Warner Music Group is hopping on the vinyl bus and offering cold beer to customers who join them.
On June 10, Warner’s two-year-old annual Record Store Crawl hits Minneapolis for the first time. A coach bus will escort up to 40 vinyl connoisseurs to the Electric Fetus, Mill City Sound, Down in the Valley, Barely Brothers, and Agharta Records. The tour kicks off at the Uptown VFW with ticket-buyers getting free PBR, drink tickets and a discounted lunch.
The $40 ticket includes swag — like Metallica and David Bowie slipmats, a piece of “mystery vinyl” and a tote bag — and discounts at each shop, though some discounts are also open to customers outside the crawl (a round-up is provided below).
This year’s crawl is another push from Warner Music Group to promote vinyl sales. In March, the company launched Run Out Groove, a vinyl-only label that selects its monthly pressings based on customers’ votes.
The renewed effort comes amid record-high vinyl sales across the industry — Nielsen reports that in the 11th consecutive year of increased sales, 13 million units were sold in 2016 — but plummeting CD sales as customers switch to streaming. In fiscal year 2016, Warner announced its biggest revenue in eight years, but with dwindling physical sales since at least 2011. Its 2016 physical sales sat at $726 million, compared to about $900 million in streaming, reported Music Business Worldwide. And this year, the company said it hit $1 billion in streaming revenue.
Record Store Crawl mastermind Dick Joseph, who works in label services for Warner-Elektric-Atlanta (WEA), the distribution branch of Warner Music Group, says the event stemmed from something more organic than corporate interests. His light-bulb moment came during Record Store Day 2015.
“I was out swinging through all the record stores with my buddy, just doing our own crawl in New York. And we got up really early. I was probably up by 7 a.m. out at the record stores, and by mid-day, I was like, man, I need a burger and a drink right now,” he said. “And we were like, why isn’t there like an organized crawl in this city where we have a bunch of people go into record stores and we get lunch, have some beer and all that stuff?”
After succeeding in his pitch to corporate leaders, Joseph and his colleagues piloted the first crawl on Record Store Day 2016 in New York City. Bear Hands serenaded a crowd of 45 crawlers on a school bus, who enjoyed an open bar and tacos at one of their stops.
WEA expanded its crawl to six other cities that summer. This year, it’s added four more, including Minneapolis. Joseph says he and his crew tried to pick cities with big music crowds, and with shops where Warner had strong relationships.
Participating record store owners and managers said they each arrived at their discounts on their own.
“It seems like a fun idea,” said Electric Fetus store manager Bob Fuchs. “Let’s be frank. We don’t sell anything people need. We sell things people want. Shopping here should be fun. It seems like a great way to bring out the enthusiasts. I like the fact it involves multiple stores a lot, so people get out and around and see what the city has to offer.”
Agharta Records owner Dylan Adams said he doesn’t have an existing relationship with Warner, but accepting the invitation was a simple decision.
“I think they might have just seen my name in the phone book or something,” he said. “I was just like sure, why not, I’ll sign up. I think it’s really cool, the concept is pretty sweet.”
This year, the crawl partnered with hipster-friendly beer Pabst Blue Ribbon. Despite the event’s corporate ties, Joseph emphasizes that he sees it as simply a way to build community among music fans.
“I think we’re definitely trying to bring vinyl, bring the love, and share love with everyone,” he said.
Joseph says the crawl aims to attract longtime vinyl listeners and new enthusiasts alike.
“There’s definitely a lot of people, especially millennials, that are ready to purchase vinyl. A lot of my friends are getting into it. That’s one purpose of the crawl, to showcase what the whole culture is and get the new vinyl enthusiasts on board.”
In each city, a different band will perform on the bus. While most are signed with Warner, a few aren’t, like Steff and the Articles, Joseph said.
“We see the talent we like and what artists would be interested,” he said.
In Minneapolis, the Los Angeles-based pop group King Washington will play on the bus between stops in both Twin Cities and nearby suburbs. Here’s a round-up of what each shop owner or manager said they’ll be offering Saturday:
Mill City Sound: 10 percent off for everyone
Electric Fetus: 20 percent off for everyone; tote bag for crawlers only
Barely Bros: 20 percent off used and 10 percent off new for everyone
Down in the Valley: 25 percent off used, 10 percent off new, tote bag and slipmat — all for crawlers only
Agharta: 10 percent off for everyone