Global Music Business Rallies to Support Indie Record Stores Amid Shutdowns

Rough Tradde
David Corio/Redferns

General view of the front of Rough Trade East record shop off Brick Lane, Shoreditch in London on April 7, 2017.

UK artists Elton John, Paul Weller and Keane are backing social media campaigns to lift the troubled music retail sector.

LONDON – With independent record stores around the world facing the prospect of weeks and possibly months of shutdown, a growing number of artists and labels are getting behind social media campaigns to help protect the sector’s survival.

The most high-profile campaign so far is #loverecordstores, a global, social media-led initiative that’s asking musicians, actors and celebrity music fans around the world to post short video messages about their favorite record shops and encourage their followers to buy vinyl and CDs from shuttered shops' online stores.

Elton John, Paul Weller, Keane, Rick Astley, Peter Gabriel, Franz Ferdinand, Kurt Vile and Brittany Howard are among the artists that have already backed the campaign. Indie labels Matador, Heavenly Recordings, Acid Jazz, Domino, 4AD and Mute have also posted messages of support on Instagram and Twitter, as have all three majors.

“I’ve been really taken aback by how people have embraced it,” says Jason Rackham, managing director at PIAS U.K., who came up with the idea for the campaign just over a week ago while working from his London home. “In the past few days, it’s really grown wings."

Record stores have been under pressure from the growth of online physical sales and streaming music. Nevertheless, due to the continuing demand for physical music formats -- particularly vinyl -- U.K. indie record stores remained at a 10-year high in 2019 of 425, according to the Entertainment Retailers Association, a U.K. trade organization. Independents were the only physical music store category not to see a decline in numbers last year, the association said.

Although devised and launched in the U.K., Rackham tells Billboard that #loverecordstores has a global focus. Since the campaign’s launch on Mar. 26, he says he’s been inundated with messages of support from managers and labels from across the international music industry and that many more big-name artists -- “some in the upper echelons of global superstardom” -- have vowed to post personal #loverecordstores messages in the coming days.

Rackham now is urging artists from every country affected by the coronavirus pandemic to help shine a light on the vital role that record stores play in supporting their local communities.

“Record stores are often local, cultural and social hubs in many towns and cities around the world,” he says. “People have relationships with record stores, like they have relationships with friends or their favorite radio station... They’re a really important part of the overall global music economy that, like a lot of small businesses, are very vulnerable at the moment. This felt like the right time to fire off a flare and see if people took the warning.”

Beggars Group founder and chairman Martin Mills has voiced his support for the scheme, calling record stores “incubators for great music, and for musicians.” He is calling on music fans around the world to continue supporting their local store online throughout the coronavirus shutdown. “Help them survive,” says Mills. “We’ll need them on the other side.”

Also launched Monday (Mar. 30) is #recordstoreoftheday, a separate U.K.-focused campaign backed by trade bodies British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the Association of Independent Music (AIM) and Entertainment Retailers Association, which will shine a daily spotlight on one of the country’s many indie record stores on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Starting Monday with Banquet Records in Kingston, around 30 stores are lined up to take part, including Brighton’s Resident Records, Newcastle’s Reflex and London’s Sister Ray.

The #recordstoreoftheday initiative has been devised by a consortium of U.K. music distributors, including Cargo, Forte Distribution, Kudos Records, Little Amber Fish, Nova Distribution, The Orchard, PIAS, Proper Music Distribution, Republic of Music, Shellshock and SRD.

Indie record shops have faced the double blow of the postponement due to coronavirus of Record Store Day from April 18 to June 20, and now the closure of their stores, says Record Store Day U.K. marketing manager Megan Page. “Now more than ever we should be finding ways to support them.”

“We will get all our shops back open as soon as it is safe to do so,” adds Nigel House, co-owner of Rough Trade. “But in the meantime, stay healthy, and settle for the second-best option of online ordering.”