More gear, more choices, big box stores... but less live music

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by M.R. Ogle, Nov 20, 2015.

  1. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    Something Danosix said in a post has re-sparked something me and my musical friends have frequently discussed.
    Back in the 70's and 80's when I was playing a lot of gigs, there were a LOT more places to play live music... a LOT. We had a regular rotation of five or six different clubs in the area where we could get booked just about any weekend. There were also comparitively few good music stores, we had to drive 30 miles or more to get to any (like Ye Olde Music Shoppe in Marissa, IL), so choices were kinda limited in gear. Mostly mom-and-pop stores that MIGHT have an American Fender bass or two. I bought more equipment from older musicians than local stores. And mail-order was pretty much non-existant.

    But, these days, most cities big enough for a Starbucks seem to have a big-box store Guitar Center (or Sam Ash), the internet and mail-order can get you just about anything you want in days (like from Sweetwater) and gear choices are plentiful. My local Guitar Center (45 milees away) has a WALL of basses to try out, probably 20 good amps, and all the accessories you can ever need.

    Even the BRANDS have proliferated. There are just so many more good instruments at all price ranges (Squiers didn't exist in the 70's AFAIK) and so many more brands that it's amazing.

    Which brings me to the point: I'm surprised that while there are so many hundreds (if not thousands) of more guitars and basses being sold these days, the number of places to play them (live music venues) has actually shrunk. And due to this (and musician's pay not keeping up with any realistic pace) there are less musicians actually capable of making a living out of playing music only. Less pro Musicians, but more guitars being sold?

    So, the driving force in the music industry MUST be the amateur/hobbyist market. We think it's us guys with the Foderas and Alembics who are the most desirable demographic/consumer, but I'd bet we aren't... it's the thousands of kids with the Squiers and Ibby's who REALLY power the industry.

    Right or wrong?
    rickwebb, Mike_1978, hintz and 6 others like this.
  2. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    I think the term "hobbyist" works on many levels. There are plenty of bassists who are "not amazing" musicians who can afford to own Alembic or Ritter basses. It would probably make you cringe to know how many $7,000 basses are being hammered on by those who struggle to play Brown Eyed Girl or Mustang Sally in a garage with their buddies over a beer.

    That being said, I think it's going the way of everything else. The cheap and AND the high end are driving the market with less and less market in the middle. I could be wrong but I would bet the there are more offerings from $100-$500 or over $1,000 than there are from $500-$1,000.

    I steering opinion though. It makes you wonder how many guitars and basses literally get thrown away each year. If there are hundreds of thousands of them sold each year, and less places to play, I would imagine there are tons and tons of guitars and basses sitting around doing nothing until they are finally tossed in the garbage because the owner doesn't want the hassle of selling them.
  3. ahc


    Jul 31, 2009
    No. Virginia
    Right. How many Foderas and Alembics do you think are sold each year? Maybe a hundred or so for both brands combined? And that's probably wildly optimistic. That won't support an industry. A small boutique maker yes, but not an industry. And in your big box stores, how many Foderas and Alembics do you ever see? Usually none. True also for most local mom & pop stores.
    DiabolusInMusic likes this.
  4. TMARK


    Jan 10, 2012
    Richmond VA
    This is the entire economy. Same thing with photography. I was a commercial photographer. Up until 2003 or so, the money was great. When difital hit the money dried up and the investment in a high end digital system was intense. The last digital camera system I bought was $40k for the camera, then another $20k for lenses, and $10k worth of computers/storage and printers. Meanwhile clients were squeezing you on rates. At the same time amatures were buying the same $60k camera systems, and the low end of the market exploded with wedding photographers shooting for free using low end digital systems. Real professionals started cutting costs and using relatively cheap Canon and Nikons, to the point where mainly hobbiests have the expensive systems. You see it in the marketing. It is a similar situation for the music industry.

    As to amatures, I was talking to a boutique amp maker who said his best customers are non-professional musicians. He said that is because they are often musicaly trained and aren't half deaf from standing in front of an 810 every night for 25 years. And they have money to buy because they aren't concerned with ROI.
  5. GretschWretch

    GretschWretch Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2013
    East Central Alabama
    What OP said holds true for the sixties as well, plus we had sock-hops nearly every weekend. Lots of venues for the garage bands to hone their skills. And while we had fewer brands overall to choose from (and far fewer "good" manufactured labels), we probably had more diversity among models and types. Of the six people in my original garage band, at least four of us are still playing. How often does that happen? Most of the young players move on to other things as they grow older.

