We recently had the pleasure of an interview with Terry Currier of Music Millennium, who graciously agreed to answer questions on the changing state of the music industry and the status of indie music. The Portland, OR. based record store is the oldest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, and not just a local favorite! SPIN Magazine ranked it the 9th Best Indie Record Store in America, and Paste Magazine named it one of the Coolest Record Stores in America. In anticipation of the Independent Music Conference in MA in November, we asked Terry about his extensive experience selling music and what indie artists can and should be doing. The IMC is an opportunity for indie artists to gather and learn from both each other and industry professionals. Workshops, lectures, and performances, will help independent musicians learn how to promote themselves and create the opportunities they need to succeed.
1. How have you managed to stay open and thrive in the midst of the virtual collapse of all retail outlets, both large and small?
It has not been easy. Business has continued to be on the slide since 2001. The past two years have been the toughest as not only are we dealing with the problems faced by the industry but the economy really hit us and other record music stores hard. There were 7500 record stores in the country in 2002 and less than 2000 today. One of the big problems with today’s landscape of music retail is that almost 80% of the business is being done in the big box retail stores like Wall-Mart, Best Buy and Target. Only 20% of the physical goods business is being done in record store. This is the opposite of what was being done in the mid-70's when the industry was thriving. 80% of the business is being done by people who really don't have any passionate people working on the floor and turning people on to all the great music that still comes out. Most physical music consumers do not go away from those places remembering a good music experience...they definitely are not getting turned onto music there.
2. How familiar are you with the Independent Music Conference?(http://www.imc2010.com/) ? I've heard it is a great place for artists to get a good education on getting their music out to the world. That’s so important and I am glad that there are people who want to share their expertise directly with the musician.
3. Have you noticed any recent trends? For example, are people coming back around, so to speak, to wanting something tangible (ie: CDs, Vinyl, etc)
Vinyl is seeing some revival. Some young music fans are getting into vinyl in a good way. They may have never bought a CD or may digitally download their music but they love the realness of vinyl. CDs should be doing better than they are as prices have dropped quite a bit in recent years, especially on catalog CDs. You can get Ramones classic titles for $7.99....that's a steal! The industry has not done a good job of exploiting this fact to consumers. There are so many great CDs that are cheaper to get than buying the digital album so why are CDs not doing better?
4. What is the percentage of your online sales vs. in-store sales?
Online sales are only about 1% of our business for new product. For used it is about 5%. We have had an online store for over 10 years but it's hard to compete with Amazon , who really has a big lock on the physical goods in the recorded music industry. We have to remember they were spending as much as $15 per CD sold in the beginning to promote what they were doing. They lost tons of money for those first 5 years doing that but they built a brand that a great deal of consumers think of when they think about buying physical recorded music.
5. You still do wonderful things like in-stores and artist promotions. Have you noticed a change in attendance, do you see these appearances impact sales, and how do you select the artists you feature?
We pioneered live music in a record store in 1989 when we put in a permanent stage with a sound system. In 1995 we moved our second location in to a location with live music a main focus of the design. We were doing over 300 live performances a year there. We were forced to shut that location 3 years ago due to rising rents. We still do about 150 performances a year at this location . With the layout of the multi-room store, we can only accommodate up to 250 people to see a performance and that is sardine snug but still a great intimate experience for music fans. Most of the instore performances are not that large as we do a lot of upcoming artists, both local and national. Some instores really help sell product. We have noticed that a certain younger demo that is attracted to some of the performances don't. In many cases they may be digital downloaders and don't buy physical goods. Then there are others where the younger demo will buy the artist on vinyl. We did a street date instore performance with Menomena, a great Portland band on Barsuk Records. We sold 41 Vinyl and 83 CDs that day. That meant about every other person bought something....that is great success for an instore. The most interesting fact to me in that equation is the fact that we sold 1 vinyl to every 2 CDs sold. That is a bright spot to see.
6. Can true Indie artists (self-released) get their product into your store? How?
We really try to back the indie artist all we can. We will take any title in on consignment. We go the extra mile for local artist especially. It's hard for an unknown artist in Pennsylvania to sell in our store if they are not doing something to create a story here in our town so it doesn't make sense to put product in our store all the time. If you are going to tour through here or you get some press in the area (or a national press outlet) by all means you should try to put a few pieces in the store. We will do an instore with a totally unknown band if we like their music. It's important that the artist is trying to do all they can to create a fan base in the area. It doesn't do a lot of good to go through the motions of setting up a live performance in the store for us or the artist if no one is going to come. We will always do what we can on our end and send out press releases to all the local media, twitter, Facebook, displays, etc. However there has to be a compelling reason to get people to make a detour in their lives to come see you. Artists have to remember that great music is not going to get people off their rears unless the people have heard it or someone they believe in endorses it.
7. Any suggestions you have for indie musicians regarding the current state of retail, dealing with stores, and getting their product out there?
I always say that an artist needs to draw a circle with their home-base/fan-base in the center. Once you have done a good job of getting the word out and building that core fan-base you can make that circle bigger by expanding your live shows to other towns, possibly states and growing your fan-base. With modern technology you can also so this on the internet. The music is always the most important piece of the equation. You have to have something that is good and that you really believe in. Do your music because of the music. You then have to look at your musical career as a job and you have to put time into it. You need to learn for others who have done this before and try to learn as much as you can and avoid the pitfalls they may have gone through to get to this point. You need to surround yourself with people that can help you. Not all artists are capable of promoting themselves, managing themselves, putting together their first recorded music project, etc. I bet most have enthusiastic friends or fans that can help them. After building up a following they may even find professionals who want to work with them or professionals they can now afford to help them get press, do marketing, etc.
Thanks to Terry Currier of Music Millennium for taking the time to share his experience! Check out the Independent Music Conference, where people will be gathering to do exactly this: learn from the experts how to make 'indie' a positive and not a negative. We'll be doing more interviews on the same theme and posting them over here, so don't forget to check back there for more industry insights. And for those of you living in Portland, there's a bus, bike, or car waiting to take you to 3158 E. Burnside.