20 Years of Scratch Records

There’s a pretty good yarn in last Wednesday’s Vancouver Courier about Scratch Records, an independent music institution in Vancouver for 20 years now. For those of us old enough to recall Scratch’s origins as the-little-indie-store-that-could below street level in Gastown, it’s great, and inspiring to see this label/shop/distributor steadfastly navigating the dauntingly dynamic 21st century music business, and doing it with flair.

Since the growth of online music in the early part of this century, independent music retailers have received mixed blessings, unevenly distributed around the English-speaking world. Scratch is a company that appears to be surviving due to its flexible business model – it’s a 3-in-1 label, shop and distributor, and it sells both CDs and vinyl. As founder/owner Keith Parry notes, this is essential to the business’ success:

We do all these things–the label, the store and the distribution–to cast out lots of little lines to hopefully sell enough records to get by. If we just had one of these things, we would probably be done. Everything is connected, and we need all those branches of the business to keep going.

The story of Scratch as rendered here tells much about our little independent music scene over the past twenty years – small, fragile (or should I say “on edge”), close-knit (at least for those who get into the right parties), yet ultimately exportable (well, a few – Skinny Puppy, Black Mountain, New Pornographers) and, surprisingly, durable.

It’s also encouraging to see a local independent company benefit from the upsurge in vinyl sales over the past several years, as also cited in the article. I wonder how many bands are now (like my band) eschewing CDs entirely to go with vinyl-only/free digital download releases?