Lessons about performing, lesson 35: Your local music shop!

You know, I didn’t expect this site to have more than a few entries before I just stopped writing stuff for it. If I could go back through my past, I bet I could dig up dozens of defunct blogs that got fewer than a half-dozen posts.

This site is different, somehow. I think a large part of that difference is actually you. Yes, you are the probable difference. You take the time out of your busy lives to read the words that spew forth from my keyboard pounding and are kind enough to encourage me.

But, I don’t think it’s the encouragement that really does it. It’s not meant to sound egotistical, but I can probably get encouragement anywhere.

No… What it is, and what I really enjoy, are the comments and ensuing discussions that these articles generate. I really enjoy how it has, across a few sites, become a bit of a community of people who check the articles, comment frequently, and let me know how the information in these articles mattered to them.

The sites where these articles are submitted support a voting system and I don’t write these for the votes. I write them because I get comments and interaction. I also write them because it fills me with glee to see how many people read the results of my keyboard smashing. I really enjoy seeing the number of people who read these articles and knowing that I give them a few minutes of tranquility and share some information with them.

Really, that’s pretty much what I do. I smash the keyboard and words pop out on the screen. Sometimes, I delete them and smash the keyboard some more. Y’all seem to enjoy the results and the results seem pretty good at starting discussions. They seem pretty good at getting people to open up about themselves, their desire to play and share music, and to exchange information and dialogue.

And, really, that’s pretty much the biggest benefit of a group of networked computers. But, that’s not the only network you have available to use to your advantage. Another network is is what we’re going to discuss today.

If you don’t know, this is a list of rules for performing musicians. They won’t turn you into a rock star. They will give you a head start and they will give you better odds at successfully making a living from your musicianship. Click here to read the full list of rules.

Rule #35: Get to know your local music shop!

What can I possibly say about your local music shop?

A lot, actually. They’re absolutely one of the greatest tools you may have available to you. Unfortunately, many have been put out of business by Big Box Music Store and the two aren’t even remotely the same thing.

Your local music shop has knowledge and experience that the person behind the counter at the other stores just doesn’t have. I’ve seen one too many bad deals come from those chain stores. A small/regional chain may be okay, but the larger ones aren’t something I generally recommend people visit – unless they have no choice.

Your local music shop is a place where you can make connections, get advice, have your ass saved, get great deals, and learn. They’re hidden gems and I really hope you’re able to find a good music store in your area. If you can’t, then ask around – and I’m sure there’s something you can find that’s similar. You may have to travel, but it’s worth it.

There’s also the benefit of supporting a local business that helps keep money moving through your local community. When money moves, you get the chance to have some of it! The guy who rents the building to the shop owner may just need to hire you to play at his children’s graduation. The banker who keeps their account going may just want you to play their small party. You never know.

On top of that, many local music shops have a “professional discount.” In other words, they’ll give you a discount on the sticker price in order to keep your business because, as a performer, you’re likely to shop there often and buy big ticket items.

Another benefit is that they know people. See, they know all their suppliers and they know the local musicians. They know who does instrument repairs. They know who is actually a qualified electronics technician. They know what the latest and greatest tools are. They know who is able to teach and who is willing to take students.

More than once have I had issues and called my local music shop and asked them to find someone in the distant region I was in, someone who’d rent some equipment to us so the show could go on. More than once has my local music shop called me and said, “Hey, some guy’s in here trying to sell his GLP and he’s also got a really killer practice amp to go along with it. Want me to grab it for you?”

On top of this, you may find yourself playing for more than one band. I’ve had that same type of interaction with the gist being, “Hey, there’s a guy in here asking if we know anyone who wants to audition as a guitarist for their band. They say the pay is pretty good. Should I give them your number?”

If you’re new to playing, a Big Box Music Store just wants you to buy more of their stuff and to get your services there. The local music store wants to keep you as a customer for life and wants you to tell your friends. The Big Box Music Store needs no such thing, because they’re now the only game in town and nobody remembers their old music stores.

Your local music store is usually run by the people who own it or people they trust. They’re people with loads of experience and know the industry inside and out. They’re like a centralized repository of knowledge and connections. They know other music store owners, often for quite a large circle.

