Music Features

RSD2013 - Rise Records (interview)

Record Store Day is now an established part of the music fan's calendar.  To many, it represents an opportunity to support and celebrate our local independent record stores.  To others, it offers a chance to lay our hands on an exclusive release by some of our favourite artists.  But what does it mean to the record stores themselves?  Does the event have the same impact now as it did when it first started?  And what other effects does it have on the music industry?

To find out, Craig Stevens chatted to Ben Hughes, manager of the Cheltenham branch of Rise Records, an independent record retailer with stores in Bristol and Worcester, as well as Cheltenham.

What’s Rise planning for Record Store Day?

We’re aiming to get as many copies as we can of all the titles that are out there. We’ve had good success in the past with doing that; offering as close as possible to the full list of releases and not just offering what are seen as the big sellers.

How do you do that?  Because some of the releases are limited to just a few hundred copies, so there are more record stores than there are copies.  How does the allocation of stock work?  Is it by ballot or down to your contacts?

No, neither. It’s governed by the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA). Stock’s allocated based on what a store spends with different suppliers over the course of the year. So if you are a buyer who supplies a lot of dance records, say, you’re more likely to be allocated that stock. It’s a risk to own and run a record shop so the idea is that people are rewarded for how much they invest in it over the year. So it’s not a case of, “were you nice to this representative?” or, “did you get them free tickets for this?” It’s based on how much you’re buying.

When a product’s over-subscribed, of course you’re going to wish you’d had more stock. Sometimes things sell out in ten minutes, sometimes ten seconds. You wish you get more, because there are people who have been queuing for ages. But I think it’s the fairest way of doing it.

I had a look on the Rise website, where you’ve got a product list of all the Record Store Day releases you’re stocking this year; just short of 400 titles. How many of those do you expect will sell out on Record Store Day?

Well, in an ideal world, we’d sell them all! But every year, it’s surprising what sells the quickest. You try and take a professional guess at what is going to sell the best and try and get in as many copies as possible. You know that limited edition David Bowie, Sex Pistols, Jack White – anything by Third Man – won’t be there for two minutes.

There are some things we’ve put at the front of the store thinking that that’s what people are going to go for, but instead it’s been the items that are a bit further into the store that have gone first. And there have been bands that we’ve never even stocked on vinyl before Record Store Day in the past – Queen, Lady Gaga – that have just disappeared.

So which of this year’s releases do you expect to be the most sought after?

Having a vinyl release of a David Bowie track is pretty special, considering he hasn’t released anything for ten years and the album’s fantastic. The track he’s releasing, The Stars Are Out Tonight, is great. And the 1965 EP is UK-only. So to have someone like David Bowie, a guy who can sell millions of records around the world, to be releasing something that’s UK-only where people have to go to an independent record shop to get it - that’s going to be highly sought after.

This is now the sixth consecutive year where we've had a Record Store Day in the UK.  Do you think having the day as frequently as once a year means that the event is starting to lose some of its impact?  Do you think it should be made less regular or something changed about it?

No, I think once a year’s fine. At the end of every Record Store Day, a lot of the stores are asking if they can have more than one a year! And I can see one maybe early-autumn, before Christmas. They’ve tried getting involved with Black Friday, but it just didn’t catch on, for whatever reason.

This year, with the troubles at HMV, there has been a lot more positive press, a lot more focus on independents than in any other year before this.

Are you expecting this year to be a bumper year as a result?

I don’t know. Every year, when the list comes out, you get a range of different opinions. Some people are only concerned with one title they need to get, for some people there isn’t anything by a certain band they like so they dismiss the whole list, which is a little short-sighted! But I think if you’re into your music and into vinyl, there should be something for you to be excited by.

The whole day has developed so much since it first started, where stores just put stock out and called it a celebration and Record Store Day was just a name. Now pretty much every independent you hear of is having live bands in store, making it an event, or going on to have a concert in the evening. It’s become a big event that’s more than just, “here’s a way of getting people back into record stores”. The first Record Store Day we did is what pushed us to think that we should be getting regular live bands in our stores.

