Sound It Out

Sound It Out

Keepin' It Indie — HUCK talks to Jeanie Finlay, director of a new documentary, Sound It Out, about Stockton-on-Tees last surviving independent record store.

In the last five years across the UK, an independent record shop has closed down on average every three days. A result of the changing face of both the High Street and the prominence of digital downloads, it represents not just a loss of retail spaces but culturally-rich symposia for local music-lovers.

It’s this alarming trend that spurred on artist-turned-filmmaker Jeanie Finlay to capture her beloved local shop, Sound It Out Records (the last surviving independent music shop in Stockton-on-Tees in the north-east of England), with her new documentary, Sound it Out.

“I felt it was an opportunity to make a film about what Teeside means to me but also what the shop means to other people and how music allows people to express something bigger and more intimate than they might be able to in their everyday lives,” says Finlay of this lo-fi documentary.

Having known the proprietor Tom Butchart since school and as a music aficionado and customer herself, Finlay had mulled over making a film around the shop for some time. Despite having worked with big crews in such productions as 2008 film Goth Cruise, Finlay shot this low-budget film herself over an 18-month period in a very organic fashion, just hanging around the shop and waiting for things to happen. “I wanted to have a go making something a bit DIY and ramshackle because it felt like it would fit the shop,” she says.

In this period, she would meet a whole host of random characters who frequent the shop, from introverted collectors and young metalheads to hardcore dance deejays and a Status Quo fan who wants to be buried with his record collection – all united by not just a passion for their music but fondness for the haven that the shop gives them. The result is a charming insight into many bittersweet personal stories, all told by Finlay with tenderness and affection – who claims to “fall in love with all [her] characters a little bit”.

Despite the low cost of the production, it still takes cash to get a film finished and released. But choosing to spurn the soul-sapping pitching process to raise the money, Jeanie opted to crowdfund it through the website IndieGoGo and getting donations to cover the modest ‘less than £20,000’ budget from 437 members of the public. “Getting to know the people who are interested in your film before you are making it is worth so much more than the money you raise,” she remarks.

In fact, this style of funding perfectly complements the film’s celebration of the community that the shop itself creates, a seemingly vital music hub in a town with little wealth and prospects. “One of the people funded my film because she said small shops give us hope. I really believe that,” says Finlay. “It’s really important to know where your money goes. Every pound can make a difference to an independent retailer and that money stays local. I wanted to make a small film to tell a bigger story: that small shops can help a community.”

But what will become of the record store itself? In the face of such closures and harsh economic environment, can Sound It Out Records survive in the long run? “I’m quite positive about it. And one of the positive things to come out of the film is that the shop has become a tourist destination. It’s had a lot of new customers because of the film. Eighteen months ago, I thought the film was going to be about the shop closing. But then started to pick up,” says Finlay. “Pressing click in iTunes just doesn’t compare to going into a record shop, having a cup of coffee and having a chat with the guy behind the counter and getting something recommended.”

Sound It Out is released on DVD and digital download on February 13 by Dogwoof.