HMV – Well done everybody

Having speculated about it on several occasions, the inevitable HMV topple into administration is now upon us and with it has come the usual 21st century instant response that seems to also necessitate endless RIP tweets every time somebody famous dies and the typing of the word ‘GOAL!’ when one happens to be scored in a televised football match. Way to use the internet, folks.

My particular Twitter community is largely populated by reasonable, logical types and the response to Monday night’s news was essentially a resigned shrug and general concern about the possible knock on effects for other aspects of the music industry. But there were still a few dicks and a cursory search unveils a whole people’s army of phallic members. The end may not necessarily be nigh just yet and you may not have shopped there much yourself of late, but the fairly certain outcome that lies ahead is a loss of jobs. A LOT of jobs. Just as instant gags about news events are rarely tasteful (or funny, for that matter), the slew of HMV ‘banter’ has been predictably thick.

The #hmvmemories hashtag prompted the nation’s untapped comedy talent to go into overdrive amongst a whole range of curious comments:

With HMV gone where will I go to look at what I’m going to download next?”

Oh, very good. Well done. You made this world. Live with it.

“If HMV really thinks its not acceptable to honour gift vouchers, I’d say it’s very acceptable to shoplift from the shysters”

As there has been no media coverage whatsoever of HMV’s plight I can fully understand how this situation has occurred. And it’s not like any other store in administration hasn’t done this before. Yes, it’s shitty to lose out but it happens. Just like people are able to fall over without beginning to type the Claims Direct number as they land. Bad luck doesn’t invite you to suspend your moral code.

Someone on Twitter asks where they’ll get CD’s and DVD’s from without HMV… Maybe Amazon, which is also on the internet and cheaper..?”

Until the competitors have gone. Then labels make less stock, need to offer fewer deals and Amazon spot their position. Think Tesco moving into a small town. Undercut the local shops, drive them out, then put prices back up. £10-12 CDs on Amazon within twelve months if HMV go? Don’t bet against it.

I have no Sympathy for HMV or there Staff they are ill-informed ignorant scenester wankers,never been that impressed its no Amazon”

Do I need to comment? Anyone abusing staff in HMV over vouchers and the like is not only a phenomenal dullard but also emotionally retarded. It’s not their fault, it’s not their decision and it’s really not their day.

Add in a substantial burst of obligatory sadness and the internet is having a funny relationship with HMV today. The management of the company has been staggeringly bad over the last couple of decades and it has been full steam ahead towards an actually entirely predictable iceberg for some time now. Plenty of music fans have jumped ship and many more seem aggrieved about the prices both generally and in the blue cross sale. Many are talking of their fond memories of the store and then, in the same digital breath, saying that it’s so much cheaper to just buy from Amazon. It’s not difficult to put two and two together. If you’re not simply a nostalgia addict who simply enjoys sobbing about Zavvi, Woolies, Comet, HMV and whoever else goes to the wall next, then you do actually need to put in an effort to keep these shops you hold dear. Like having Waterstones on the high street? Buy a bloody book in there once in a while then, instead of going with tax dodging behemoths because they’re a quid cheaper. Where’s their recommends wall? Genuinely upset at the loss of so much music retail space? Visit your local indie and spend a quid more to get personal recommendations and a genuine experience.

Am I sad to see HMV like this? I’m sad to see so many jobs at risk. I’m sad to see a once great brand managed so poorly it’s on its knees. I’m sad that this leads to some uncertainty in the music industry. But, just like so many of you, I barely buy anything in there. I prefer independent record shops and make a point of supporting them through thick and thin. But am I grieving the loss of something of personal significance? Not really.

Listen Up and Listen Good

January dawns. List season is over again for another year. Shame. As most corners of the internet started to tell me what it is I’m meant to be, ahem, losing my shit over this year, I found myself hurrying off in the other, non Haim-occupied, direction. My thoughts turned to the age old question of favourite albums. I get asked this a lot. When you enter our house, the entire back wall of the living room is dominated by records. As happened only the other night, invariably people dash as slowly as is polite towards them to have a quick nosey. I like it, obviously. It allows me to spout geekily in a way that anyone with a sizeable record collection lives to do. But what’s your favourite is the question everyone ducks. Narrow it down to one? Really? I often mention my album of the last year as a way to shirk the responsibility but don’t always get away with it. I have previously composed a list for music message board polls and the like but haven’t updated it for several years. But how often do I actually listen to my ‘favourite’ albums?

