Indie Beat: Captured Tracks is Opening a Retail Store (Q&A)

Mike Sniper of Captured Tracks

 

Having built a name over the past five years with signings including Wild Nothing, DIIV, Beach Fossils and more, Captured Tracks is breaking ground on a new endeavor -- its own retail store. As part of a pending move to a new, larger company headquarters, the growing Brooklyn-based indie will cut the ribbon on “the Captured Tracks Shop” in July.

Like other independent labels who have opened up retail stores, including Fool’s Gold and Saddle Creek, Captured Tracks will save on rent on the store since it will represent only a portion of the larger office space. Unlike other label stores, though, owner Mike Sniper wants the Captured Tracks Shop to stand on its own as a credible place to buy any kind of independent music and related goods -- not just Captured Tracks releases and paraphernalia. 

Independent Study: Fool's Gold Records

The new store, at 195 Calyer St. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, will have its own staff and feature a rotating stock of new and used records in addition to art books, prints, new and vintage recording equipment, listening booths, games and whatever else Sniper can think of. We asked him to spill on his plans for the dream shop and how he’s able to afford it in the first place.

Billboard.biz: Where did the idea come from to get into retail?
Mike Sniper: The place I was looking at for the new office had a storefront aspect to it, and I already had a successful record shop called Co-op 87. At first I was thinking of the store being an extension of that, like a second location. But then I thought 'Well, wait a minute. If the label offices are going to be here, than it could be a record label store.' So it kind of came out of that. And I’ve always thought having our own shop would be a cool idea -- kind of like what Rough Trade did. I wanted a shop that would be more than a record store, too. We’re gonna do art books and prints and equipment, like vintage pedals, synthesizers and amps. It will be an extension of the label’s tastes, which I guess are my own tastes. There will be a trading post, as well. People will be able to bring in their own record collections and used books with the basic idea that you can trade anything for anything else. You’ll be able to walk in with a bunch of records and get two expensive art books or something.

What other kinds of things will the store carry?
Well it’s going to be a legit, good record store. I don’t just want it to be Captured Tracks stuff, I want it to be all kinds of things -- tons of off label stuff from all genres and every other prominent indie label out there, plus tons of reissues. I’ve been going on buying trips and buying lots of collections from London and other places and they’re piling and piling up. Having come from a record store background, it was pretty easy for me to do that anyway. I don’t want to do in-stores, but there will definitely be artist appearances and signings and stuff like that. There will be some cool things that you can only get in the store and we’ll have a good stock of trade publications as well.
 
It’s going to be something that will evolve over time. I don’t want it to be stagnant -- I want the stock to change continuously. Depending on what I come into in terms of buying there might be a time when it’s predominantly old posters because I found a bunch of old posters somewhere. There might be a time when we’re inundated with 45s because I found a great 45 collection, so it will constantly shift depending on what we’re bringing in. Probably 60-75 percent of the store will always be records, but the back part of the store will fluctuate. It could be mid-century modern furniture; we could do art shows, all kinds of stuff. There’s going to be a place by a bay window for people to listen to records. There will be two listening booths with some interesting books nearby. So it will be an interesting place for people who are fans of the label to come and hang out. We’re gonna get either a pinball machine or an arcade game. It’ll be like a record store with extra perks to it.

What’s been driving growth for you as a label? How are you able to pull off an expansion like this?
One of our most successful things as a business has been our direct sales. So rather than relying solely on a distributor, which we do use for the majority of our sales, we get a good chunk of our income from direct-to-fan. It’s an easy way to recoup on expenses quickly because you don’t have the 60-90-day waiting period that you do with a distributor. We can typically get half of our money back that we’ve spent on a release within the first week.

Other than that it’s been pretty natural. We’re coming up on our 5-year anniversary and it’s been a steady climb. I started out with one employee and then there were two and now I’m up to six. When we started I always said that I didn’t want any of our bands to outgrow us -- I wanted us to grow with them. Rather than sell all our artists to Domino and 4AD, I wanted to compete with them. And all of our bands have helped us out by working really hard and touring a ton. They’re selling a good enough amount of records that we’re able to expand. It’s a mutual thing. Wild Nothing had a point where their contract was up and they could have gone to another label but we ended up extending it.

At this point I really feel like there isn’t another indie label that can sell more records than we do. And every time we have a new record I’m constantly reinvesting in the company. There have been some hairy times, but I just kept going for it and going for it. Now we’re at a point where I just hired a full-time press person and we’re moving into a new space. It’s exciting. I never thought we would be at this level and continuing to grow.

Independent Study: Sacred Bones Records

Do you foresee any headaches involved with running a retail store as part of the business? More standalone shops seem to be closing than opening these days.
Well basically the reason this works and the reason I can be as experimental as I want is because the store doesn’t actually have to be that financially successful. All it has to do is pay its half of the rent, which I would be paying anyway. So I can afford to take chances. I’m not under the duress that a typical retail store would be under when it opens because it’s not going to be the main source of income for me. It’s fine if it just makes its money back and is an interesting place. But yeah, there are set-up fees and credit card machine activations and lots of boring stuff like that.
 
What have you learned from your experience working in record stores that you’ll apply to the new shop?
Definitely having a rotating stock and keeping it fresh. The death of any record store is having the same record at the same price in the same bin for three years; people just stop coming back. Any record store that you’ve seen close down, I guarantee you that that was one of the symptoms. I’m going to apply that same rule to all the non-record things we sell, as well.

You’re in Greenpoint now and the new location is also in Greenpoint. What is it about that neighborhood?
There’s kind of a big label scene here now. Most of the artists in our bands live in Greenpoint and you’ve got Mexican Summer, Sacred Bones, Secretly Canadian, Ghostly International, Jagjaguwar. They’re all here and we like to meet up with them and talk about stuff all the time. So I didn’t want to leave the community of labels that is already here. Plus I live in Greenpoint and I’m really selfish and don’t want to have to travel.