Do the HMV closures mean the death knell of independent music scenes and small town economies?

membraneshmv
So, we now know which HMV shops
are to fall in the first swoop of closures since last month saw the former
music giant entering administration.

It was announced that some 66 stores will
be axed for good; that’s 930 people left unemployed – many of those in areas
that simply don’t have the jobs to pick them back up again.

Yes, flagship stores in big cities like Manchester and Glasgow have taken an
unexpected hit but there’s a pained inevitability in so many of the towns that
will lose their HMV outlet. As is often the case, a disproportionate amount of
the cull comes from Northern Ireland and already ailing Northern industrial
towns.

This is part of a continuing trend towards the gradual dismantling of
music communities in smaller towns, leading to a situation where music culture
is almost the reserve of those lucky enough to be born into thriving,
metropolitan cities.

Of course, this is something of an exaggeration, but the
closure of HMV accelerates a profoundly damaging course on which we are well
underway. If it’s not the closure of HMV, it’s the small venue that shuts its
doors for the last time or the nightclub that decides it’s more profitable to
play mainstream sub-R&B and pop than indie music. When the mainstream shuts
down, it doesn’t take long for the counter-culture to find itself strangled
too.

Most towns aren’t so fortunate as to have record stores – despite a small rise there are still not even 300 left in the UK – and for many HMV was the last link between their town and that intoxicating, saving world of music. Speculation mounts over how long popular
alternative “That’s Entertainment” can really last – or at least whether it can
exist as a quality outlet for music. Existing from the cheap backstock of
deceased stores like Zavvi and now HMV is hardly the strongest long term
business plan, and already they seem to be sleepwalking into the same mistakes
as the fallen shops from which it leeches. This and the fact that their 37
stores have all the soul of a mortuary decorated for Christmas with the selection
and consistency of a charity shop CD rack.

Though specialising in mostly second hand and refurbished CD’s, “That’s Entertainment” does show some commitment to stocking new releases but nowhere near as much as HMV did previously. This raises the thorny issue of distribution – the album charts on Sunday night are still won on the battleground of the Saturday shoppers of the previous day and without HMV to stock a relatively wide range of new releases a dangerous amount
of power falls into the lap of the supermarkets.

Time will best tell, but the album charts increasingly mirror the restricted shelves of ASDA’s ‘Sound and Vision’ department. And even if supermarkets increased the amount of new
releases stocked (which they won’t), the refusal of many supermarkets to stock
remotely controversial content for fear of denting their bought-and-paid-for
corporate image is hardly a conducive environment for which innovative music
can thrive.

All of this adds to an increasingly shaky industry climate – are major
record labels really going to take a gamble on an innovative, exciting band
when they know that the only place in many towns that stands a chance of
selling their record is in a supermarket? And that’s after they’ve invested in
promoting the artist, which with very few music television programmes broadcast
in the UK and with a rapidly declining print music press is harder now than before. Less
risks are taking, less risky bands get young people into music…can you see the
emerging pattern?

It’s easy to romanticise the music store and overemphasise its importance but there is an essential function that shops like HMV serve (or once did serve) that simply can’t be fulfilled by their tax-evading online rivals. It’s become a tired cliché, I know, but
falling in love with music and being ultimately saved by the hedonistic and
passionate sphere from which it beckons just doesn’t happen through Amazon’s
“Customers who bought this also bought…” advertisements, it comes through
flicking through music shops with varied but still commercial selection. It’s about seeing David Bowie rub shoulders with Trojan reggae compilations on the same shelves as current chart hits; not being shoved in conservative directions by an online giant. It’s
about surrounding yourself with the glistening information that will help you
soar in the face of crippling drabness and maintain your sanity through your
darkest points.

Or just provide a good time; this too is more important than
seems obvious. Despite the protestations of the sniffy hipster, the first
interaction many people have with the music that will change their lives is via
mainstream portals; Radio 1, the television, music shops like HMV. The more
these portals become removed, or at least detoxified of interesting,
intelligent music, the less British music will have to shout about in the
future. The downfall of the mainstream brings with it the downfall of
independency; the death throws will just take longer and be inevitably more
silent.

