2007, as observed from GuitarAttack World Headquarters

2007 has been a great, productive year for the GuitarAttack Crew, and, as always, it is difficult to resist the chance to comment on life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and guitars.  And, as usual, we will shy away from the drumbeat of conventional wisdom we normally see in the press and on all of those online forums and blogs.  For your review, we present ten trends we’ve been interested in over the course of 2007 and our take on all of them...including some analysis. 

Note:  We’ll stay away from political and religious discussion on this page unless they impact guitars!  So, away we go!

Trend 1:  We got Comcast Digital Cable, and it has driven us inside.  Not only does it have the NFL Channel, it has this cool feature in which you can rent movies Blockbuster-style without leaving the leather sofa.  We got the DVR which allows you to record shows while away from the TV, and this is just an incredible capability.  Implication:  We didn’t go to see many movies at the theater, many of which would be crappy anyway, and we quit renting movies from Netflix and Blockbuster.  This is a disruptive technology.  Ten years ago we predicted one “pipe” coming in to the house carrying internet, TV, and phone.  We are there.

Trend 2:  We got iTunes, and it has driven us inside.  Not only can we download individual songs without buying all of the “filler”, it keeps us away from the record store.  Implication:  It keeps us away from the record store. The practice of looking through all of those cool albums is over, and that is kind of sad.  This is a very disruptive technology.  The only up side is that young people appear to be ready to pay $.99 for a song….maybe.

Trend 3:  There is no “Big Picture” concerning music.  Everyone listens to their favorite genre, not hindered by what is available at the local store or available on the local radio station.  Consequently, the big music “stars” are Miley Cyrus (aka Hanna Montana) and the American Idol gang (Carrie, Buckey, Kelly, et al).  In these cases, these are TV people who get exposure from TV, not from radio, and I would argue that the remaining labels are clinging to these stars while the industry continues to evolve rapidly and making them irrelevant.  Did video kill the radio star?  Maybe MTV actually speeded up the process.  I was explaining to our teenager that the only way to hear a new song back in the 1970s (when giants roamed the earth) was to either a) hear it on the radio, b) buy the record at a store, or c) hear it at a friend’s house.  No wonder Warner Music posted a 58% loss this year.  Implication:  You can now hear lots of new music without ever watching TV, listening to the radio, or buying a record or CD.  MySpace, PureVolume, SoundClick, iTunes, et al have changed music forever.  See you later, music labels….

Trend 4:  Concert tickets are expensive.  We went to see Van Halen in Greensboro, NC in September, 2007.  Everything at the venue was expensive, especially the t-shirts!  Our teenager asked why tickets were so expensive now compared to back in the day.  Pretty easy – there are few big tours, everybody wants to get their music for free online, and bands have to pay the bills some way.  It is my understanding that bands used to tour to promote their music and sell albums.  This practice is becoming about as antiquated as 78 RPM records.  Implication: Youngsters can’t aspire to become rich and famous as rock stars…just famous.

Trend 5:  Rappers are today’s rock stars.  I remember when -- way back in the 70s – that the rockers were the ones who had run-ins with the law, lavish lifestyles, lots of babes, and appeared to be larger than life.  They were out there on the cutting edge, living life to its extreme.  Today, rockers look pretty run of the mill and pathetic, and the rappers – particularly the “ganstas” – are living the high life while sporting outrageous “bling” and body armor.  Something happened in the early 90s to rockers which, I believe, made the rocker lifestyle much less appealing.  Mopey rockers appear very boring and ordinary today, and their pushback against “image” really hurt the entire enterprise.  Implication:  Who would want to be a rock star living in their parents’ basement, wearing thrift shop clothes, and touring in an old Ford van when you could “thug”, drive a Bentley, and kick it with the ladies?  I thought so.

Trend 6:  Small music dealers continue to struggle.  Mom and Pop are struggling through with Cort guitars and Crate amps while the good stuff is down the street at Guitar Center or being hauled around in a UPS truck.  While we read the music industry rags pleading with retailers to “focus on core strategies”, “leverage technology”, and “invest in innovative solutions”, the bottom line is that the business has changed forever.  Implication:  Guitar Center gets bigger, Mom and Pop get weaker, and we’ll be stuck figuring out which is best.  All is not lost because, as always, there is a giant killer lurking out there.  Remember – nobody ever though Sears would go bankrupt.  Fender and Gibson may have to eat crow one of these days and we cannot wait.

Trend 7:  The video game Guitar Hero is an interesting case.  It allows you to enjoy the rocker experience without actually having to learn how to play guitar.  Back in the 70s, I practiced my guitar because that is what you had to do to get the band experience.  Not so today.  Implication:  Why bother working on scales and practicing those exercises when you can cut to the chase.  It can go one of two ways: either Junior is inspired by the game and wants a real guitar, or he is satisfied with the vicarious experience and avoids the hard work.  Guitar sales are down this year, and we’ll have to see what happens.  On a good note:  Our 10 year-old nephew is now familiar with “Mississippi Queen” and “Highway Star” thanks to this game.  Wow…

Trend 8:  Vintage guitar prices are down.  I believe it is because so many people are “tapped out” on credit.  With the ease with which home equity loans and super high limit credit cards were doled out over the past couple of years, it is no wonder that a lot of my peers bought their “dream guitars” and expected to retire on the proceeds.  Implication:  A correction in the vintage market has been needed for a while, and it is probably a good thing unless you are left holding that vintage “bag”.

Trend 9:  Gibson Guitars continues to try new, wacky things.  The “Robot Guitar”, capable of tuning itself, hit the scene this year, as well as the weekly “Special Editions” at Musicians Friend.  You may recall the last big thing from Gibson, the MAGiC digital interface which would “fundamentally change” music.  It hasn’t, and the Robot Guitar probably won’t either.  Check the video on YouTube and tell me if you could change a string on one of those guitars after a couple of beers.  Implication:  Gibson continues to try new things to get up off of its 50 year old laurels, but the bottom line is nobody has come up with anything as cool as Les Paul or Ted McCarty did back when Eisenhower was president.  I believe the problem is corporate, Harvard MBA group think and a bunch of "Yes Men" chasing volume.  Sometimes cool guitars just defy the need to pour over Jack Welch/GE-style metrics.  Gibson needs to invest in some real visionaries, not the same old crap gizmo.  Example:  The Gibson-branded USB drive.

Trend 10:  Big Box retailers shying away from guitars.  I read a couple of articles recently pointing to the fact that the big box stores are getting sick of guitar “headaches”.  These include set up challenges, how to change a string, etc. that don’t occur with microwaves and other “appliances.”  As I’ve said here for years, a guitar is not a commodity, and there are many nuances with playing, repairing, and caring for a guitar which the bottom-line oriented store may not be ready for.  In addition, there are not as many Mom and Pop music stores ready to repair the new guitar, and you see trouble.  Implication:  Low end guitars may come back to the small stores, but their margins are razor thin.  The only upside is to get someone in the store, and that may lead to a sale.

What about 2008?  We see no technology or artist on the horizon capable of derailing any of these trends, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen.  Just in case our analysis is correct, we had better start getting a game plan together!

What do you think? 

Have a great 2008 and keep checking back!

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