Townsend Music's Bruce McKenzie talks D2C sales during lockdown

Townsend Music's Bruce McKenzie talks D2C sales during lockdown

The physical music market has rebounded with the return of music retail. But during lockdown, D2C was also a big part of the physical business.

Townsend Music have been D2C partners on big albums from KSI and UK rap super group Chip, Skepta and Young Adz, whose Insomnia album was made available via Banquet as a CD at the height of lockdown

The Burnley-based company is also moving into digital deluxe albums. The album downloads include exclusive bonus audio, video and visual content such as artwork, liner notes and recordings. The new album by DMA’s, The Glow (BMG), will be available in this format on July 10.

Townsend distributed The Lathums’ album The Memories We Make, a compilation of EPs released by Modern Sky. The release charted at No.14 last week with sales of 3,244, according to the Official Charts Company. The band, who are also managed by Modern Sky, have signed to Island for future releases.

With the loss of the gig sector, livestreams have been driving merch sales. Here, Townsend Music sales director Bruce McKenzie opens up about how business has changed during lockdown… 

What has the Covid-19 impact been on the production, distribution and sale of merch?
From our D2C perspective, all of our merch suppliers have remained open and very supportive. Naturally, we’ve had tour ranges cancelled, but some of our artist and label clients have been very reactive, creating clever new lines, so we’ve seen little disruption in terms of the products we sell online.” 

The Lathums are super-engaged online and performing regularly, which is really driving their D2C sales for us

Bruce McKenzie

In terms of sales of music and merch, how has this pandemic affected operations at Townsend?
“We’ve seen a lot of physical album release dates being delayed so, in response, we’ve added digital versions of affected projects to our stores to match the album’s initial release on DSPs. It’s been key that our customer service team have relayed all release date changes to our customers immediately. Everyone has really pulled together. Our label and merch clients have been really supportive.” 

How have you managed to work around the restrictions to continue the business? Have there been any new opportunities?
“Our distribution centre and fulfilment staff are working a split shift system following all the government guidelines, so we’ve been able to deliver all our orders. We’ve expanded our digital D2C business by curating exclusive deluxe albums featuring bonus material. Our digital release for DMA’s upcoming album The Glow features a live recording of their recent Brixton Academy show and is selling well. We’re rolling out a subscription campaign for Gary Numan and we launched a virtual ticket/album launch party campaign for KSI, which was a great success.” 

Given the mass cancellation of gigs, has there been a significant loss from tour-based merch? 
“Naturally it’s the artists and merch companies that are feeling the hit here, as merch is such an important revenue stream on the road. Traditionally, however, in our experience, tour merch isn’t huge online. Our own, exclusive, special product is a far bigger focus for us.” 

Has merch become an important way for fans to show their support at this time?
“It’s all dependent on the level of artist engagement, how strong the merch looks and price. A new album campaign is always great for merch sales on our stores as a result of the extra traffic that’s generated, but we’ve also seen merch and album sales being driven by artists performing online during lockdown.” 

Have there been any notable successes themed around the lockdown?
“The Levellers very cleverly printed a ‘Cancelled’ visual on their tour merch stock, which is selling really well alongside some new cool Mansun album themed lines, Then there’s The Lottery Winners and The Lathums who are super-engaged online, performing regularly, which is really driving their D2C sales for us.

“Artists need support during the lockdown as they aren’t all furloughed and the industry needs artists to have a business. During the lockdown, we’re seeing our Making Music platform being used more and more. It allows acts to fund projects right from conception to release by offering exclusive insight and products during the creative process, earning them revenue along the way. That’s been really useful for a lot of our clients, because it means they can maintain both fan engagement and earnings during lockdown.” 

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