Categories
Music Industry

More on Peavey and the Music Business

I’m not a television watcher. Other than the news occasionally, Jeopardy, and a few shows on the History Channel, I rarely have the thing on. I would rather read or practice one of my musical instruments.

So it came as a surprise to me when, doing some research on Peavey guitars (see last week’s blog), I came upon some information on the company that had me taken aback. It seems that the company was highlighted on an episode of the reality show Undercover Boss a few years ago, and what is worse, had some bad fallout prior to the finished production airing on TV.

It seems that the COO of the company (Courtland Gray) went undercover at Peavey Electronics to see what was happening with quality control. During the show, Gray learned that one employee had numerous bills to pay due to cutbacks, and another was turning in his two-week notice for better employment. At the end, Gray was able to give the first some financial assistance, and convince the second to stay with Peavey. Happy ending?

Not really. After the filming but before the airing, Peavey announced that it would be closing the factory that these two employees worked at, screwing them and others royally. The second employee got transferred to another facility, but he was pissed to say the least. The first lost her job entirely. Now this was all back in 2014. I can only hope that the both of them found better opportunities. A number of YouTube channels are showing this episode, so just Google “Peavey Undercover Boss.” Here is Casino Guitars talking about the situation:

Peavey was not alone during the past decade of music instrument soap opera drama. In 2018, Gibson (home of the Les Paul guitar and Bill Monroe’s F5 mandolin) filed for bankruptcy protection. The company has proceeded on, but news like that does not just get pushed under the rug.

So many companies have gone overseas for operations to save costs, with varying amounts of success (Fender = big rewards!, Peavey = way too late for the bus). Also, think about the music stores that have had varying amounts of success. Mars went belly up (again, see my previous blog on that company), Guitar Center keeps surviving despite multiple bankruptcies and legal woes, yet Sweetwater proved to be one of the most successful businesses out there, not just of music businesses, but of ALL businesses, during this last year with the pandemic.

With the interest in learning musical instruments while stuck at home this past year, one can see that an online music store would be successful. The downside was that in-store shopping was temporarily halted, and many stores, especially independents, are starving or closed altogether. As I stated in last week’s blog, prices for used equipment has also skyrocketed, I guess due to a renewed interest in musical instruments.

As for Peavey and its history, it makes me sad. Hartley Peavey started this company to bring affordable, durable products into the hands of blue-collar musicians. Between overseas competition, a drop in quality, and a change in the taste of musicians, it has become nearly a joke of what it once was. I still swear by those old bass guitars and the durable amps, but I know of so many people who look down on that equipment as lame.

What about the rise in learning a musical instrument? It is great to see, but will it last long-term? Everyone is stuck in the house, and after getting burned out on TV and video games, some people want to be educated, even if it means learning a guitar or some other instrument. Heck, I am sure that other hobbies are booming just as much. But what about a year from now, when it is expected that there will be a full return to going out, attending shows and restaurants, and not having to be forced to stay at home? I do see a small benefit for those of us who are passionate about the music. There will be a lot of guitars, basses, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, and keyboards for sale on the cheap.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Music Industry

Bruce Swedien and Phil Ramone

I am currently reading Make Mine Music by Bruce Swedien. You probably have never heard the name, but you have definitely heard his work. He engineered hundreds of hit records and albums, with his most famous being Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Bruce has worked with Quincy Jones and dozens of other great producers over the last few decades. Unfortunately, Bruce passed away last year, but his work will live on forever.

The reason I bring up his autobiography is that it does not read like other life stories. This isn’t written like a chronological “this is what I did and what happened to me” type of book. Instead, Bruce presented his chapters as anecdotes of his experience in the recording studios that he worked at during his lifetime. He talks about famous artists he engineered, but from the perspective of how he captured their sounds on tape more so than what they were like as people. He has chapters on what equipment he used over the years, like the changes in technology from cutting wax discs to tape machines to digital trends. He talks about the different microphones he has used, what made them unique, and in what situations he put them through.

This is the type of autobiography that I enjoy reading. Someone listening to Jackson’s “Billie Jean” will like the beat, or the storyline or the groove. I, on the other hand, like to go much deeper. I like to know HOW certain sound were captured, why songs were arranged the way they were, and what was going on in the minds of the people behind the studio glass. Bruce does give some perspective of how he got into the business, his parents’ attitude and where he got his training, but he knows that his audience is interested in more in his actual work and how he created it.

Another great book in this vein is Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music by Phil Ramone. The record-buying public may consider Michael Jackson the “King of Pop,” but from a production standpoint, Phil deserved that title. Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Quincy Jones and Elton John are just a few of the superstars that he produced or engineered. He passed away in 2013, leaving behind a list of artists that other producers could only dream of working with. His autobiography has a similar take. Instead of the usual childhood-to-success-story movement, each chapter is its own little story of an anecdote that happened in his musical life. Incidents like running sound for John F Kennedy’s birthday party and setting up the microphone for Marilyn Monroe, or his work with Sinatra. People like me who love the behind-the-scenes stories of the music industry, especially from a production standpoint, tend to love these type of books.