On the other hand, your Big Box Music Store is a franchise location, hires anyone who looks the part, and concentrates on volume of sales as opposed to longevity of customer retention. I’ve never used them for their guitar teaching classes, but I’ve corrected many people who’ve learned from Big Box Music Store guitar classes.

They don’t seem to actually care much about the qualifications of the people who teach there. It seems that they’ll rent a space (they don’t directly employ their teachers – they rent them the space to give lessons) to anyone who has a few bucks.

At the same time, your local music store may not even give lessons. What they probably have, if they have it at all, is lessons from someone on staff or someone that they know can do the job. The Big Box Music Store could easily do this, but they don’t. They’re more concerned with filling up all the rented lesson stalls and keeping them full.

Basically, Big Box Music Store gives no shits about you – except for your money. Your local music shop actually gives a shit about you, the community, and wants to retain you as a customer. The big store is owned by some person who just wants to make a few bucks. The local music store is owned by someone passionate about music and probably plays in a band themselves.

They’re a great resource. They’re a great tool for you to make connections, to get answers, to learn about new things, and even to get great deals. The reality is, and I’ve checked, the Big Box Music Store is not always less expensive. I pay pretty much the same for a GLP at my local music store as I’d pay if I bought it from Musical Instrument Conglomerate Inc.

Best of all, I can sit and chat with my local music store owner for hours. He’ll know what kind of strings people have been snapping up for their GLP and make suggestions. When I want him to, he’ll order whole cases of strings for me – and then sell them to me at his cost. I regularly order bulk strings and bulk picks – and he sells them to me at cost, or pretty close.

Why? Because he knows I’ll be back. He knows that I’ll be in his shop the next time I’m in town – and that I’ll be in there buying something new. He knows that I’m a customer for life – or as long as I remain in the area. He knows that even if I move, I’m still likely to stop back in and visit his music shop just to spend some cash and see what’s new.

I don’t check the guitar magazines and guitar sites for my news about hot new products. I don’t check them to see what’s popular with people who are actually professionals. I check with my local music store – because he knows what’s been selling, he knows what people are returning, he knows what people are asking for, and he knows what works for him – because he’s also a musician and not just a cashier.

Did I mention the discounts? Oh, man… I love those. It’ll vary and, if it’s for your band and you’re set up properly, they won’t charge you any sales tax at all. I’m brutally honest and I’ll tell them when it’s not band-related and that I don’t need the discount and that I should pay sales tax. But, they still give me the discount and I pay the tax on the discounted amount.

They get to know you. They know that I’ll be back in their shop every single month. Lately, it’s been more like once a week but that’s because I’m much more involved in the musical community. They know that I’ll be buying something – almost every single time I go in the store. I’m in there buying tab, strings, straps, picks, new guitars, making orders for new equipment, asking questions, looking for recommendations, and trying new gear out.

See, I go in and I plan on being in there for a while. I’ll probably try out a few guitars and I may not buy every one that I try out (I own too many as it is) but I’ll tell people, “Yeah, I played that model at the store and it was pretty good. Local Music Shop is selling them at a good price and, if you tell them I sent you, they’ll probably give you my  professional discount.”

Manus manum lavat!

So, take advantage of that network. You have more than just a network of computers. You have a whole network of local music store owners – all of whom are (usually) very willing to help you out and know that it’s in their best interest to help you out.

If you’re new to playing an instrument, please avoid the big box stores. Please? I’ve done a whole lot of traveling and I have some pretty great connections. Feel free to ask me if I know anyone in the area. I’ve got a huge network of people willing to lend you a hand. I’d really rather see you become satisfied with your musicianship than become someone who satisfies a franchise owner.

Go somewhere that you’re more than just a number and a maximum number of dollars that they can expect to extract from your bank account. Go somewhere that they learn your name. Go somewhere that has a person behind the counter that actually works there because they love music, not because they need a job for the summer. Go somewhere that will help fill you with the passion for music and not try to fill you with bullshit.

It’s in your best interests, my best interests, and your community’s best interest. You’ll make relationships that last a lifetime and have a wealth of information and assistance waiting for you to but ask.

This article is already long enough – but I could actually go on about this subject for a few more pages, easily. I consider it essential and failing to take advantage of your local music shop, and the network it provides, is a mistake that I’ve seen people make. Don’t make that mistake. Don’t become a customer, become a friend. They’re probably the greatest directory and central point of information that you will find. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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