Which is better – support the artists or the indie stores?

Since I started collecting vinyl records again last year, I’ve pre-ordered a number of new albums directly from the artist’s website. I’ve often advocated for what Techdirt calls “ Cwf + Rtb ” – Connect with Fans + Reason to buy = $$$.

As the music industry sees declining sales, if you can connect with your fans on an individual level and give them a reason to buy, you will see revenue. This works in music and, as Cory Doctorow is proving , works in the book industry as well.

In the music industry, concerts are usually pointed out as the best example of this. A number of artists, from the Grateful Dead years ago, to their modern day replacements in Phish (when they were active) or David Mathews Band, constantly tour, and mix up their set lists nightly to give their fans a unique experience.

This has also carried over in to new releases. Jenny and Johnny ‘s 2010 album, I’m Having Fun Now, offered a unique deluxe package. For $40, you received the new album on CD, vinyl, MP3 and cassette. You also received three limited edition 7″ records with singles from the album, one of which was autographed. Ben Folds and Nick Hornby’s collaboration, Lonely Avenue , offered a couple of different packages. One package included the album on vinyl, CD and MP3 and came with a limited edition piece of sheet music randomly chosen from one of the songs on the album. They also offered a deluxe package that featured the CD along with a book of photos and prose from Nick Hornby. The Decemberists new album, The King is Dead out January 18th , is available in a $165 package and includes the following goodies: a one of a kind photograph, hardcover book of photos, white vinyl, a video, MP3 and more – and is only one of 2500.

But what does that mean for the independent music stores which continue to dwindle? The artists are doing a great job of connecting with their fans and giving them a reason to buy – direct. How can the indie stores compete with that? The indie stores, obviously, need to connect with their fans as well. Record Store Day continues to connect artists with indie stores, giving the stores exclusive music to sell, now twice a year. Three indie record stores I’ve visited in the past few months each have a different value proposition from each other as well:

  • Discland (Bloomington, MN): New vinyl, used (vinyl, cassette, CD), video games
  • Down in the Valley (Golden Valley, MN): New vinyl, used (vinyl, cassette, CD), head shop and accessories
  • The Exclusive Company (Various locations, Wisconsin): New vinyl, used (vinyl, cassette, CD), new CDs, new and used movies (and competitively priced compared to the big box retailers)

I was happy to see that Discland was packed this past Saturday.  There were a ton of people in the store, shopping in each section.  They had lots of help on hand, who were friendly and would ask if I needed help.  I’ve had similar experiences at Down in the Valley as well, though not as usually crowded.

I don’t know what the right answer is – I like collecting things, especially limited editions.  I try and support my local indie shops when I can, but I can’t fault the artists for doing what they’re doing either. But I do have guilt, especially when I buy from Amazon, and to a lesser degree, directly from the artist. (But there is something to be said for not leaving the house, especially in the middle of a Minnesota winter!)

What are your thoughts? Where do you prefere to shop?

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Paul Cutler
Father. Husband. Vinyl Music Lover. Football fan. Python student. He / him.