When I was a teenager, ‘Everything Must Go‘, ‘Parklife‘ and ‘Different Class‘ got a hammering on my CD player, at least in part because I didn’t have many CDs. Anything that stood out would naturally dominate proceedings due to lack of competition. But things have long since changed and even my moment of clarity some four or five years ago about abandoning the almost immediately worthless 5″ disc in favour of my beloved vinyl, even for new releases, didn’t seem to staunch the flow of additions to the library. I’ve increasingly realised that I don’t wallow enough. There are still albums which necessitate multiple plays in one sitting – the new Low and John Grant records for a start – but my constant quest for exciting and involving music has made me quite sympathetic to the slow listening cause. And then I visit a decent record shop or two, get a sugar rush and end up at the till with a few prime choices to cue up that evening. So do I really play my ‘favourite’ albums that much at all?

I’ve just drawn up a rough list and am slightly concerned to realise that I can’t remember when I last played at least half of the albums on there. Are they, therefore, not my favourites? Are they simply there waiting for me when new or recently discovered music simply won’t cut it? Have I got illegal download hoarder disease – only with physical product? Can favourites survive in the 21st century culture of having everything available, day and night? I mention all of this in light of the news that beleaguered (though evidently not as beleaguered as I thought it was a whole twelve months ago) high street retailer HMV is to commence a blue cross sale on Friday, offering 25% off pretty much all back catalogue titles. It is fairly clearly a last gasp money grab, trying to get as much cash in as quickly as possible before the various banking covenants loom large. When MVC and Music Zone were hurtling plughole-wards a similar approach was taken and a stickering system which allows easy altering of prices is hardly a sign of imminent recovery. Such sales are designed to get you in and get you spending. When MVC Derby was close to the end it had a £3.99 and £1.99 clearout and there I was, piling ‘bargains’ all the way up my right arm whilst browsing with my left. What did I buy? All sorts of shite, mainly. This is, essentially, the mentality HMV are hoping for in the coming week or two. Will 25% be enough to lure people in, especially in the post apocalxmas environment of January? Will the ‘ooh it’s cheap’ instinct override the ‘why didn’t I buy this when it came out?’ question? I used to glory in the acquisition. A bloody big pile of cheap stuff was an achievement. Except it wasn’t, was it? How many of those desperate clearance items go on to be one of your favourite albums? Not one of the titles on my list arrived in that manner and I’ve learnt the hard way that sales such as these are best avoided. When I broke my ankle in late 2011, the enforced sofa time enabled quite a bit of bargain vinyl buying but it created quite a backlog, what with me not really being able to manouvere vinyl around the house. In the end, I was feeling under pressure to listen to things and get them filed. And that’s not what the joy of music is all about, is it?

I’ve already started playing the albums on the list I conjured earlier so as to see if they still mean as much to me when heard as when simply thought about and it’s going well so far. And maybe it’s time for us to all put the music first once again. Spotify allows us to play pretty much anything ever but that encourages a distinct lack of commitment. iTunes lets us think of something and buy it there and then but how do we find it? Various surveys suggest as much as 80% of people’s iTunes library goes unplayed while plenty of the catalogue for sale via the store has never been bought. Rather than putting your hard earned towards a pile of stuff you hadn’t felt worthy of purchase at full price simply because HMV want you to think this is rare opportunity to fill your music boots rather than a vague and likely fruitless stay of execution, ferret through the racks, pick out what you would have ended up buying in cavalier fashion and then spend that amount in your local independent record shop by asking them to recommend something you might like. A bit like an Amazon or iTunes algorithm, only human. And useful. That might then go on to be something for your all time favourites list. At least eight of my list are from direct human enthusing. That is what we should be bemoaning the loss of during this prolonged and very public death rattle for Nipper and his tattoo-obscuring co-workers. The company didn’t adapt, the company didn’t keep up. But plenty of the staff in HMV and Fopp are out and out music lovers for whom this will be a pretty grim time. Don’t be a dick and delight in its demise, whike they’re having to sticker stock like mad. It’s hard to currently comprehend what the likely consequences of an HMV-less high street would be, but let’s not pretend Amazon management aren’t leaping around the boardroom in glee, even if the warm feeling that’s due to accompany it is still a day late being delivered by Yodel. It’ll be then that we need our independent stores even more than ever before and we must hope that clearance hysteria doesn’t result in the typically minimal sales of the first quarter of the year for such shops being diminished even further.

You can read more about slow listening and evaluate how you listen here:

How Do You Listen To Music? Site

Thanks to @adam_bunn on Twitter for the photo above.