Record lows, indies peak

Musical notes
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  April 16, 2008

The woes of the record industry are no secret these days, but they’re becoming more dire by the week. Physical album sales have been in a steady decline since 2000, when it was rare for a Top-10 Billboard hit to move fewer than 100,000 units a week. Last week’s number 10 album, Van Morrison’s Keep it Simple, sold just 37,000 copies.

Record companies are laboring to counterbalance the effects of online filesharing, which they attribute most of the industry’s decline to, and failing at most every turn. Downtown/Atlantic recently pushed the release Gnarls Barkley’s high-profile sophomore album up three weeks to combat the album’s Internet leak; The Odd Couple moved 31,000 copies in its debut week, charting at number 18, a disturbing opening for one of 2006’s most acclaimed and popular acts.

Read a pop-music blog any random day and you’ll read stories about the industry’s scramble to find new sources of income, most of which (MySpace music store, anyone?) are unlikely to help the business tread water.

You’d expect the plight of the major labels to hinder one of our local indie music-store chains, Bull Moose or Newbury Comics, but they — along with other community record shops — have adapted to the industry chaos. Bull Moose, in fact, is on track to have its biggest year yet. The company’s vice-president, Chris Brown, and his lengthy rock-star goatee tout the store’s success in the current issue of Billboard, arguing that the store’s persistence is due to the fact that it’s not just a music store anymore. Much of Bull Moose’s traffic comes from used items, DVDs, video games, and collectibles, all priced lower than most mall chains.

Brown was one of the ideas-men behind Record Store Day, a burgeoning indie-retail holiday (it’s marketed like their Black Friday, with special giveaways and in-store entertainment). Bull Moose’s ten stores and Newbury’s South Portland location are among the hundreds marking the occasion, and Maine looks to be the only state where the holiday’s been sanctioned by the governor.

Newbury Comics features in-store performances from noon until 6 pm, including sets from Chriss Sutherland and Micah Blue Smaldone of Fire on Fire, Alias, the Hot Tarts, and Moshe.

Bull Moose celebrates with simultaneous in-store concerts at 5 pm, featuring the likes of Pete Kilpatrick (Windham), The Cambiata (Lewiston), Samuel James (Portland), Tim Sample (Sanford), and many more of the hundreds of local artists the company has promoted in its 19 years. You can see the lineups for each store under Saturday’s concerts in our event listings on p 27.

Related: Low and slow, Van Morrison, Counting Crows, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Entertainment, Music, Music Reviews,  More more >
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