His Master’s Voice

I went into HMV for the first time in ages last week. The one next door to Waterstones on Prince’s Street. They’re selling signed slip-cased limited edition (of 1000) copies of ‘Telling Stories’ by Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess. RRP £25. £16 at HMV. What a bargain! It appears to be limited distribution too. Only HMV seem to sell it.

Still, it’s cheap at the price and I look forward to reading it. 3 friends and I grew up and suddenly matured listening to one Charlatans album in particular in Peterheid. That time evoked memories of ‘Stand By Me’ even then and much more now. Ahh! Nostalgia now seems to get in the way of the point of this.

Having taken the book to the counter and saw some of the merchandise it was clear that HMV has changed. It sells the full Mars back-catalogue. Pump up the volume!

Er no.. More like Twix/Snickers/Bounty and The Milky Ways! This is not how I remembered it.

HMV has expanded into headphones and sweets and fizzy juice, moving the music out of the way to make room. I don’t mind a struggling company coming up with new revenue streams. Just, for me, the range of sweets and juice is really limited for such a large shop. You won’t find a Curly Wurly in HMV! Midget gems? Records? Sports Mixtures? None of these. And with Woolworths gone, the Pick ‘N’ Mix high street market is wide open.

The broader context of this blog is a sadness that the last huge high street chain music shop is dying.
They have made a loss 2 years in a row. This means they aren’t able to pay the interest on their massive debt. If it was not for an emergency loan by their bank, they would already be in administration. They have already been forced by their lenders to close shops (landlords have priority over lenders for any money owed should you go bust). They are being forced to sell the only profitable part of the business, HMV Live (The HMV Playhouse) -Which, I honestly think, has become one of the best large venues in Edinburgh. They don’t own (m)any? shops. Their stock is bought with debt. They’re doomed unless they get half of their £160,000,000+ debt cancelled. Universal are now selling HMV their artists albums cheap to try to prop the ailing HMV up but with a hint of Schadenfreude, I fear the worst.

The name and logo will live on. The company itself has been sold and chopped up internationally many times so ownership of it varies between countries. Bright pink neon for the UK. Bright pink prices. I’ve pulled a few £15.99 HMV stickers off of a few 15 year old CDs. In today’s money, that is at least £25. What were we thinking? What were they thinking? Why didn’t they buy their own premises with the cash? Why didn’t they use it to invent digital music players?

The HMV brand in the UK was sold by off EMI which has faced a very similar problem. Henry Rollins spotted what the problem was some year ago.

Sentimentally, I always see the HMV brand opposite our shop in The Gramophone Emporium’s window. Nipper the dog listening to a big horn. They were the company which pressed the best 78 rpm records, the label that signed the best artists and they went on to manufacture the best machines to play them on. Their Classical vinyl repertoire is hard to beat and sought after by collectors worldwide. This step back in time represents the firms golden age and is a reminder of the reasons why the brand managed to get so big in the first place.

I asked George if we should maybe expand and sell chewing gum. If maybe VoxBox could do well with a Wrigley’s chewing gum stand at our counter. “We’ll even sell more ‘All Right Now’ singles to a certain age group” I said. “Complete silence and a funny look…” George said. So, that was a really strange and thankfully short business meeting.

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VoxBox Music became the newest record shop in the world on May 21st 2011. We buy and sell vinyl and other formats of music. We are independent and sell mostly pre-owned records although we are slowly branching into new vinyl too.

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