. The Jazzmaster-shaped body is made from a single piece of solid mahogany, wears a nitrocellulose faded cherry finish, and carries an aged nickel TonePros Tune-o-matic bridge with nylon saddles and a Bigsby vibrato. The four-ply tortoiseshell pickguard is loaded with Lindy Fralin P-90 pickups, black top-hat knobs and a 3-way toggle switch. The glued-in mahogany neck runs to a 25.5″ scale length, with aged nickel Kluson-style tuners on a back-angled headstock, and a width of 1 11/16″ across the Tusq nut. This Custom JM6 has a sumptuous dark-chocolatey Brazilian rosewood fretboard–though this option will no longer be offered–with clay dots and 22 pristine Jescar 6105 frets, and the neck back is carved to a rounded late-’50s profile. The neck has a superb feel, and the compound 7.25″ to 9.5″ radius takes you easily from low-fret chording to upper-fret rifting and bending. The entire guitar, other than fretboard and frets, has been given Fano‘s medium-heavy distressing, a notion that might seem a little phony in theory, but which feels very authentic in the hand. The dings, chips, forearm and left-hand wear and buckle rash, as well as the gentle patina of the hardware, all help to bring home the “long lost legend” premise at the heart of the Alt de Facto series, while making the guitar feel like an old friend the first time you lift it from the case.

Tested through an EL34-modded silverface Fender Bassman and a Matchless HC-30, the JM6 displayed a willingness to go just about anywhere you want to take it, and have a great time on the journey. The entire vibe of the guitar seems to lean you toward loose garage and grunge at the outset, but excursions into country, jazz, funk, or even some early-’70s classic metal are easily navigated. Tonally, look at it from either direction: The set neck and mahogany construction add warmth and depth to the traditional Fender formula, or the 25.5″ scale livens up the Gibson-esque fur. Either way, there’s juicy bite and snarl aplenty in these Fralin P-90s, but with a bolder low-end boing than most Gibsons offer, a sophisticated sparkle in the highs, and a tautness that helps each note cut through. And the bonus is that the guitar stays in tune remarkably well, even with considerable Bigsby use. Ultimately, the Fano Custom Alt de Facto JM6 Set-Neck is a guitar with boatloads of character and surprisingly versatile talents.