    As to the venues disappearing, I think two things largely are responsible for that:

    1) the drinking age going up to 21

    2) the visciousness of ASCAP, BMI, and their snoops

    There are a number of coffehouses in my area who would host live music every weekend, except they cannot afford the performance licenses ASCAP, etc. demand, and they cannot risk being shut down if they don't have the license. There HAS to be a mutually acceptable way to resolve this.

    In my hometown (Shreveport, LA), in the space of two blocks in the downtown business district we had five mom and pop music stores and three really good pawn shops, with another good pawn just across the Red River. And with Barksdale AFB just across the river as well, lots of gear flowing through the pawns.
  6. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member

    Aug 18, 2002
    Central Ohio
    Great thread. Though maybe it might be better in one of the other forums.

    Anyhow, to the OP: Right; presuming by industry, you mean people selling guitars.

    The decline of live music venues is not necessarily correlated with interest in guitar playing.

    Here are my $0.019 as to why all this is going down.

    First, meeting potential significant others is now done way more on line than in person. Before the Internet, the main way to meet potential significant others was to go out to a dance club. Now, the perception is that it is safer and more reliable to use on line social services. Then, when a person goes to meet a potential significant other that they initially contacted on line, they generally want a quiet spot to talk. None of that involves live music. So, the bottom line is that the Internet has taken live music out of the setting for the mating dance. Stake through the heart, IMO. Probably the best performance ops for musicians going forward are the more laid back restaurant gigs.

    That said, there is also a remarkable proliferation of on line guitar and bass shredders out there. Not hard to find thousands of them on YouTube now. And, no doubt, those kind of "posts" are at least in part aimed at the on line socializing that has essentially taken over. And, I suspect many of those players don't actually perform in live bands at all.

    So, yes, the Internet has had a profound impact on live popular music performance. Probably not going to change "for the better" any time soon. But, that doesn't decrease the demand for the musical instruments. Kinda weird. But, then I'm an old fart.
  7. groooooove

    groooooove Supporting Member

    Dec 17, 2008
    Long Island, NY
    lot more people playing infront of cameras for thier youtube channels nowadays, though.
  8. Templar

    Templar Supporting Member

    What, this is news? You'd have to be living in a cave to not know this has been happening for decades already. Decades.
    topcat2069, Mike_1978 and Chef like this.
  9. MrRobert


    Jul 7, 2011
    Costa Mesa, CA
    Way to contribute to the conversation...
  10. GBassNorth

    GBassNorth Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2006
    Ogle - I'd say you're fairly spot on.
    The interesting thing to think about is where its all going. If the Squier and Ibby players are the critical mass in the bass playing community but they aren't doing it for a living then you have to assume they're doing it for fun and enjoyment and it has become their hobby.

    As with most hobbies, beginners start out cheap (Ibby and Squier), then some low percentage of users fall off, what's left moves to a more mainstream meat and potatoes brand (Fender). The majority of the pack stay there and try similarly priced new models and brands every so often. A small percentage move on to more financially challenging purchases (Alembic, Fodera, Ritter...) but don't necessarily play any better or have any more skill than they did when they were playing Fenders and Gibsons. That small percentage of high end instrument players is a huge market for the boutique builders and will probably continue to grow substantially (assuming the economy holds up, which isn't likely). If only 1% of Fender and Gibson players ever bought an Alembic it would probably grow Alembics business by orders of magnitude.

    The thing to remember is that a huge hobbyist bubble has been created in the bass playing community (I'm one if them) and like any other hobby - the money spent on the hobby is discretionary spending. When the economy is good discretionary spending is high. But if that economy goes drastically south the hobby bubble will burst. What will be left in the bass gear purchasing market will be the few that are financially immune to an economic downturn and the professional bass playing community that has to buy gear to make a living. If true, that implies the starter brands will take a huge hit as will the meat and potato brands because their buyers are largely hobby players without a lot of extra cash. The boutique shops will be effected as well but probably not as heavily as the others because their buyers may not be as impacted by a market downturn. So it looks like boutiques will gravitate towards hobby players and Fender will largely support the working professionals, which is pretty much what it was before the bubble.

    That's my theory and I'm stickin to it!:cool:
  11. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Two separate issues. Gear purchases are powered by the lower end, because not many people can afford the more expensive stuff, and for most of us (including professional musicians) the boutique stuff is more than they want/need.