Categories

Blogs Featured

The Author

Words by

Share and comment

6 comments on “Do the HMV closures mean the death knell of independent music scenes and small town economies?”

Leave a comment?
  1. Don’t people in Northern Island have the internet. My kids have never been in a HMV but love music. They listen to the music on FIFA, share songs by Bluetooth, copy off YouTube, have Spotify accounts and have 1000’s of radio stations to listen too.

    • Si had a point around the changing world we are in – the ‘new generation’ are sharing through different methods – whilst I agree the dying trend of a traditional record shop (I worked in a chain of Indies in the 90’s) is very sad for this to stay alive, there needs to be a change in the experience of the high street record shopping experience – maybe that’s entertainment have harnessing a high street fit of the old days of thumbing through ‘lost vinyl’ in the corn exchange and Afflecks Palace – that is a true experience and not something that is based solely on a ‘bargain hunt’

      HMV reacted to slowly and are now suffering for that – company’s have to react fast and execute on plans they don’t know will work – brave steps in a world where we wake upto ‘risk averse’ news stories……

      The last time I went to Piccadilly Records (long may they thrive and exist!!) I bought a hand full of unheard albums based on recommendations from Staff and reviews – sound familiar …… People ‘who bought this also bought’? Whether we like it or not we are in a world of convenience – if you have a passion for music (or anything) whether it is playing, writing or listening to the quality that is still out there you will seek out and feed your passion. E.g. Subscribing spotify feeds the passion it doesn’t replace the want for more records/cd’s. having said that I typically buy a CD to have the case in my hand (reference the hunt for the lost vinyl in the corn exchange and record fairs years ago ;-))

      Love live the indie!

    • Si, the point I’m making is that copying music from YouTube, sharing songs through Bluetooth, having Spotify accounts – none of these are good for the artist. Obviously the old model can’t carry on but niether can music carry on if people aren’t willing to accept a bit of give and take between artist and audience. The death of HMV symbolises this more than anything, and the negative effect it has on wider music.

      • Feargal,
        Kids have copied from the radio and copied from their mates since the 70’s.
        I was in London today and wanted to buy The Foals and Veronica Falls new CDs. I went into a HMV found the Foals album but they were not stocking Veronica Falls but were selling sweets. It was like WH Smith’s. Both stores cam close for me.

        • I absolutely sympathise, HMV completely lost their way to say the least, I went into Manchester’s HMV today and all that seemed left was t-shirts, shit glossy books and junk. That’s not what I’m debating though, I’m saying that despite HMV’s problems it will absolutely be a negative thing for music and kids in small towns when the last music outlet leaves the high street

  2. Unfortunately music has become disposable. It is as easily purchased/illegal downloaded as it is dragged into the trash bin on your computer. Its sad that music doesnt seem to have the same relevance it once had. Obviously people still love music the same but the little things of going into your music shop to get the latest album now seem to be lost. It now seems ok to forget the album and just download the track you like instead of letting the album grow and giving it a chance. Don’t get me wrong, there are great benefits to downloads as I buy albums from itunes now and again but speaking for myself and other artists when we design our lovely album cover we do not intend them to be one inch square on a little iphone with a compressed mix of the album. Lots of time and love go into making the artwork and I still always imagine my artwork on vinyl. Thats another side to it I guess

    I dont know about you all but I love to have my collection of CDs and vinyls on a shelf at home and am proud about what I have as all the records etc were bought at different times over the years and remind me of how I was feeling then. I like friends to look through them instead of scrolling though a hard drive.

    Im all for change but I want to hold my music and read the sleeve notes and lyrics whilst queuing in a record shop to buy it

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Your Tickets At Skiddle

To buy tickets for our events please visit: Skiddle.

Tickets by Skiddle