6. The local music scene. Time was that you could hear live music in many venues. That began to change back in the 1970s when that horrible cultural curiosity called Disco entered the scene. Bar owners quickly realized that a one-time investment in a sound system was way better than paying a live band on a weekly basis. What was lost when this happened was an intangible – that wonderful connection between the musician and the audience. At the same time a separation between audience and performer was happening at the upper levels of commercial music.
Thank goodness that there were still performers and audiences who understood the value of an up-close musical experience. In the last few years there has been a growing variety of live music venues and some very creative ways to enjoy the experience. “House concerts” are one such venue. The idea is simple but brilliant. Open up your house to an informal concert by local musicians, many of whom have very few opportunities to play in front of a live audience. A low admission cost or even passing a basket for contributions allows players to put a few bucks in their pockets and the host to cover expenses.
In our town there is even a place that has taken this to the next level with a very nice little stage and sound system set up in an intimate but comfortable area of their home. They bring in local and semi-well known acoustic musicians and everyone loves it. I just hope the Town Fathers don’t deem this just too commercial an enterprise to continue without permits. Church “coffee houses” are making a comeback and ironically, even those bar owners have figured out that a regular open mic can bring in some cash on a traditionally slow night. Bravo! I so hope this trend of live music on the local level continues.
7. The demise of the local music store. This saddens me greatly. But just like your local hardware store, drug store and small food market, it has become all but impossible for a small music store to compete with mega online retailers or huge companies like Guitar Center who combine both the online model with huge retail outlets.
The major guitar manufacturers see the writing on the wall too – they make it almost financially impossible for a local store to secure a dealership without the store committing to a huge opening order that in some cases must include items that are very difficult to sell. Even if they do this, it is common practice for younger players to go in, beat up on some guitars and then go to one of the mega online retailers or stores to buy, leaving the local store with guitars that have dings and dead strings.
As with most things, it just comes down to money. The major outlets make deals with the big manufacturers and in many cases offer guitars at retail for the same price as the local store must pay, wholesale. And the margins continue right down to the smallest item. A basic rule of retailing is that the smaller the item, the higher the margin. This is really the only way to stay in business. A local store must count on doubling their money for things like strings, picks and capos but the big guys still sell those items at 30% - 40% off list because they do such huge volume they can afford to.
So the only way the small store can survive is summed up in one word: service. A well run local store has an owner and employees who are knowledgeable, friendly and willing to go to just about any length to make a customer happy. This is hardly ever the case in the big places and of course, forget about it with online sales. So I hope the small stores realize that days of grumpy owners and employees with their noses in the air, musically speaking, are gone. It would be a shame to see the small stores disappear but sadly, that seems to be the way its going.
8. Older students. Now that I’m back to teaching full time I’ve noticed a wonderful trend. I’m seeing many, many older students who perhaps played guitar in their youth and want to take it up again now that they have the time and can stretch their budgets to afford it. These are a wonderful bunch; they are here because they want to be, not because they had to learn a musical instrument way back in their school days. So they come at it with passion and are committed to practicing.
I’ve also seen quite a few older students who have been playing right along but finally feel they want to take things to the next level. I still get younger students of course and I welcome them but these older players are more pure fun for me to teach and I love how they feel great gratification as they finally master the guitar or advance.
9. Home recording. As with everything electronic the advances in home recording are beyond great. Today you can buy a simple, small digital recorder with built in mics, record your playing, then upload your music to a computer and with a program like Garage Band or other simple mixing/editing programs create a very good master that can then be transferred to CD or even sent via email to your friends and family.
If you’re willing to spend about a grand you will have a home recording studio that can produce recordings that rival anything that is commercially available. I just think back to the fact that ALL the Beatles recordings were done on four-track analog machines and wonder what the genius George Martin could have done with their music if he had even a fraction of the technology we take for granted today.
Plus, home recording is downright fun! If you haven’t tried it, invest a few bucks and get going. Just do your best to resist the newest and greatest device that is sure to come along – next week!
10. The “Karaoke Effect.” When karaoke appeared ten or so years ago I thought it was pretty lame. Get a few drinks in you, then go up and sing along with recorded back up tracks of “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog” or “I Will Survive.” Kinda pathetic, I thought. But I finally realized something. No matter what, it was getting people to not only make music (giving them the benefit of doubt…) but it also made audiences more accepting of the effort that goes into performance. The bottom line, for me anyway, is that although you will never, ever see me up there belting out “Old Time Rock n’ Roll” I think to some degree karaoke has made listeners even more appreciative of good performances. OK! Everybody! “I did it myyyyyyyy waaaaaayyyy!”
So there it is. I welcome comment about these things I listed.
Peace & good music,