Strictly Business: Alexis from Straight & Alert on running a distro

Recently it was Darin from Westcoast Worldwide discussing how to take care of business when running a hardcore label, and it’s time to continue with our ‘strictly business’ series. This time Alexis from Straight & Alert dropping a knowledge how to run a hardcore distro without losing a fortune on it. This is integral part of hardcore but a hard work to do in a times of digital downloading, but Alexis knows how to hold its own. Check it out!
Recently it was Darin from Westcoast Worldwide discussing how to take care of business when running a hardcore label, and it’s time to continue with our ‘strictly business’ series. This time Alexis from Straight & Alert dropping a knowledge how to run a hardcore distro without losing a fortune on it. This is integral part of hardcore but a hard work to do in a times of digital downloading, but Alexis knows how to hold its own. Check it out!
Hello Alexis, can you introduce Straight & Alert distro and tell us how did it get started?
Hi Dloogi ! Straight & Alert is a distro I've started during 2009 summer. I've been into vinyl records since 16 years old and going again and again to the local metal / hardcore record store made me want to start my own distro . Around May or June 2009 my friend Simon with whom I was playing in a band had a small distro but he had to stop doing it because he was moving to UK to finish his master degree. So we agreed on a deal and he gave me his leftover records, so I just had to place a couple orders to some labels and start my own distribution ! I started with a few 7"s and a list on a blogspot.

To be precise Straight & Alert is a hardcore punk mailorder / distro but we also carry some old metal / thrash / death & crossover records and a couple of indie / post hardcore stuff too. We're trying to have a wide selection of records, from classics to the last new hype ***band members*** side project.

What led you to run a hardcore distribution? What was the vision you had in mind when starting Straight & Alert?
Like I said it before, I'm into vinyl records for a while now and it has always been a real pleasure to drive from my hometown to the closet big city to get to the local record store. By this time I was a kid and I thought it would be so cool to have my own shop one day. Who is into vinyls would'nt like to spend his days listening to records, talking about music and maybe sell a bunch of LPs?

Also I felt ( and still feel) doing a distro is playing an important role in the (local) hardcore / punk scene. Since I'm into this music I've always wanted to get involved one way or another. It's a small scene so YOU have to make things happen, and it's up to everyone to build something the way they want it to be.
I've done a fanzine, played in bands ( still do !) so I just wanted to try something new.

Basically when I've started Straight & Alert my ultimate aim was to open a record store quite quickly. I've started working on this project with a friend but life and things forced to him to slow down and eventually it didn't work out. So I decided to do continue to work on that alone and continue to chase that dream. And at the end it's probaly better like this ! In fact I'm not sure it would have worked out so fast… I'm not even sure a record store could be a viable project now. Maybe I'll figure it out one day !

However I'm currently thinking about some alternatives to a "real" record store. I will keep going with the mailorder as it is and also try to do like "Straight & Alert HQ open house" days once or twice in a month.
The fact you can't talk face to face with the people is the anoying part of running a mailorder.

Sending an email is obviously less pleasent than have at talk about the last cool band or whatever else. That's why I love having a table with S&A at shows or festivals. Meeting and sharing with new people is essential to me.

Does it take a lot of time to run this business? Is it hard balancing the so-called regular life and the distro?
Yes it does. Currently it takes me between 25 and 35h a week in the mean, depending on many orders I recieved and all. Besides i'm working on a regular job 35h a week too. So weeks can be pretty long sometimes yeah. So far it's kinda hard to balance between doing a mailorder and the regular life.

However running S&A is one of my favorite activities, it's an hobby over all. So I'm ok with sleeping a few hours during night and wake up at dawn to work on S&A before going to work. I'm fine but people around me feels it takes me too much time and so I don't have enough to hang out with my girlfriend or friends.

Fortunately I'm quiting my regular job mid August to focus on Straight & Alert and other work / personal projets. I'm somebody who likes to do everything by his own and having a boss telling me how things have to be done isn't something I'm enjoying so much. Besides I've always (more or less) made choices that set me appart during my life. It's not at all something I take pride in but it's just how it is. So I feel I don't fit in the " work – eat – sleep routine" mold. I need something more.

I've been running the distro this way for 3 years now and I feel it's time to turn S&A into a full time activity. Hopefully it will work out, if not I'll find alternatives but I'm pretty sure Straight & Alert will last long, in a way or another. It's just up to me.

Now I will have more time to focus on what's really important, make S&A evolve and enjoy life a bit more with people I care about.

What's the process for what records you choose to carry in your distro? What are your favorite albums you carry right now?
Well it's petty simple. If I really dig a record I try to get it to distribute over here. It doesn't matter if it's the last album of american heavyweights or a local band's demo tape. The point is I have to like the record. I can't really sell to people stuff I don't like at least a bit. Off course I also carry stuff I don't particulary appreciate… If Madball or Terror put out a new "metal-called-hardcore" album I have to distribute it, but it's far from being my prority.

The 2 last records I'm really glad to distribute is THE HOLLOWMEN "Three Betrayals Toward Modern Man" 7' and the SHORT DAYS demo Tape.
I didn't know those bands band before they emailed me to know if I could help them to distribute their stuff and I had a blast listening to both of them !

THE HOLLOWMEN comes from Spain and is like RINGWORM mixed with IN COLD BLOOD and INTEGRITY. Heavy stuff, listen to it !

SHORT DAYS is the french version of THE OBSERVERS, incredibly catchy.

I'm also glad I could have a few copies (15) of the BOSTON STRANGLER LP. It was sold out on my webstore in just few hours. This is an awesome record but I don't really understand the frenzy about this LP.

