Brick Lane Music Haven In Rough Trade Seas

The decline of CD sales worldwide has the music industry shipping water in a well-rocked boat; how the big fish decide to deal with current sea-changes in the public’s consumption of music will ultimately determine if they sink or swim.

At the moment, brick-and-mortar music retail stores are swimming like… well, bricks. Sales of compact discs in the US for the first three months of 2007 were 20% lower than the same period last year; that’s 89 million CDs in Q1 2007 compared to 112 million in Q1 2006. In the UK, the British Phonographic Society reported that sales fell by 10% in the first half of this year. Furthermore, the entry of supermarkets into the fray has scuppered the profitability of many dedicated stores. In 2000, there were 967 independent outlets in the UK – this has now fallen to 687.

In an attempt to turn the tide, Rough Trade have opened a new style of store (off Brick Lane) which they hope will become a primary port of call for music fans. Stephen Godfroy, the store director, issued a broadside to the retail industry by stating that consumers’ desire for music is as strong as ever – the decline of the CD is not the fault of the format itself but of homogenous mass-market retailers. Godfroy believes that selling albums in a multi-discount format (3 for £20) in a crammed store that also flogs video games, DVDs and electronic goods is actually demeaning the music, and is certainly not an environment in which music lovers would want to hang out. As a stern reprimand to the cost-cutting sales approach, he reveals his “counter culture” ethos:

“With this store, we feel there’s a dormant music shopper out there who’s not buying music from the High Street simply because they don’t like High Street retailers, not because they’ve gone off physical formats. In terms of a retail environment, (Rough Trade East) is offering the joy of browsing back to many people, where you want to go into a store and you can see yourself losing track of time, and that’s a joy that has been lost on the High Street…If you’ve got a passion for music, you want somewhere to display that and feel comfortable.”

Rough Trade have pooled a lot of resources to create their new store. Godfroy states that they have invested “30 years of favours” to make it a place where people of all ages and backgrounds will come to listen to new music, relax, browse and chat. The store features a high-spec stage with an audience capacity of 200, with regular free gigs planned. The main store itself will be awash with audiophile-grade sounds, thanks to a cutting-edge speaker system. A snug area is provided, complete with free wi-fi access, and weary shoppers can also avail of the hot drinks bar. Artist-hosted quizzes, debates and t-shirt making workshops for children are also on the agenda, with nappy-changing facilities on hand if required. If you find such delights hard to fathom, maybe you should drop in and sound it out for yourself.


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