The independent record shop
DISCUSSION WITH ALBAN CHAINON INDEPENDENT RECORD DEALER IN NANTES
Formerly editor-in-chief of a cultural magazine in Nantes, Alban decided a few years ago to set up his own independent record shop. At first, he travelled to events and then, for nearly a year now, he's been running a physical shop at Osmose, on rue Joffre. Olow was one of our first customers, and we've come to know him well thanks to a number of past events with him (the Super Marché, the Fête de la Musique, etc.). Like Olow, we were interested to hear about his experience as an independent retailer in the face of the big chains.
What does being independent mean to you today?
For me, it's a desire to reach out to people, to put the human touch back in. In some stores, it's less possible to talk to people. In a small independent shop like mine, I have more time to talk to people and advise them. I call it an independent business because I want to keep the spirit of contact and proximity that is sometimes lost in franchises.
I started my career as a record dealer by travelling and attending events, and it wasn't necessarily my aim to have a shop. I had the opportunity to come to Joffre thanks to Frozen. The independent approach is also reflected in what I sell. I try to promote local artists, people who try things on a small scale and in small quantities. We often talk about local production in the restaurant business, but that also applies to music. I work with a small stock, I prefer to have less and know my records.
The idea is to keep this idea of selection, of not necessarily having everything for everyone, unlike some of the big stores.
I've launched my project mainly around contemporary music, so there's a lot of new stuff and a bit of second-hand. I concentrate on what's coming out at the moment and I've built my customer base around that. So I'm trying to reach people who have just discovered vinyl, who are interested in listening to older sounds but also tracks that they listen to every day. It gives them the impression that, symbolically, they have more respect for the musical work, unlike the stream on listening platforms. With vinyl, you really respect what the artist wanted to do, whether it's through continuous listening from A to Z or through the work on the sleeve. It takes on its full meaning when you hold it in your hands. A recent study found that 50% of vinyl buyers last year did not have a turntable at home.
"We often talk about local production in the catering industry, but that also applies to music. I work with a reduced stock, I prefer to have less and know my records."
What impact do the major chains have on independent record stores?
The basic idea behind major retailers such as Fnac and Amazon was to democratise culture. Today they are trying to continue to do so by crushing the others. This competition is quite difficult to live with on a daily basis, as it is essentially based on price. It's David against Goliath. Whether it's me or the record shops that have been in Nantes for 20 years.
The difference is that sometimes I'll sell the same record for 5 euros more than a big chain, because that's my margin to be able to make a living from it, pay tax, VAT... We try to lower our margins to keep our prices affordable, but we quickly reach the limits. Some artists commit to creating pressings or collector's discs that are only available in independent record shops. We prefer to choose them from our selections because it creates an exclusivity that sets us apart.
In terms of price, it's hard to beat that. The difference is clearly in the experience: you come in here and you can talk about music, whereas in the big stores it's much more impersonal. In a small shop like Osmose you can listen to the record, take the time to chat and discover other artists. My motivation is based on the desire to share. The customers who come through the door, apart from those who are just passing through, come for that cosy atmosphere that's different from other record shops.
"In a small shop like Osmose you can listen to the record, take the time to chat and discover other artists. My motivation is based on the desire to share."
What's your relationship with the majors?
The problem with the majors is that they surfed on the vinyl wave that came back a few years ago. On major releases, such as Adèle, they were capable of releasing 300,000 vinyl records without selling them, which meant that the production plants for independent labels were clogged. For them, the albums arrived on vinyl 6 months after their release, which penalised them greatly. That's why I hardly ever work with the majors, because I try to continue promoting independent work. Today I work with French indie distributors and I try to limit the entry of players who ultimately ruin the market.
Some artists don't realise this and, in my opinion, are shooting themselves in the foot by selling their records exclusively through major retailers like Fnac. The agreements for them are mainly financial. The result is that their audience is going to be supplied mainly there instead of supporting people who have always been in the business or independents, which is a shame. Electronic music labels are going to be the ones supporting independent record shops the most, like the InFiné label for example. There's a real culture around the mix that creates a respect for turntables and records, which we're seeing a bit of now in the indie pop scene.
"I try to continue to promote independent work. Today I work with French indie distributors and I try to limit the entry of players who ultimately ruin the market a little."