ALLIANCE ENTERTAINMENT: Supplying the vinyl revival, and beyond

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Alliance Entertainment’s 661,000-square-foot distribution center in Shepherdsville, KY.

 

Raise your hand if you predicted the hot recorded music format of this decade would be…the vinyl record. In the U.S. alone, sales of the throwback records have climbed from under a million in 2007 to a whopping 11.9 million in 2015, their highest total since 1988. Aside from the questions this raises about listening habits and technology, here’s one more to consider: Who’s providing all the records? For about 50% of vinyl record sales in the U.S., the answer, at some stage, is Alliance Entertainment. Based in Sunrise, Florida, Alliance is a distributor for CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, and vinyl records, as well as musical instruments, pro audio, and a variety of other entertainment products. It’s Alliance’s focus on recorded media, however, that centers it in one of the fastest-changing—and most disrupted—categories of this century. Digital media and streaming services have irrevocably changed the market for CDs and DVDs, yet Alliance has set a blueprint for how a company in this arena remains at the top of its game. It’s currently billed as the nation’s leader in vinyl record sales, and the largest U.S. home entertainment wholesale distributor to mass merchants, internet retailers, and independent stores.

“Technology can be a double-edged sword when it comes to home entertainment media,” says Jeff Walker, president and CEO of Alliance Entertainment. “It has put some of our competitors out of business, but has allowed us to grow a brain trust of unmatched industry insiders and given us perspective to innovate and be more forward thinking when new products or opportunities come to us.”

jeffwalkerJeff Walker

For Walker, who started his career as a music retailer, heading up Alliance Entertainment is the latest link in a chain of moves through the music and entertainment industries. His original music distribution company, Super D, was founded as a side business—but emerged as a powerhouse that acquired all of its competitors: Phantom, MSI, Infinity Resources, and finally, in 2013, Alliance Entertainment, which lived on as the name of the merged company. Under Walker, Alliance would distinguish itself by the “one-stop” nature of its model. While some competitors have made their living on a relatively narrow, curated selection of music and film titles, Alliance carries the entire depth and breadth of its vendor catalogs, stocking a physical inventory of 400,000 titles within its distribution center. It’s a wholesaler to 2,900 customers and ships to 14,500 locations throughout the U.S.—as well as retailers in 76 countries worldwide. In addition, Alliance produces exclusive children’s home entertainment products through a dedicated subsidiary company, NCircle, and a full line of vinyl preservation and care products through a second subsidiary, Vinyl Styl. Its industry-leading AMPED Distribution operation offers physical and digital distribution services for both audio and video.

It’s Alliance’s success in this core category that’s allowed it to diversify, expanding from recorded media into categories as varied as video games, comic books, health and fitness products, and collectibles. With a formidable network of facilities, the company also provides third-party logistics (3PL) for some of the largest retailers in the world. Its inventory control systems, electronic data interchange (EDI), and data warehousing capabilities are also cutting-edge, “allowing us to maximize use of time and minimize costly mistakes,” says Walker. “With our dynamic sales and purchasing teams, even in lean years we have been able to survive and thrive. Our ability to adapt, quickly using state-of-the-art technology to face a changing economy, helps us to serve our ever-expanding customer base. We are the model of a 21st century one-stop distributor.”

For Alliance, the newest piece of the puzzle arrived just this summer with its acquisition of the AN Connect LLC retail music business. In purchasing AN Connect’s business and assets, which include vendor-managed inventory accounts for Walmart and Best Buy, Alliance added to its SKU base a huge assortment of CD, vinyl, DVD, Blu-ray, and electronic products. “With this acquisition, we will likely surpass the threshold of being a billion-dollar company,” says Walker. “We continue to expand our reach and service level domestically and internationally, as the world grows smaller through technological advances. We plan to keep chasing the dream of being the largest one-stop distributor in the world, while supporting our retail partners and allowing them to grow with us.”

 

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(This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Music Trades/www.musictrades.com)

THEATRE OF HATE: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A with KIRK BRANDON

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST(WORLD):

