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QRD #34 - Record Store Special - June 2008
about this issue
Record Store Interviews with:
The Old School Records
Angry Young and Poor
Music Saves
aQuarius recOrds
Bull City Music
Bananas Music
Luke's Record Exchange
Aural Innovations Mailorder
Musique Cité Sherbrooke
The Lazy i
Flat, Black, & Circular
Mod Lang
Two If By Sea Records
Sweat Records
Cheeky Monkey
Sloth Records
Ars Macabre
Carrot Top Distribution
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Silber Records
Silber Button Factory
Cerebus TV
Silber Kickstarter
Interview with Patrick Monaghan of Carrot Top Distribution
June 2008

Those of you who know me from my work in the music industry know I constantly recommend Carrot Top as a distributor.  In my experience they are the most professionally acting one in the world.  So though Patrick doesn’t run a store, I thought he’d have some interesting information for us all.

QRD – Why did you start running the distro?  Was it just a natural extension of your label?

Patrick – Sort of.  I started distributing other small labels as a collective under the CTR name around 1994 so that we would all have a better chance of getting paid by combining our irregular release schedules into a larger, more formidable alliance.  That just grew into CTD in 1996.

QRD – How does Carrot Top differ from other distros (besides the fact that they pay labels without a hassle)?

Patrick – We do our best to focus on service, both with customers & vendors.  We still try to carry the smaller titles from microlabels where we can.  We work really closely with the amazing group of Chicago indie labels of whom we are blessed to be in the middle of.

QRD – What’s a mistake you’ve made with running distribution that you’d warn others against?

Patrick – Watch your non-returnables & receivables!  Trust must be earned.

QRD – What do you think indie record labels could do to best help you, themselves, & indie stores?

Patrick – Keep trying to find the best ways to market their stuff.  It’s a weird marketplace right now.  Get their bands on the road & doing shows & in-stores!  Do small co-op ads with stores, listening stations, banner ads, etc.  That’s all pretty much the same as it’s always been.

QRD – What type of research do you do to decide what labels & stores to work with?

Patrick – We’ll work with any customer who wants to buy from us as long as we can work out the proper credit terms to keep us protected.  With labels, it’s a combination of art & science.  Knowing the marketplace & then guessing with your gut where you have no past history.

QRD – What do you think most leads to a particular record being a good seller?

Patrick – Pffft.  If I knew that, the distributor & label would both be selling a lot more records.

QRD – How do you feel about so many stores closing & how does it affect you if at all?

Patrick – Well, it sucks, but in the last year especially there have been new ones opening.  With the chains getting out of music, there’s definitely room in most markets for a well-diversified indie store.  It is sad to see so many classic stores giving up though.

QRD – With portable MP3 players & iTunes, is the concept of the album (in any form) dying?

Patrick – I doubt it.  I’m sure stuff is & will continue to be sold unbundled, but at least on the indie side, albums have been embraced as works of art, not bundles of singles & filler.  Don’t see that ending any time soon.  I suspect we’ll just see more digital singles released to promote albums.

QRD – Do you see yourself going into some kind of digital distribution service?

Patrick – Yes, though it had been a long road to figure out how to do it well & economically.  I think we’re about there.

QRD – How has the downloading scene impacted your sales - do you find that people buy less CDs now because they can download them for less or do you or do you think illegal downloads are more of a culprit or something else?

Patrick – P2P has taken away a huge chunk of the music market.  I think now we only sell to the tastemaker kids under 30 & the over 30s.  The tastemaker kids still influence their friends, but now the friends just go download for free.  CDs seem to mostly be selling to the older groups.  There’s still a market there, it’s just shrunk, & like everyone else, we have to keep carefully broadening ourselves on all fronts.

QRD – How do you decide who to hire as an employee & when you need one?

Patrick – Probably just like everybody else does.  When we have too much work to do & a place to add a person who can not only pick up slack, but add value to our company & what we offer; then we start trying to find somebody.  Every once in a while we find the person first & have to find the work for them.
Employees here must be comfortable making little money while being submerged in music with others of like mind.  We have a very tight, charmingly dysfunctional family & not everyone would fit in.

QRD – If you weren’t in the music business, what would you do?

Patrick – Sit in a hammock on an island or mountain with my wife, animals, & my pile of books & LPs.

QRD – How did your schooling & previous work experience prepare (or not prepare) you for your business?

Patrick – I got an honors liberal arts degree with concentrations in French & Psych.  It prepared me to think critically & interact fairly well with others in an interpersonal level, but I’ve been playing catch up on the business side ever since I graduated & I’m still learning.

QRD – Have you ever refused to sell something purely because you disliked the music, even if it was popular & would sell?

Patrick – Not from an artistic standpoint.  I think we’ve turned down racist works in the past, & we do our best to stay out of the fan club business.  If somebody makes an artistically awful album but our customers want it, we’ll carry it & sell it to them.  Our artistic judgments happen more with the small bands & labels & even then we’re still looking for music that we think our stores will like.
If we only carried the music that I liked, we would have been out of business a long time ago.  The label fulfills that niche for me & allows me to try to nurture people who have struck me artistically.

QRD – What makes you feel like you had a good day at work?

Patrick – Seeing the results of all of the planning & thinking we’ve been doing over the last year start to play out.  We had our best quarter in 2 years this year & it’s exciting to see how that’s going to continue.
On a day to day basis, the things that make me happy are passing out paychecks every two weeks, paying bills so the lights still turn on & our health insurance is still active, & sending out checks to labels & bands as close to on time as we can.
When we get feedback from our customers & distributed labels who appreciate what we’re doing, that’s a good day for all of us.

QRD – Anything else?

Patrick – I love the people who are working here right now, & I’ve been able to say the same thing 98% of the days that we’ve been open the last 12 years.  I still enjoy coming to work.
I still enjoy talking to the people in our small sandbox of the music business.  The file sharing genie ain’t going back in the bottle.  Even though the future of the music business is somewhat uncertain, the music isn’t.  Great, interesting, & vital music is still being made & heard.  There are very good people all trying to figure it out, all the while helping bands garner the attention they deserve.
Forget about the customers we’ve lost—they aren’t coming back, but there’s still a lot of people out there who love, LOVE music & want to participate in partnership with their favorite artists & fellow music fans.  It’s a great time to be a music fan.  Never have we had so much information about our favorite bands & performers & such easy access to not only the music, but the musicians who make it at all levels.  It should be an interesting next 5 years.