So indirectly, Record Store Day’s changed the way in which Rise has chosen to trade. But do you think more directly, the day itself has a knock-on effect for the weeks and months after the event? Do you notice trends in terms of sales?

We have people that we’ve never seen before Record Store Day come into the store because they’ve Googled us to found their local record store, because they’re massive fans of a certain artist. They’ve moved onto buying online, but this particular release they can’t buy online. And after seeing the range in store, they'll often then come back.

In terms of sales, because the focus of the day is predominantly vinyl, I think people might have just initially come down and picked up a piece of vinyl because of the fun and enthusiasm of it. But off the back of that, some of those people have started to buy more vinyl and since Record Store Day started, our vinyl sales have massively increased. When we first started doing Record Store Day, vinyl wasn’t as prominent in the shop and it wasn’t in our chart. Now it gets re-stocked as much as CDs.

Moving away from Record Store Day, have you noticed more general trends in sales recently? Are there any particular artists or genres that are getting a lot more attention? I noticed that your dance and electronica section appears to be diminishing, which I’m not particularly happy about!

There are certain areas that, unfortunately, haven’t sustained sales, especially ones that have been hit with downloads. You brought up dance music - if you think of the number of dance music compilations there were five to ten years ago and compare that to what we have now. With podcasts, instant mixes, SoundCloud, Boilerroom, things like that – DJs are putting up music all the time, it’s having an effect on that. It used to be that if you wanted to hear a DJ or production company, you had to go and buy the CD. Now there are other avenues putting out the music for free.

I like my dance music too but when something sells and you go to re-order it, and you see the last time it sold a copy was 18 months ago, it’s hard to justify ordering another copy. But I don’t think there’s a record store in the world that ever wants to reduce the size of a section.

There are certain areas of the shop where it was generally more young people buying the music. And the trend of younger people moving towards downloads is also having an effect. Other areas such as classical, blues, jazz and folk are as strong as ever. You’ll find that a lot of the customers that buy from those genres don’t purchase by download, they still purchase the CD or vinyl.

Are there any albums released this year that have surprised you with how well they’ve sold?

Well, I shouldn’t really be surprised but it is amazing how many copies of David Bowie’s album [The Next Day] we’ve sold. And I’m also amazed at the amount of Adele we still sell. And not just Adele, but the Adele vinyl. I’m constantly re-ordering Adele on vinyl. I just put another order in for five copies, which is crazy considering how the albums have been around for a few years now.

I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at how well Flume’s album [Flume] has sold. I’m especially pleased because it’s universally liked by all the staff. And I think that’s a classic example of how an independent record shop can help artists. The label that he’s on doesn’t have a massive marketing budget. The sales we get from just playing the album in the store is genuinely amazing. The usual comment we get from customers is “why haven’t I heard this before?!”

Tame Impala’s another classic one where you play it in the store and instantly, people ask what it is. That’s the great thing about independent record shops. The guys in the shops aren’t obliged to play any particular music. They’ve got eight or nine hours a day to fill. So if they’re still playing an album a month or two after it’s been released, they’re playing it because they like it and it’s good.

What you’ll find is that the guys that work in record shops are just the same as anyone else. They haven’t got any magic formula to work out what is good, but they just get to listen to albums again and again and can evaluate them over time. So if you do want to find out what is good, go to a record store and have a look at their staff recommendations.

And finally, what’s your favourite album so far this year?

That’s so tough! *long pause* I really like the FaltyDL album [Hardcourage] on Ninja Tune. I also really like the Steve Mason album [Monkey’s Minds in the Devil’s Time]. But the album that’s come out of nowhere is the Flume album [Flume].

For more information on Rise and their stores, and to check out the items they will be stocking this Record Store Day, check out their website,