As the leader of British outfit The Pack, singer, songwriter and guitarist Kirk Brandon’s unique musical vision was far too adventurous to be constrained by the limits of Punk Rock so he folded that band and moved forward with new ideas. By 1980, he had formed Theatre Of Hate, which included bassist Stan Stammers, saxophonist John Lennard, guitarist Steve Guthrie and drummer Luke Rendle. During their first two years of existence, the band released a few studio singles as well as a live album, HE WHO DARES WINS. By the time the band entered the studio to work on their debut full length, Guthrie had departed and Brandon took over all guitar duties. With The Clash’s Mick Jones in the producer’s chair, TOH began work on what would become a milestone in Post Punk history – WESTWORLD! With a mix of tribal rhythms, Spaghetti Western riffs, Post Punk guitar slashing and Brandon’s passionate wailing, Theatre Of Hate was a band unlike any other. While the band was known for their live performances, they took on a different form in the studio. Pre-dating his Big Audio Dynamite recordings, Mick Jones brought a lot of his experimental ideas to the sessions, which worked extremely well with Brandon’s vision. The end result is still being talked about today…
While TOH folded in 1983 – making way for Kirk’s next project, Spear Of Destiny – their musical legacy lives on. The band has reformed with various line-ups over the years and are now making waves again with both a new album (KINSHI) and a deluxe three CD edition of WESTWORLD. This excellent reissue on Cherry Red includes a remastered version of the album alongside non-album singles, Peel Sessions, alternate mixes and a live concert taped during the WESTWORLD tour. Still sounding fresh and invigorating, this expanded edition is the definitive version of an album that helped pioneer Post Punk in the UK.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee sent off a few questions to Kirk Brandon, who was gracious enough to take the time to respond…

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LATIN QUARTER: The Imagination Of Thieves

 

Back in the ‘glory days’ of Rock music – the ‘60s through the ‘80s – listeners were assaulted on Top 40 radio by ‘protest’ and ‘political’ music wrapped up in a good melody.  From Bob Dylan to The Clash – just to name two of many – artists were inserting thought-provoking messages into those catchy tunes that you hummed throughout the day. Politics has weaved its way into lyrics for decades but when those artists became mainstream, their messages were embraced and understood by some while others remained blissfully unaware. And while politics has remained a hot topic in music ever since, there is very little that makes it into the Top 40 these days. But do people listen to radio anymore? Think about it – radio, the greatest platform for messages from the heart, has become a desolate desert of manufactured, mindless nonsense. Then again, people do like to feel safe and comfortable, so you can’t fault them for that…

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GILLIAN WELCH: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A

On her debut effort, REVIVAL, Gillian Welch and her long-term sideman David Rawlings entered the recording studio under the production wing of trusted musicologist T-Bone Burnett. The album that would emerge in 1996 would go on to be nominated for a GRAMMY as the Best Contemporary Folk Album. Welch has since solidified her role as a steadfast champion of the modern day folk/rock scene. Gillian recently took time to answer questions regarding her latest release, BOOTS NO.1: THE OFFICIAL REVIVAL BOOTLEG, an archival set that documents the making of the very collection that put her on the map.

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DAVID LINDLEY reissues on Wounded Bird!

For 50 years, David Lindley has been one of the most respected – and commercially overlooked – musicians in Rock music.  Sure, he made a name for himself with the completely original Psych outfit Kaleidoscope back in the ‘60s and he has been one of the most in-demand session musicians since the ‘70s (Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Rod Stewart, Graham Nash, The Youngbloods, Bruce Springsteen, Rickie Lee Jones, etc.) yet he has never received his due as a solo artist. However, his output has been so eclectic over the years that some of us are still trying to catch up! Do yourself a favor and read up on his career on Wikipedia or elsewhere on the ‘net. For now, I’m going to focus on a few of his ‘80s solo releases…

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JUSTN HAYWARD: An EXCLUSIVE interview

     While The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Kinks may have received more press coverage over the years, there is no denying that The Moody Blues are one of the greatest British Rock bands of all time. From their rough and raw R&B roots in the mid ‘60s to their Symphonic Rock masterpieces in the latter part of that decade, The Moody Blues reinvented themselves while also inventing Progressive Rock. Their continued success throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s, and beyond has ensured that new generations of fans have been able to experience their well-crafted Rock and Pop first hand. The simple fact that they are not in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame is an embarrassment to Rock Music itself.
One of the band’s driving forces, Justin Hayward, composed and sang the band’s biggest commercial hits (“Nights In White Satin,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” “Tuesday Afternoon,” etc.) and has managed to balance a solo career in between his Moody Blues commitments. Hayward remains an exceptional songwriter nearly 50 years after he scored his first Moodies milestone (“Nights In White Satin”) and is arguably one of the finest vocalists in British Rock/Pop history. Though not a prolific artist these days, Hayward’s solo material is just as emotionally powerful as anything he has released with The Moody Blues. Under-appreciated by mainstream press for too long, Justin Hayward certainly deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Ray Davies and Pete Townshend if not Jagger/Richards or Lennon/McCartney.
Released just weeks apart, there are two Justin Hayward titles that focus on his solo material… with just a pinch of The Moody Blues to entice you. The first, ALL THE WAY, is a CD that collects fifteen solo recordings and offers a great introduction into his non-Moodies catalog. The second release is a most excellent DVD, LIVE IN CONCERT AT THE CAPITOL THEATRE. Filmed in 2014 during Justin’s tour for his SPIRITS OF THE WESTERN SKY album, the DVD finds Justin in great form performing solo and Moodies hits with equal amounts of love and passion. Aided by guitarist Mike Dawes and keyboardist/backing vocalist Julie Ragins, this trio breathes new life into Hayward’s back catalog including some of his biggest and best-known tracks. To see an artist perform a fifty year old song with as much conviction as a new composition is inspiring.
Expertly captured by director/film-maker/composer David Minasian, LIVE IN CONCERT AT THE CAPITOL THEATRE is a warm and wonderful experience to behold. As an added bonus, the DVD features the video to the brand new song “The Wind Of Heaven,” which is also featured on the ALL THE WAY CD collection. The beautifully photographed “Wind of Heaven” music video, co-directed by David Minasian and Trinity Houston, is a prelude to an upcoming major motion picture by the same producing duo. The song itself is a rare collaboration for Justin who co-wrote the epic piece with David. Justin, who readily admits he’s never really been successful writing with other people, believes “The Wind of Heaven” to be one of the nicest things he’s ever done.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to spend some time chatting with Justin Hayward about the new DVD, The Moody Blues and more…

