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Selling Dreams from Home Base

Mike Lawson • August 2020The Last Word • July 28, 2020

Elina Sazonova from Pexels

I am a musician. I wear many hats, from editor to journalist, book publisher to performer, non-profit music technology executive director, songwriter to column writer. Everything is completely connected to music, and for nearly all of my working life, the connection has been that way. My musician fire was lit as a child at Leitz Music in Panama City, Florida, where I first went in at 10-years-old and looked around in awe of people coming and going who were playing music at clubs around town. Since my first gig with a band at 12, the middleman between my passion for music, and the performance of it, the recording of it, was my home base music retailer of choice, wherever I lived. I have always tended to adopt a “home base music retailer” where they not only carry the stuff I like and need, but where the staff understands my impetus, my dreams, takes it seriously, encourages me, gives me good deals, lets me know about products that will help me play and perform better, and more. These days I have a “home base” online and a local one.

What’s a working musician to do in these weird pandemic times? Make music. Musicians always love an audience. Live music, by and large, has come to a standstill, except in places where this virus, social distancing, and masks aren’t a concern to venue owners and patrons, for myriad exotic reasons, none of which make sense to me. I have not performed on Lower Broadway in Nashville since the last Monday in February. This after playing there for over five years every other week.

The reality now is that live music for millions of musicians, your customers, is off the table for the foreseeable future. I miss the gigs. I’m even starting to miss the miserable load-in and out of my ridiculously heavy gear at Acme Feed & Seed, the (awesome) last bar complex next to the Cumberland River, as deep on Broadway as you can get.

Since the lockdown started, I’ve left the house and traveled two miles to go to the grocery store each week, and on two occasions went more than 25 miles each way. One was a trip to Costco when they started mandating masks, the other to the Gibson USA factory to pick up my 2003 Alpine White Les Paul Custom that had a couple of paint nicks that had to be factory repaired by Gibson Repair and Restoration. Gibson’s repair folks had me text from the parking lot, came out front to meet me (nobody who isn’t an employee passing through a rigorous entry portal gets into the factory now). Everyone masked up, myself included, he took my credit card, went back in, charged it, and brought out the lovely restored, massively-heavy tone beast, one of the last ones made in that factory before Gibson Custom absconded with the model to make only “period accurate reissues” 17 years ago. But I digress… bottom line, in-person live gigs have stopped.

I’ve spoken to multiple retailers, both on the local and mega-national online level over the last six months. One constant I am hearing is that, though sales are down in many areas, home recording equipment areas are booming, and Internet sales and phone orders are way up. Some I spoke with say they have set records in that category this year-to-date. From instrument through the signal path to the final stereo WAV file, products are moving that fulfill the primal urge we have as musicians to make music.

Musicians keep making music. They are live streaming it over the Internet with webcams, audio interfaces, microphones, some going all out and setting up lit “sound stages” in a room in their house, or on their lawns. And they are writing songs, recording them, and releasing them. CDBaby and similar digital release services are adding weeks to the release schedule because they are so backed up with new material. I released a new album May 1, and a couple of singles since then, too. I have a whole other album nearly done. I’ve had to hold back from releasing too much now. I’ve kept my nose pointed at my DAW since March. I’ve hired over 30 musicians who are working remotely through services like airgigs.com to provide everything from bagpipes to lush string performances, keyboards, drums, background vocals, fiddle, mandolin – things I don’t excel at playing. I’ve ordered mics, cables, stands, audio devices, stomp boxes, plugins, upgraded my Mac Pro’s system, bought more guitars. That didn’t happen because of the pandemic, it happened because it is who I am. I am a musician, for better or worse.

From retail to end users like me, we have all had to reconfigure what we do, how we do it, but one thing is for certain: we keep doing it. And as long as we keep doing it, the need for connection with our “home base” music retailer is greater than ever. Your store is somebody’s home base, where musicians of all ages and skill levels and impetuses return to over and over to look, get advice, inspiration, and support. I think it has never been more important than now to understand that a music retailer doesn’t just sell equipment and instruments or give lessons, you are selling things that help shape your customers’ identities, professions, and side gigs. You sell magical tools that help customers escape from the madness outside just a bit. You sell dreams, fantasies, and roadmaps to stardom. There is no place like home for dreaming.

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