The general music-listening public tend to forget, or are apathetic to, the amount of manpower that goes into recording a hit song. We see the artist standing in front of the microphone belting out a vocal treasure and think that is all that needs to be done. It is the heroes behind that artist that intrigue me the most. That is why I rarely download or stream music. I like to have that album in my had to see the whole story. The writers, producers and engineers, which studios were used, guest musicians, the mastering of the album – all of that is important to a listener like me. Skyscrapers were not designed and built by one person, and neither were million-seller records.

I recommend that, if you are into learning about stories of popular music recordings and basic technology, then snag one or both of these books.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Music Industry Musical Instruments

Are You Sure That It’s a Shure?

I guess this has been a problem for a few years, but I only became aware of it recently. While checking out the website Wish.com, I came across something that made me to a double-take. The site was selling Shure microphones for about 20% of their cost at a music store. The famous SM58 vocal mic retails for about $100 at Sweetwater or Guitar Center. The same can be said for the SM57, and the Beta 87a goes for around $250. If you shop Amazon, you may find it for a buck or two cheaper.

However, one search on the Wish site shows that you can snag a 57 or 58 for about $20, and a Beta 87a for around $30. Depending on when you go to the site, the prices can sometimes be cheaper!

I knew there had to be a catch, but I decided to purchase a 58 anyway to see what would happen. Of course, shipping and taxes added about $10 to the cost, and it took about three weeks for the package to arrive (it was shipped from China).

I have always felt that the Shure SM58 is the best all-around microphone available. Comparing price, durability, and response, it would be the obvious choice if I were to have only one microphone. When I opened up the package of my new 58, I could tell right away that it was a fake. Just by holding it, it was a lot lighter than the true Shure 58. Putting them both on a scale, the real 58 came in at about 0.6 lb., while the fake 58 weighed in at 0.4 lb. Taking off the windscreens, the real 58 capsule has a slight cushion to it in order to sustain some shock. The fake 58 had no cushion to the capsule.

Testing it out on a small PA system, I noticed that the fake 58 did not have the same warmth from the low end frequencies as the real 58. It just seems to have a bit of distortion from that end. Its response was more like the lower-cost SM48. It did have the same sound level as the true 58, just not as warm.

In short, it seemed to be about worth the money of the purchase. It was a lot cheaper than the true 58, but it definitely is not of the same high quality. I am sure that the SM57 and Beta 87a that are available on Wish are of the same quality. Here is a video that I found that provides more information on comparing the two:

My main concern with this marketing is that I am questioning why Shure has not proceeded with large-scale legal action against the manufacturers of fake microphones. We have seen such action taken by guitar manufacturers, with results leading to mislabeled guitars not being available in the US as well as legal action being taken against anyone bringing one into the country. However, a Google search on the Shure situation shows that there has only been one serious attempt at legal action, and that was in the UK about 10 years ago.

I would think that Shure would take a stronger action against the sale and distribution of these fake microphones for two big reasons:

  1. The lower cost of the fake microphones will lead to more sales, which will kill Shure’s sales.
  2. The lack of quality with the fake microphones will reflect poorly on Shure, as consumers would blame Shure for the problems, even though it had nothing to do with the manufacturing of that fake mic.

Perhaps I am out of the loop and am missing something. However, my advice to anyone interested in one of these fake Shure microphones, if you purchase one, do not expect the quality and customer service you can expect from the Shure company. You will be getting a second-class product with a first-class label on the body. If you want the best, you need to go directly into purchasing as true Shure microphone.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Americana Music Bluegrass Music Music Industry

Jerry Jeff Walker RIP/Sturgill Simpson and Downloads

Two things.

First, my heart dropped this morning when a buddy texted me that Jerry Jeff Walker passed away at 79 years of age. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t heard his classic song “Mr. Bojangles.” It is a standard up there with “Gentle On My Mind” and “Yesterday.” But Jerry (real name Ronald Clyde Crosby) was way more than that. His catalog was amazing to say the least. There were the humorous and crazy tunes like “Trashy Women” and “Pissing In the Wind.” Then there were the tender and heartfelt songs like “Navajo Rug” and “Morning Song to Sally.”

He was from New York, did some time in Greenwich Village, but moved to Austin, Texas and helped to create the city’s live music scene. Once could say that he was Texas’ favorite adopted son. He lived the rowdy lifestyle (he wrote “Mr. Bojangles” after an experience in a jail cell arrested for intoxication), but was always humble and giving. He helped Guy Clark get noticed by recording Clark’s songs “L.A. Freeway.” Legend has it that he influenced Jimmy Buffett to move to Key West, Florida.

Jerry spent his last few years in the grips of throat cancer, the one ailment that only the Devil could place on a singer-songwriter. He continued to write until this past week when he died. His songs are timeless, stories that are not so much feel-good/happy-ending types, but ones that are truly descriptive, soul-wrenching, and life-like.

Thank you, Jerry, for showing all of us other songwriters how it is done.