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An Exclusive Q&A with NADA SURF’S Matthew Caws!

PEACEFUL GHOSTS:

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: PEACEFUL GHOSTS is just about to be released. How are you feeling about the journey to make the album and the way it turned out?
MATTHEW CAWS: It feels like a wonderful gift. An orchestral album is something we never would have imagined doing. When the offer came, we were right in the middle of finishing our most recent studio album, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE, and didn’t have the bandwidth to focus on it. We learned that Calexico had been asked the year before, which led us immediately to asking our friend Martin Wenk – one of Calexico’s two trumpetists and a Nada Surf collaborator who has played on some of our songs and joined us on many tours – to produce the album for us. That entailed choosing the songs, choosing a composer/arranger and supervising the project’s development. It felt like a distant concept and then, all of a sudden, there we were in Vienna playing these songs for the conductor. Hours later the orchestra arrived. Two rehearsals after that the audience walked in!

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An Exclusive Q&A with DAVE HOLLAND!

AZIZA:
The self-titled debut from the Jazz supergroup featuring Dave Holland

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: The self-titled Aziza album is just about to be released. How are you feeling about the journey to make this album and the reaction to it so far?
DAVE HOLLAND: The whole process of putting together the music on this recording with these three great musicians has been a pleasure and truly inspiring. We’ve received an enthusiastic response from the audiences at our concerts and a very positive reaction from people who have heard the album.

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MEAT LOAF: BRAVER THAN WE ARE review!

Yes, the rumors are true: Meat Loaf’s voice is not what it used to be. Ravaged by health issues, age and time, the mighty bellower can bellow no more. On BRAVER THAN WE ARE, his distinctive and powerful voice is now a raspy rumble – more ‘Steve Forbert impersonating Leonard Cohen’ than the Meat Loaf of old. Many people are likely going to ask why Mr. Loaf decided to make this album in the first place. The answer, my friends, is passion and determination – you can’t keep an old Meat Loaf down. Remember, this is an artist that sold millions of copies of BAT OUT OF HELL (1977) a year or two after almost every label turned the project down. And then he did it again in 1993 with BAT OUT OF HELL II, an album that defied all the odds and became a huge success in the midst of the abysmal grunge invasion. In short, Meat Loaf doesn’t necessarily play it safe – he does what he does and we definitely pay attention.

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DANNY BROWN: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A

TELL ME WHAT I DON’T KNOW:

“All rap music sounds the same.”
That is a statement uttered by the non-believers – those who don’t connect with the music and the messages found on the plethora of rap and hip hop releases that hit the streets throughout any given year. However, one listen to Danny Brown’s fourth album, ATROCITY EXHIBITION, will obliterate any notion that all rap/hip hop “sounds the same.” Released on the legendary Warp Records label and featuring guest appearances by Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, Petite Noir and B-Real (amongst others), this is one of the most original full-lengths of the year. While it may not sound like albums by acts like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, ATROCITY EXHIBITION is just as groundbreaking – an album that will appeal to all music lovers who like to live on the edge. On the surface, it will intrigue the listener but as they dig a little deeper, the depths of this album will lead to amazement. Peel away the layers and you’ll discover a cornucopia of musical ideas fighting for a chance to be noticed. This is an album to explore. It is a listening adventure. This is emotion in motion. It is hard-hitting yet loving and embracing at the same time. ATROCITY EXHIBITION – named after a Joy Division song! – is art for art’s sake.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to gather a few questions together and send them Danny Brown’s way. Danny was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer them…

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