2021: Thoughts for the New Year

2020 was a tough year at GuitarAttack World Headquarters.  We lost several of our favorite family members to various causes – including COVID -- and overall we spent a lot of time trying not to be sad.  The pandemic made doing simple things hard and made us virtual hermits.  As for me, I threw myself into work and tried to not think about it.  We experienced many ups and downs, but the crew made it through the year together while staying close to home.  We look forward to something a little more normal in 2021. 

That being said, all of us sit around and think about things...some probably more than others.  This is something we do a lot of at GuitarAttack…think about things.  After thinking about a bunch of things, here are a few I’m going to throw out and ask for your opinion.  If you want to talk back, go to the Forum and have at it.  If nothing else, you’ll have something to think about as we run head-long in to the 2021.

As an exercise, we are going to revisit some thoughts posted for 2020 and add some commentary for 2021.

1.  Do do you have your own website?

This is from January 2020: “Unlike a lot of posers out there, I’ve been involved in the internet since the late 1990s.  This site is a shrine to my journey into guitar repair and building.  Facebook and Instagram probably can’t do what your own website can do, but maintaining a site, particularly for a number of years, can be time consuming and difficult.  I encourage each of you to get your own site, build a shrine, and build a community.  Why, you ask? Two reasons -- you might actually inspire somebody to try something new and develop a new skill.  Also, some random person can’t come and shut you down because they don’t like you or something you say.  There is something to say about the goodness of free exchange of ideas and freedom of expression, and this is my spot for that.”

Flash forward to 2021 - What do you say, now?  In the words of Adlai Stevenson, former US presidential candidate, “My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” 

In 1998 the internet was an escape from real life.  Now, in 2021, real life is an escape from the internet.

2.  Does music suck?

Yes, it generally sucks.  Exhibit:  Three letters. W, A, and P.  It is just unimaginable, and it appears that people are, for some reason, afraid to criticize it. 

I remember watching “Tropic Thunder”, and the intro that introduced the actors in the fictional movie proved to be prophetic.  Alpa Chino, played by Brandon T. Jackson, stars in a commercial for his “Booty Sweat” energy drink and “Bust-A-Nut” candy bars, and I thought that products like that could never exist.  After seeing the WAP video – one time – I’m not so sure.  I just don’t know what to say about the song and video – which has about three trillion views on YouTube - but it is absolutely a barometer of what is going on.

While music has never been worse, it’s never been easier to make and distribute.  Maybe we just get to hear more bad music now because everybody records.  There are no gatekeepers – everybody gets a shot.  Add in to this the revelation from Debra Dugan in January 2020 that the Grammy’s are fixed.  NO WAY? (this is my shocked face)… Who would have ever believed that?

And I stand by this from 2020:  “Of course it’s fixed, just like a lot of those talent shows on TV.  Television has to be fixed to be enjoyable.  Watching regular people going about their regular lives normally doesn’t make us binge watch a show.  It’s like those reality shows on E! and other networks: They give the impression that they are all off the cuff, random, and real…while they have three camera people and a producer standing over the talent in the same room, fanning the flames of conflict.  That show based in Nashville about the family moving from Atlanta to take part in the boom times in Middle Tennessee is about the dumbest, and is also one that enjoys incredibly high ratings.  Who comes up with those dumb situations? The family? The Man?”

When is the last time you watched a Grammy's show? Who cares about the Superbowl Halftime show?  Do you believe The Voice and American Idol are completely objective, real, and free from interference from the sponsors and producers?  If you are not from Cookeville, Tennessee, can you name a winner of the Voice or American Idol since Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson? The story I was told is that the singing shows “focus group” performers before they advance and maybe the singers aren’t even aware – kind of like the “Truman Show”.  Everything else is on TV, too.  If you invested and borrowed a ton of cash to promote one of these shows would you leave it completely to chance and hope somebody interesting advanced and won?   How many crewmembers on “Below Deck” aren’t on the show?

Today the quickest way to become famous in music is to be famous first.  It’s like Charles “Chip” Esten singing on the Grand Ole Opry.  Remember – he is an actor who was on “The Office” before he was cast in “Nashville”.  He did not build his chops on Broadway.  He is an actor.  Who wants to be famous?

By the way – I used to enjoy watching the reality “Southern Charm” with my wife, but this season may be the worst.  The cast used to hang out and drink and think up ways to have fun.  This season is not that at all, and it is just tedious to watch.  Back to having fun and being entertained!

3.  What is success in the music business today?

Like I’ve said for a long time, and based on my experience working in Nashville, which is peripheral, making an OK living is success now.  Gone are the CD sales and big advances.  It is a tough business, but there is an unlimited supply of musicians willing to go anywhere and play for free, and that is what a big, impersonal business likes.