What more …
The new xDIGx 12" is pretty rad. They friends from Paris playing Hate-edge hardcore, influenced by Violation, Guns Up, One Life Crew and mid-80's NYHC. The last NOOSE 7" is dope too ( even if what happened during their tour sucks). The TWITHCHING TONGUES "Sleep Therapy" LP is probably one of my favorite records of the year. The last POWER TRIP 7" is crazy too.

I'm also always glad to have in my shelves old hardcore classics like YOUTH OF TODAY, IN MY EYES, MINOR THREAT or even great old metal stuff like DEATH, NUCLEAR ASSAULT, POSSESED, or OBITUARY.

A word of advice for kids interested in starting their own distro or label - looking back, what was the best decision you made when setting up the S&A?
First : Have fun doing it. Second : Work hard. Things happen if you are dedicated and don't give up.

Doing a distro (or a label) is a wonderfull experience. It's all about doing something you like, meeting new people, sharing and building something that you care about. It feels great when you achieve something by your own. There is no rules, just yours.

Concerning the best decision, well I hope it will be the one I'm doing right now : to turn it into a full time activity. I'll find out pretty fast haha.
It's always hard in this scene to try to keep doing things balancing between ethics and "business" . I don't want to run a "random-$$$-rock-n-roll$$$-mailorder" but you sometimes have to do some things like publicity or stuff like this if you want to do a bit more than deal 3 or 4 local bands' 7"s. If you are cool with the DIY-Punk-Police talking shit about what your doing it's fine.

And what is the worst choice you have ever made when getting the S&S going? What hardcore entrepreneurs should avoid doing on their road to riches?

The worst choice is to work with cheesy label owners.
Just to name a few ( the worst ! ) there is the guy from DOUBLE OR NOTHING records who stole over $200 from me and a LOT of people, including some friends.

It was back when the STEEL NATION LP was about to be released. He took preorders and then said the record was delayed at the pressing plant. After a while and tons of message to know what was up with the LP he started to email everyone with messages such as " yeah i've sent the records, i've sent the records" to eventually recieve nothing.

Also the guy behing THIRTY DAYS OF NIGHT records who told me like 4 times in the same month he sent my HANG THE BASTARD records for at the end give me the money back. I guess he didn't send them but at least he refunded me ! Several people told me he's doing this really often.
The ugly thing is you don't know they suck before they rip you off !

I don't feel I've doing other really bad choices so far.

What are some of the downsides of running a label or a distro? Does it ever happen that stuff gets stolen at the show or some records you've paid for are not sent to you? How to avoid being ripped off?

Except the fact you need a lot of time to run a label or a distro and cheesy label owners I don't see other downsides.
Like I said, it's all about fun and doing something you like. As S&A isn't a label (yet) I didn't have to deal with all the problems related to pressing a record, I guess it's a mess but i'm impatient do struggle with pressing plants ahah.

I also noticed lately ( since like a year) that I recieve a lot of records with damaged covers. I don't know if shipping compagnies treat packages worst than before or if labels try to save on shipping costs by sending lighter packages but it's kinda anoying ahha. 90% of the time labels send replacement covers but it's another loss of time.

I don't know if records got stolen at shows, it probably happened a few times but I didn't realize.
Concerning not recieving some records you've paid for I've said all I had to said in the previous question ! Unfortunately I guess there is no perfect solution to avoid to be ripped off. Bad people are everywhere, even in the hardcore scene. Life isn't pink !

As hardcore rarely pays the bills, running a distro is usually considered a hobby and keeping an eye on the costs is always important. Any tips of how to promote your stuff on budget?
DO IT YOURSELF. Learn new things.

If you need a website do it by your own. If you need flyers print them at work. There is tons of ways to save money. Just don't be lazy and ask people around you. You probably know a lot of people good in doing something, ask them how to do and do it by your own.

For instance I've did my own website when I didn't know anything about how to do it. I've just found the right tools on the right boards ( google is your friend). It took me more than 3 months but now it's working fine since almost two years ! I think I've learnt more things that I use and need everyday in 3 years doing a distro than in 3 years of highschool haha.

Looking at bigger trends, it seems that everything is moving into digital world with kids rather paying for mp3s than for a real record. What’s your opinion about it? Do you see the same trends among hardcore crowd?
Well first of all I think CD- era is over. Fortunately vinyl is trendy again since some years. Even big majors / mainstream bands put out vinyls now.
But as far as hardcore is concerned I don't know if things have ever changed. I'm incapable of being objective about it that much because I didn't leave the pre-internet era in the hardcore scene.

But I think labels were really clever to start adding download cuppons with vinyl records. With that you've got the best deal : the physical and digital version.
I guess kids in the hardcore and punk scene buy vinyls records since the begining and keep doing it over the years. Paying for a record is more than just getting a piece of wax. It's helping and supporting a band, a label, a distro… It's another way to keep the scene alive. Without them, there is NO scene.
Records nerds need more than an mp3 file !

Before we wrap up, ever thought about turning Straight & Alert into label?
Straight & Alert should turn to be a label too this year, maybe early 2013. I have some plans since a long time but it's always postponned, mainly because of a lack of money but I'm really impatient to start to work on a first Straight & Alert release !

Plans for the future?
A lot ! The first one is to buy a van to go with S&A across France and Europe, to festivals, shows or tours with bands. Then the label thing is something I'm really looking forward to doing it. Eventually maybe open a real record store. We'll see how things are going but I've got new ideas every month, it's sometimes hard to focus on one. As far as I'm concerned I'm supposed to start on or two new bands with some friends in September. 2013 should be a great year for Straight & Alert! Thanks a lot for the interview, I had so much fun doing it.

Check out Straight & Alert website/Facebook