Late last week Sturgill Simpson released Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1, a collection of his own songs done bluegrass style. I love Sturgill! Not just the fact that his songs are fantastic, but I love his attitude that he has taken toward the country music industry. After winning “Best Country Album” at the Grammy Awards in 2017, the industry didn’t even bother to invite him to the following year’s CMA awards. So what did he do? He busked in front of the theatre that evening. That takes balls!

With the release of the bluegrass album, he did some crazy stuff like putting lawncare signs on music biz buildings in Music Row (https://www.whiskeyriff.com/2020/10/20/sturgill-simpson-continues-his-a-cma-trolling-puts-ddss-lawn-care-sign-in-front-lawn/). He has also been very vocal on the way Merle Haggard was treated by the industry in the years before Haggard’s death. Well done! And while I’m not in agreement with a lot of Sturgill’s politics, I do applaud him for doing legwork and not just talking the talk.

However, my gripe here is how he has chosen to release his bluegrass album. While the streaming version was released last week, the CD will not be available until December, and vinyl is not available until January! While mainstream pop markets are pretty much going the streaming/download route, there is still a large fan base in the roots-music formats that crave the physical part of owning music, myself included. We want to be able to hold in our hands something that is attached to the music. The album cover means a lot to us. We soak in the liner notes, the musician lineup, the choice of photos and artwork. We involve our sight and touch sensory functions along with hearing. This becomes a disappointment to say the least, and may involve me forgetting to purchase the album next month.

This is not to say that streaming and downloading should be banished. If there is an audience for it, then by all means, market that as well! It also serves its purpose in the music business area. I was contacted by a musician who was releasing her album in two months, but wanted me to listen to the songs beforehand so that I could review it for a magazine. She sent me the download link, and I was able to get the review published right about the time the CD was becoming available. Perfect!

But with downloading as a primary or only way to purchase music, especially with bluegrass or other roots music formats, it is one way to lose music fans like me. I am from the old school. Like I said above, I like the physical aspect of being a music fan. I also like having a big stereo system. Downloading music to your iPhone or MP3 player and wearing ear buds makes that music private and closed in. The stereo system lets others know what I am listening to as well. It fills the room, not just my head.

CD sales are down because of the music industry, not the music fans. The industry will still charge you a dollar for a download, which when considering that the average album has about 12 or 13 songs, it’s the cost of a CD anyway, but they don’t have to manufacture anything. They save that cost. It is also more difficult to track download sales for the performance right organizations like ASCAP and BMI. Thus, songwriters get cheated out of royalties. Vinyl sales are still rising thanks to hipster audiophiles. However, that rise is still not enough to get the money collected by the record companies into the hands of the workers that deserve and earn it. Besides, I like having a wall of CDs towering over me.

Sturgill has a lot of top-notch bluegrass artists like Tim O’Brien, Sierra Hull and Stuart Duncan appearing on his album. Fans of these musicians will gladly bring Sturgill into the bluegrass fold. Most of the bluegrass fans still rely on CDs. He is making a big mistake by not making his bluegrass album available in CD so that roots-music audiences can fully enjoy his work.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Music Industry

The Hypocrisy of the Music Industry

I’m keeping this one short.

We all know what a senseless act it was for George Floyd to die the way he did. Now every corporation and industry is standing up against racial injustice.

On Tuesday, June 2, a number of music-related organizations and companies participated in the Blackout Tuesday to show their support for the racial injustice. These included musical instrument companies like Gibson and Epiphone, and perfromance rights organizations (PROs) like ASCAP and BMI.

Fine, but what are they doing to help those smaller businesses that have kept these companies and organizations in their high-rise towers over the years? NOTHING. Hundreds of restaurants and boutiques were destroyed in the ensuing riots. These shops and restaurants have paid fees to the PROs over the years as royalty payments. If these were not paid, most likely the businesses would be fined or closed down. Now that these businesses have been ruined (on top of the months that they were closed down due to the Coronavirus panic), the PROs are doing NOTHING to help out. But, if these restaurants and shops are able to open up again, you can rest assured that the PROs will be the first people knocking on their doors to collect money.

In Emeryville, California, a Guitar Center was vandalized and looted of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of music equipment. Looters were seen carrying two guitars at a time leaving the destroyed store. Guitar Center stores are also known for selling other people’s equipment on consignment. I am sure that there were a few pieces like that stolen. What are Gibson and Epiphone doing to help out the store? NOTHING.

Think about it.

While you are thinking about it, remember David Dorn, Dave Patrick Underwood, Chris Beaty, Italia Kelly, and about a dozen others killed during this past week’s riots. Also keep Las Vegas officer Shay Mikalonis in your prayers. He was deliberately shot in the back of the head by Edgar Samaniego during violent protests in that city and is still in critical condition as of this writing.

Chew on it and comment.

6/7/20 Addendum: Now keep the family of Santa Cruz County (CA) officer Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller in your prayers. He was shot and killed yesterday (along with two other officers being injured) in an ambush set up by Steven Carrillo.