    IMO, there are a number of reasons live venues are down:

    - increasing the drinking age took away the college and young crowd back in the 80s.
    - lowering the DWI level, and stricter enforcement means not as many people go out drinking for the night and drive home.
    - outlawing smoking in public places - drinking and smoking went together for many young people
    - with the internet and texting/skyping, young people don't get together in person as often
    - the economy has taken away a lot of people's disposable income.
  12. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member

    Aug 18, 2002
    Central Ohio
    Now, just precisely, how many decades has this been going on? To the nearest thousandth would be sufficient resolution.;)
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2015
  13. xUptheIronsx

    xUptheIronsx Conform or Be Cast Out....

    Feb 6, 2010
    C-ville, Col, Ohio
    what I seem to see is that we have become a culture of people who want to be a part of everything, but don't want to put the actual time into developing the skills of the activities we want to be a part of.

    i have MANY friends who have disposable income, and are "mid-life crisising", so they go out and buy a guitar/drum set/Harley/ mountain bike....whatever, but then don't actually do anything with them. the common phrase is, "Yeah, I am a rocker. I have a Strat and a Marshal half stack....ROCK!!!!!" ......but the guy can barely play, has never been on stage, thinks that Jason Bonham is the drummer on Stariway (which rocks dude)and 10 years ago was making fun of rockers as "losers with long hair"

    my step-kids are the same way. They are deeply involved in one thing - hockey. Right now, they also call themsleves: a drummer, a singer, a baseball player, an artist, a skateboarder....and we have rooms, basements, and closets full of the gear for the non-hockey activities that NEVER get used.

    Our culture is a culture of impulse, and I think you see that reflected in the consumer goods world. i remember growing up and wanting to be par of the skateboard "culture", but since I was not committed to learning how to actually skate, I was not allowed - or encouraged - to buy the equipment.

    Now a days, a kid says "mom I want to play drums", and the set is purchased without even "testing the waters". Then, after the kids bails when they see how much work is involved, the set usually is sitting lonesome in a basement or attic...along with many other misfit toys
  14. Runnerman

    Runnerman Registered Bass Player

    Mar 14, 2011 are right on the money.
  15. Templar

    Templar Supporting Member

    It started in the 70's with....wait for it....Disco.

    Feel free to count the decades yourself. ;)
    Runnerman likes this.
  16. bikeplate

    bikeplate Supporting Member

    Jun 7, 2001
    Upstate NY
    My area has live music all over. Most of the bands are so so but are gigging none the less. My hometown tonight will have 10 different places where you can stop and hear live music I'd guess. Population 30k, btw. All depend where you live. In contrast I live in SoCal for 17 years in a beach city. You'd be hard pressed to find live music anywhere. I play more gigs in 2 months in my area than I'd play all year there. Go figure
    Mike_1978 likes this.
  17. In the late 70's many states still had an 18yr old drinking age.

    You could smoke in the bar.

    A piture of beer cost less than $3

    You could rock all night and hit the diner at 3am.

    If you drove home tipsy you could have gotten off with a warning.

    Gone, man, ALL GONE!!
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2015
  18. Eilif

    Eilif Grooving under the MDW runway.

    Oct 1, 2001
    This is absolutely true. Ask any guitar salesman at any store who buys most of their expensive instruments. They will tell you that it is successful, affluent hobby musicians. The majority of PRS guitars are going to guys who will never play them outside of their home. One surprising thing is that many of these guys are actually pretty solid musicians, and many are in "bands" but it's not their livelihood and most aren't playing out.

    This is actually a very good thing for the music instrument industry. Doctors, Lawyers, businesspeople, etc... amateur musicians are the ones driving the sales of high-end instruments and this drives innovation which moves across the industry. There's no way we'd see the kind of instrument innovation and quality improvement that we have if instrument companies were only making enough high-end gear to meet the needs of professionals. There just aren't enough professional musicians.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2015
    Mike_1978, GBassNorth and TMARK like this.
  19. Templar

    Templar Supporting Member

    That's exactly right, amateurs and hobbyists have been the bulk of the guitar/gear consumer market since the 60's. If Fender (to name one) had to rely mainly on pro musicians to buy their equipment, I doubt they'd still be around today.

    As far as Fodera and Alembic are concerned, and especially Fodera and Alembic, they don't "drive the market". Their contribution to the gargantuan consumer market is miniscule compared to the big players. And, their most desirable consumer demographic is obviously the more affluent players. A niche market, be it amateur or pro. Can't see how they could expect young kids to be serious candidates for their products.
  20. Templar

    Templar Supporting Member

    All true. Also, with a smattering of talent and work ethic, musicians could easily make $300 a night each in the 70's, playing rock music within the local "A" club circuit, and doing regional mini-tours. Disco wiped that off the map, and most club owners were glad.

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