I recently talked to a guy I worked with in Nashville.  He is a very talented drummer, and I asked if he is still playing.  He said he is playing all the time, but all the gigs are “bro gigs”.  That is code for “playing for nothing.” Nobody had a KISS or Aerosmith poster on their wall back in my day to play “bro gigs”.  Dedicating yourself to a life of poverty to give your art away for free should not be the aspiration when politicians scream about the minimum wage.

As we asked in 2020, “Is live music worth anything at all”?  Is any art worth anything?  Will it ever rise above the status similar to that of fishing or horseback riding; that is, an expensive hobby?

COVID has made it worse.  I played a total of three live gigs in 2020; one in February just as we heard about the pandemic; one in June when we thought it was over in Tennessee; and one at Halloween when almost no one was there because people were cowering in their homes.  There was still a lot of happiness and fun in February.  June was not so much, and Halloween was kind of like going to a funeral.

Live music was sort of the performance art of the last 50 years and I am afraid it may be over.  While our government can’t wait to subsidized philharmonics and symphonies, struggling “pop” musicians will continue to see it less of a career path.

4.  Are guitars still cool?

I think so, but I also go to car shows and the theater to see movies, something that really shows my age.  Who out there is in a Model A car club?  Anybody collect stamps or coins?

 I am really sick of the newest/greatest relic Telecaster copies, and the coolest, most authentic PAF clone, ever.  I’m not sure I would ever buy one of those $3,500 Fender clones made out of pine near the airport in Nashville.  The guys were pretty crappy to me when I visited…maybe I need to be more bro.  Maybe the Post-Bro Nashville will be more guitar-friendly.  I saw that Gibson bought Mesa Boogie…OK, who cares?

Again, I thought the most revolutionary guitars of the past decades were the Parker Fly, the Steinbergers, and the Kramers with aluminum necks.  Sadly, you can’t give those things away right now.  And, sadly, you have to practice guitar to get better. 

5.  Do we need a new guitar hero?

Mr. Van Halen passed away this year, and it was really sad for me on several levels.  I think it signals the end of a guitar era with nobody waiting in the wings.

Is it me or are we at peak “Kid on YouTube doing his best to act like Stevie Ray Vaughn” or “14-year-old playing Yngwie on Instagram to get his dad off his back”, or Bonnamassa discussing the length of the magnet in a PAF?  Maybe the new guitar experience is, “Did you see that guy playing four-octave arpeggios on Instagram?”   I think a lot of the lack of a guitar hero goes into the entire “lack of shared experiences” and “walking around with earbuds in looking studious”. 

Everybody watched The Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964.  Everybody knew about Woodstock.  Everybody bought albums.  Everybody listened to the radio.  Everybody I knew drew band logos on our notebooks.  What shared experience(s) do we have now?  We may be past the guitar hero.  We may be past the band experience, and COVID may have just finished it off.  COVID, and the resultant lockdowns, is the shared experience of this generation.  For young people it wasn’t about getting sick; rather, it is about not being able to do anything, to include going to school!

What musician is compelling enough to get young people to want to go see a live band post-lockdown?

6.  Am I the only person on the internet without a Kickstarter campaign/Go Fund Me site?

Seems like most of these campaigns are to pay funeral expenses.  Please save some money and forego that humiliation for your family.  There are also a large number for medical expenses and relocation expenses from fires and disasters.  I get those, and the stories are sometimes incredibly sad.

To reprise a thought, I can’t believe there are still folks out there raising money to record and album to give away.  I know you have to be a “signed artist” to get on a tour, but it looks more and more like you have to be part of the LiveNation “Galaxy of Stars” to get a on stage anywhere.  That is, of course, if you want to play something bigger than a coffee house or local outdoor festival/campout.  When it comes to recording, I recommend figuring it out on your own – you can record your own stuff with a very small investment in money.  Get a GC gear card and charge it. 

7.  One more thing about the Internet --

Back in the 1990s and early-2000s I read guitar magazines regularly.  I liked them all, and I used to buy the ones from the UK when I lived in Germany.  There was an incredible amount of content, and it took a long time to read the in-depth articles.  Because they came out once a month, you had time to read and internalize what you were reading, and the quality of the writing made a real difference.

Fast-forward to today.  In my opinion, guitar content on the internet has turned into clickbait, and the longest articles seem like they are maybe four or five paragraphs with about three sentences each.  And, in my opinion, most of the stuff you read seems like it was originally written as a text message.  You’ve seen the articles on Facebook – “Joe Blow discusses what it was like to meet Steel Panther and what Satchel said to him.”  A lot of them are just clickbait for some tired Podcast.

I think it all leads back to creativity, and if you believe the science, creativity in American kids peaked out in about 1990.  I’ve read a number of studies on the subject, and we can probably point to a number of events and policies that lead us to believe that the best course of action was to turn our kids into test-taking machines to support the glory of the school district.

So what do you think?

Are we the only people in the entire universe who don’t have a Podcast?

Have a great 2021 and keep checking back!

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