Ch-Ch Changes

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • Editorial
• Created: February 19, 2016

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2016 got off to a fairly depressing start, as a number of iconic popular musicians passing away in rapid succession.

Whether considering Motörhead’s Lemmy, David Bowie, or Glenn Frey of the Eagles, it’s a safe bet that any longtime fan of some form of “rock and roll” felt the sting of a hero’s demise.

While the death of rock and roll, itself, has been oft declared, the passing of these three is symbolic of an undeniable shift. To wit: the generation that has wielded the most economic and cultural influence for many years is getting up there, age-wise. Now, all three of these guys died at or near the age of 70, which is considerably “too young” for an average person (life expectancy for a white American male is just under 77 years) – aided, no doubt, by years of living the sort of “rock and roll lifestyle” one reads about (in Lemmy’s case, defining that sort of excessive lifestyle) – so it’s not as if I’m saying, “That’s it – the Baby Boomers are all done now.” It’s just another indicator that the old standards, in terms of artists, styles of music, popular culture, that so many in MI try to still contextualize as remaining “contemporary” really aren’t.

The departed were beloved and vital artists until their last days (in Bowie and Lemmy’s case, almost literally), capable of selling out arenas (Frey with the Eagles), releasing works every bit as critically acclaimed as any of their previous albums (Bowie), and setting the standard for an entire genre (Lemmy), but the reality is that all three had the bulk of their measurable “success” in the ‘70s and ‘80s – the exception being Lemmy, whose popularity never waned, although his best known and highest charting song, “Ace of Spades,” came out in 1980.

Not exactly “current” stuff, really.

And yet, when walking the NAMM Show floor or looking through music mags, the vast majority of endorsing artists attached to various brands are folks who also “peaked” (in the commercial sense) decades ago. Of course there are plenty of younger musicians on suppliers’ artist rosters, and just as obviously, there’s clear value to having an established, “legacy act” affiliated with one’s brand.

So does this mean that, slowly but surely, rock is dying – and with it the types of combo sales that for so long defined and sustained so much of MI?

Time’s they certainly are (and have been) a-changing, but there are some encouraging things out there. A glance at any recent Billboard Top 40 albums ranking reinforces that R&B, hip-hop, and dance music remain the dominant genres of the day, but you’ve got younger acts – Panic! At the Disco, 5 Seconds of Summer, and others – holding their own. Heck, even One Direction play actual instruments!

Recently, Technavio released a report predicting that production of electric guitars will increase, globally, by an annual rate of 5.15 percent over the next five years (read Ronnie Dungan’s excellent report on page 22 of this issue), with foreign production seeing the most extreme uptick. Data from our own December 2015 issue supports that notion. As just one example, we reported that in the first three quarters of last year, China imported 318,817 guitars valued at over 100$ each to the U.S. – that’s up from 54,376 in the first three quarters of ’14.

Rock’s not dead and combo sales are not on life support any time soon. But things are changing and, while these kids are quite aware of what they’re going through, it’s savvy retailers and suppliers who make it a priority to become aware, as well.

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