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.

Music Stores

I Miss Mars Music

I miss Mars Music. I’ll explain.

We can order just about anything we want for our musical instrument needs through the internet. Before the Coronavirus pandemic, it could arrive in a matter of a day or two. Once the pandemic kicked in, package delivery now takes weeks. When it comes to a lot of music stuff, especially instruments, you usually don’t want to just order them – you want to sit down and try them out, take them for a test-drive.

For months, music stores were considered non-essential, so the doors were bolted shut. Now, some are open on a limited basis or by appointment. Moreover, some mom-and-pop ones have gone out of business never to return. It is a sad state of affairs.

I love music stores. To me there are two kinds: the big-box ones like Guitar Center, and the specialty smaller ones that cater to enthusiasts. I always looked at it like going out to eat. If you want something fast and maybe cheaper and are not too picky about the outcome, you go to McDonald’s. If you want to get the best steak available and are willing to pay for it in money and time, you go to a five-star restaurant.

As for the big-box music store, there is really only one out now: Guitar Center. The immediate competition is minimal. Music-Go-Round is not much of competition as far as offerings, seems to concentrate on used gear, and is limited in locations. Sam Ash is even more limited in locations and relies heavily on internet orders. GC has its ear to the ground, with numerous locations and prices that are reasonable in most cases. They really do not have any brick-and-mortar competition.

It wasn’t always that way. For a few years, from 1996 until about 2002, GC had intense competition from Mars Music. MM was founded by Mark Begelman, a former president of Office Depot and an avid guitarist. After being disappointed by an experience at a local music store, he started up MM with the intent of selling decent equipment at affordable prices and no pushy salespeople. It worked for a while. Stores were in 20 states, and it was innovative in setting up music education programs and charity programs.

What I loved about MM was that it was competitive with GC in pricing, especially with accessories. I never really purchased any big-ticket items from either store, but I relied on them for quick and easy access to strings, cords, picks, straps, and other stuff that breaks and needs replacement right away. When MM opened, they had their own brand of such items, and they were extremely affordable. You could get a box of 10 set of guitar strings for about $20.00. A set of bass strings would be about $7.00. GC shortly started selling their own brand of accessories as well at bargain prices.

Begelman had a great heart. He knew musicians liked to try out instruments and did not have a lot of money. MM was in many ways more comfortable and welcoming than GC, but the main idea there was competition. Both knew there was a decent-sized market out there, and both went to extremes to get that cash.

Sadly, MM went bankrupt within a few years due to expansion problems and poor investments. It was literally a one-day-open-next-day-closed situation. I thought about all of that branded stuff going nowhere. GC kept going, but phased out most of its budgeted self-branded accessories. While GC still has relatively good prices, there is not that competitive feel for the small-ticket items.

Recently, I needed to purchase a budget gig bag for a cheap Chinese bass guitar that I got brand new for around $65.00. I just needed a glorified dust covering, not a hardshell case or a bells-and-whistle soft case gig bag. Surfing the internet, it was extremely hard to find even a cheap-quality gig bag for under $25.00 plus shipping. I finally found one that come to about $20.00 with tax and shipping. I got it through the mail a week after ordering, and it was not much more than sewn canvas with a zipper.

This experience made me think about how much I miss Mars. Back then, I remember getting a few gig bags that were of the same quality as this recent one for about $8.00. It had the MM brand emblazoned on it, but who cares? It did its job at a musician’s price. Times change, and I realize that a lot of good things disappear. Only competition can keep the things we love affordable.

Chew on it and comment.