Notes From a Record Store: Dussmann Das KulturKaufhaus

Located halfway along Friedrichstraße, running through central Berlin, you’ll find Dussmann Das KulturKaufhaus – one of Germany’s biggest, and most charming, music, books and movie emporiums.

Since 2009, Dussman’s Music & Film buying has been managed by former ZYX Music and Hansa Musik A&R, Hannes Kraus.

Hannes loves music, and it shows in his store.

There are obvious advantages for Dussmann of being located in one of Germany’s busiest cities: according to stats from local recorded music commerce body the BVMI, revenue from music sales in Germany remains staunchly physical in 2014, with CD and vinyl making up 70% of all income.

But as Hannes explains to The Independent Echo below, Dussman has had to remain flexible as the age of streaming begins to make its mark…

 

How has business been in the past year, and how is the landscape looking for independent retail in Germany?

The general figures of the German market for 2014 show that physical sales are still healthy compared to most other markets in the world.

These are the good news for most of the independent retailers in Germany. Still, you have to keep in mind that a big share of the physical sales are achieved online.

Especially in smaller towns in Germany, independent retailers are struggling against the online competition. It is very helpful for these stores that they are specialised and determined and use their good customer relationship to make a living out of selling music.

“Germany’s physical music sales are good news for independent retailers – but a lot of them are achieved online.”

Unfortunately the classical sector is very much under pressure which makes it difficult for shops which are specialised in that area.

For a lot of the independent retailers vinyl was and still is a big success story. Because of the current modification of our store and the whole building we had the advantage to move the vinyl section to the front on the main road to make it more visible.

We increased the shelf space for vinyl by a third and since then sales went up by another 60% on vinyl. From that perspective it looks like vinyl being the on-going success story as everywhere. CD and music DVDs are still healthy, too.

“We increased shelf space for vinyl by a third. Sales have gone up 60%.”

Our attraction for our customers is the wide selection of approx. 100,000 different articles across the available formats we have on offer in our music sections including jazz, classical, world music and pop resulting in customers visiting our shop from all over the world because of the variety of goods we have on offer.

Sometimes we feel like we are the last big outpost of the physical music world and our aim is to always stay different, which is also true for the other departments in our shop like sheet music, books, and stationary.

What is special to you about working in independent music retail?

There are a lot of advantages. The most important thing for me is being in touch with what’s going on in the musical landscape through my determined sales staff and our customers and giving hints to everyone about my musical discoveries.

Another important part is developing strategies within our independent retail structure together with the German distributors of music.

We are probably the biggest independent player in Germany right now which opens a lot of possibilities in developing these strategies.

“We are probably the biggest independent player in Germany right now which opens up a lot of possibilities.”

Beside that I am always looking for artists that we can present on our stage for in-store events. I try to select artists who will fit to our customers, either newcomer or established, and I try to single out interesting talent, that our customers can discover in a live setting with free entrance.

Be it Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, Natas Loves You, Sol Gabetta, Somi, Sizarr or Jesper Munk, it is always very special for our customers as a lot of the artist come up with a special show in an intimate setting.

It is to my advantage that I worked for different record companies as an A&R before I got back to retail and that I can use my contacts from the past to get artists for us that no one else gets.

What is your opinion on music streaming services such as Spotify?

If I look back to the ancient times when I started listening to music on the radio and TV it would have been a big advantage to have the sources for listening to music people have today.

Record hunting and collecting was very intense in the 70s and later on and myself being a DJ in the 80s it would have been a real relief to have these possibilities.

On the other side, I feel it is just a bit too easy to discover new music and I am not sure, if everyone really cherishes music as much as I did and still do until this day.

“It’s debatable if everything on streaming services should be free or connected to a subscription.”

Nevertheless I see the advantages of the streaming services, as the customers tend to be better informed than 10 or more years ago and know much better what they are looking for.

Alas it’s debatable if everything should be free or if it should be connected to a subscription. I would prefer subscription only to give music back the value it had for a long time.

“Please, telecommunications companies, stop advertising music as ‘free’.”

 

Especially for the composers and authors of the music, who decided to give their creative input to the people, it gets harder and harder to earn a living out of making music.

But as long as it stimulates physical sales and the fans shell out some money on physical product, because they feel it’s worth owning a CD or a record, I look at it in a positive way.

Just please tell the telecommunication companies not to advertise streaming subscriptions as ‘free’ to the customer when it is included in your contract. Because actually it is not a free for all like it was in the days of illegal downloading or file sharing.

What makes you optimistic for the future and what do you wish would change in the music industry?

There will always be music to be made, artists to be discovered, films to be shot and books to be written and as long as anyone wants to own a copy we look into an optimistically future.

It is our aim to create the best shopping possibilities, with up to date technology and staff recommendations in our store to make it as comfortable as possible for the customer to enjoy buying products in our store. I should mention that we have 20 buyers for the different styles of music and they are also our sales staff at the point of sale in our store.

“I wish record companies would talk more about physical product and less about the digital world.”

From an inside view into the music industry I would wish that the record companies would talk more about the physical product and less about the digital world, at least as long as they make their money through physical sales like in Germany. I get the impression that the headlines are 75% digital and 25% physical, but the market share is the other way round.

Keep on investing in new artists and develop established artists further on, because that’s what our business revolves around. Don’t try to squeeze too much products through to less staff in the labels, as the quality of the releases and the marketing suffers, especially for possible breakthrough artists.

Which records are playing in your store right now that you’d recommend we listen to?

  • Benjamin Clementine – At Least For Now (Caroline)

He just blew us away live recently and his record is played very often in the shop, as we raved so much about the show we witnessed.

The record itself lives up to the expectation with a clever mix of soul, jazz and pop, a great voice, his skills on the piano and an overall fantastic production job.

It was out in France in January and it sold well for us on import ahead of the release date in mid-April in Germany.

Another discovery that’s based on record store staff recommendation and I am proud we pulled that off and our customers liked it.

  • Songhoy Blues – Music In Exile (Transgressive Records)

Hailing from Mali the members of Songhoy Blues mix western musical styles with the traditional songs and dances of the Songhoy.

The album offers some kind of desert blues punk with excellent guitar playing and catchy melodies. It goes down well with a young open minded audience and with African music fans.

Produced by Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) it features also Damon Albarn on backing vocals on “Soubour”.

If only we knew what they are singing about!

  • Wolfgang Haffner – Kind Of Cool (Act)

The people’s jazz label from Germany (winning numerous Jazz Echo Awards for the label in recent years ahead of all national and international competitors) surprises with drummer Wolfgang Haffner’s new album.

He contributed to some 400 albums in his career and assembled a fine number of sidekicks beside his band on “Kind of Cool” like Nils Landgren on trombone, Frank Chastenier on piano and Max Mutzke on vocals.

Think Cool Jazz for the 21st century in the tradition of the American songbook with a standards and a handful of Haffner’s own compositions. Recorded live in a few hours in the studio its direct approach and kind of back to the roots of cool feeling is a refreshing experience for the listener.

  • Roisin Murphy – Hairless Toys (Play It Again Sam)

Unfortunately not yet available! But we honestly can’t wait for it to arrive in our shop, as we all presume it’s nothing short of excellent.

Of cause it will be played in the shop – we are all big, big fans of her.

Judging from what is available to listen to on the ‘net it will be well worth the wait!