Let's Submerge: Q&A with Roberta Pia of Red Dog Music

Originally featured on Let’s Submerge (Interview by Nicky Carder).

The music industry is becoming an increasingly online experience with the exception of gigs, high street music retailers and physical press. It is by no means an easy job competing against low-cost internet companies and the slow demise of HMV, the last surviving chain music retailer, is a reminder of that struggle. Music shops are having to continually diversify and adapt to maintain their presence on the market.

Red Dog Music is the face of Edinburgh’s music community and provides a fine example of an independent music shop that has successfully reinvented itself out of the ashes of a chain store. Red Dog Music does more than sell the best music gear on the market. I have spoken to Roberta Pia from Red Dog Music to find out more…

1. If Red Dog Music is more than a music shop, what other opportunities and services does it offer?

We do heaps of stuff. It’s important for us to be more than just a music retailer because we have a shop space (unlike our online competitors) and a local music scene to work with. With this in mind, we produce our own quarterly music magazine aka The Dog. To celebrate each issue’s release, we usually throw a party featuring a hand-picked selection of local bands. As well as being an excuse for us to party like it’s 1999, it’s a cool way of celebrating the Edinburgh music scene.

We also run a free monthly showcase called Hair of the Dog Sundays, which was created to give upcoming bands more of a chance on the live music scene. I’ve heard complaints in the past about how hard it is to get gigs in Edinburgh unless you’ve made a name for yourself already – but if nobody gives you a chance, how are you supposed to start making a name for yourself? The only other option for unknown artists is open mic nights which, I guess, aren’t to everybody’s taste. We started up Hair of the Dog Sundays in an attempt to bridge the gap.

I think it’s incredibly important to have free live music events, most importantly to make it accessible for people who wouldn’t usually pay money to listen to live music. We also host regular in-store workshops and clinics – everything from home recording workshops to guitar tech clinics to Christmas parties. Our middle name is FUN.

2. What sort of information is included in The Dog? What/who does it feature?

The Dog began as a way to get Red Dog Music’s name out and about but has grown into a sort of music community magazine of sorts. I basically try to include anything that I think would be interesting or useful to musicians. I always try to interview one “big name” artist and one local artist.

The local artist interviews are important because I don’t think the Edinburgh music scene gets the recognition it deserves, probably because there isn’t one strong theme of music going on. But I think its diversity is what makes it special and I’m desperate to convey that to people. Despite Edinburgh musicians struggling against venue closures left, right and centre – we’re all working really hard at keeping what music scene we have left and I think the bands deserve some credit for how hard they work.

Obviously, being an instrument retailer, we include gear reviews in the magazine which are written by the Red Dog Music staff members. We also include guest articles from customers on whatever musical subject they fancy writing about. We include tips from local recording studios, features on local music projects or festivals and just any other musical subjects that tickle our fancy. The Dog goes out to subscribers of Guitarist Magazine and Future Music and to venues all over the UK. So, it’s a really awesome promotional tool.

3. What do you look for in new bands and how should they get in touch?

When I go and see a band live, I just want to be entertained. I’m really open-minded about most genres of music. Magazine-wise, I tend to feature bands that are making a name for themselves and actively working hard on the music scene; people who are creating a “buzz”, if you like. Then again, that’s just, like, my opinion, man. I only know what I know. But I go to a lot of gigs and I go to a lot of festivals so I feel like I’ve vaguely got my finger on the pulse, whatever the pulse is.

When looking for bands for Hair of the Dog Sundays, I just look for bands who have a good attitude and play good tunes; simple as that. It’s a completely non-judgmental environment and I want it to be an open stage for people to showcase their music, as well as network with other local musicians. Folk on the music scene need to be pals, otherwise we’re screwed. If anybody wants to get in touch about gigs, just fire me an email.

It’s probably worth noting that I don’t review albums or gigs or anything like that. All I want to do is spread the impartial, musical love… man.

4. Any advice for new bands/artists starting out?

Play as many gigs as humanly possible. Play tunes with as many other musicians as humanly possible. Hair of the Dog Sundays is great for this; as are the sessions/open mics across Edinburgh – The Ale House, Boda, Nobles, Elbow, Captains Bar, The Royal Oak, Brass Monkey… all of these places host sessions and open mics on various nights of the week. Regular events such as Acoustic Edinburgh and Edinburgh Unlimited are also brilliant. All of these places feature top notch musicians and the more, the merrier and the more likely you are to get gigs in the future. Also, stay open-minded, don’t be a dick and work hard. Nobody ever got anywhere without a bit of blood, sweat and tears. Except Paris Hilton.

5. Artists to watch in 2012 and why you think they’ll do well?

I usually hate questions like this but for the sake of answering it, I’d say Stanley Odd is a band to watch and learn from. They engage with their fans really well, their live shows are totally mind-blowing and full of energy, and their music just keeps on getting better and better. They’ve got a brilliant attitude, they’re good at what they do and to top it all off, they’re sound as a pound. They’re mainstream enough that the music industry is giving them credit where credit’s due, but still remain a humble, grounded and hard-working band. Stanley Odd are the perfect “business model” band.

On the other hand, if you’re asking me straight up who my favourite band is, I’d say Super Adventure Club. They’re off the richter.

6. How important do you think it is for a shop like Red Dog Music to be active in the local music community?

It’s really important for a number of reasons. It’s vital that a music shop creates relationships with their local music scene, as that’s who our loyal customers are. Red Dog Music’s tagline is “The Friendly Music Store”. The reason for this is that people’s general experience of music shops is that they’re a little bit terrifying if you’re not a musician, or even a beginner musician.

A lot of people can find music shops a bit judgemental and intimidating if you’re not used to being in one. We try our hardest to make Red Dog Music as accessible as possible and make sure we’re being as friendly, helpful and involved as we can be. We’re nothing without our local music scene, so it’s important that we’re slap bang in the middle of it. The music scene is what makes the shop go round.

You can find digital copies of The Dog here.

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Roberta Pia

Roberta Pia is a freelance music and musical equipment journalist and the front-woman of Edinburgh based mind-busters The Banana Sessions.

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