We are constantly hearing in the news about the current global economic downturn and how every day thousands of people are loosing their jobs and local shops and businesses are being forced to shut their doors and close down for good.
Being musicians, we can be forgiven for thinking we should be immune to the normal strains and stresses of everyday life, as all we have to concentrate on is whether we hit that pinched harmonic at the right pitch or whether we screwed up that solo at the beginning of the song. It’s a nice thought and life would be great if it were that simple but the current economic crisis is affecting us all in many ways from the bedroom player to gigging musicians, right up through to the high street guitar shops and manufacturers.
Over the last year or so the knock on effects of the outrageously greedy and irresponsible behaviour of our banks, lenders and stockbrokers have started to appear much closer to home, not just on the news or in some far away country, but in your own high street, in the pub and on your door step.
In The Red
I remember when I used to go out and socialise, I’d rarely hear anyone stressing about losing their job or how their company is struggling and laying people off, but over the last few months on just about every occasion I’ve been out, I’ve witnessed people telling me they have actually lost their job or are just about to get laid off from the company they have been working for and relying on for years.
Local high street shops are closing down in droves and even the most sturdy of high street stores like Woolworths who’ve been trading for over a hundred years have already fallen foul of the current climate. In my own area along with many other stores, both guitar shops have now closed leaving me with a ten mile trip to the nearest store in an adjacent town, and a 30 mile trip to the next one if they haven’t got what I need.
Guitar Sales Drop
Over the last year or so reports have shown new guitar sales have suffered not only a decrease in sales from the same period in the previous year but also a decrease in average purchase price of guitars right across the board. Although the music business seems to have been hit much less than many other industries, the down turn shows no real signs of ending and only time will tell as to how bad it gets and when it will improve.
With uncertain times ahead people just don’t have the security or money to splash out on luxuries like new instruments and those that do are tightening their belts and going for cheaper models as opposed to splashing out that extra few quid on buying the next model up.
There has also been a considerable shift in the market regarding the types of guitars being sold.
A downturn in the number of electric guitar sales has been counter balanced by a large increase in the number of acoustic guitars sold, which save the cash conscious buyer the need for expensive effects pedals and amps. I imagine the huge television emphasis on big prize talent shows and singing competitions like Britain/America’s Got Talent and X Factor have also had something to do with this as scores of young hopefuls go out and buy acoustic guitars in the hope of strumming their way to stardom.
Couldn’t afford a guitar !
Robert Webb – Britain’s Got Talent
With every flip of the coin, where one business fails another succeeds and just like the smoking ban in pubs and restaurants, those businesses that change with the circumstances and adapt to the new climate often flourish where others fall. The one remaining guitar shop in our vicinity is now the only option within 30 miles and over the last few years has streamed into many other areas such as drums, saxophones, keyboards, violins and on site repairs. I’m sure their business is flourishing in the recession and the closure of the nearest competition has provided them with welcome new custom.
Is the Crisis Good or Bad For Musicians ?
Is the economic crisis affecting the average gigging musician in a positive manner or is it just bad news for everyone ?
The effects on gigging musicians caused by major social and economic changes like the credit crunch and the dreaded smoking ban can be seen from different perspectives.
On one hand, the fact that people are saving their money and keeping away from pubs and clubs in favour of staying at home to socialise means that many venues across the country are shutting down due to lack of custom. This leaves fewer establishments for musicians to play in but also seems to have prompted many remaining venues to provide new means of entertainment in an attempt to draw in crowds. Many of those bars and clubs that previously did not need to draft in musicians at the weekend are now doing so.
One look at the gig guide in my local paper definitely shows there is no shortage of new and established bands playing in venues all over town, and with a more healthy environment due to the smoking ban, perhaps those who wouldn’t venture near a pub in the past may do so now.
Surely these are good signs but with one more flip of the coin and an ever growing number of bands and artists to choose from, are musician’s wages in jeopardy of being lowered as pub landlords tighten their belts and new bands compete for their space in the spotlight ?
Competition and Variety
In my opinion, the more bands and musicians out there the better and healthy competition can only mean more skilled musicians and artists emerging from the mix. As long as we don’t forget that playing music to a live audience takes an incredible amount of skill and effort and should never be underrated, undervalued or undercut just to get that slot in a club.
It’s not just about the two or three hours you play for on stage, it’s about the thousands of hours practice you put in at home and in rehearsals to enable you to play at a decent standard to the audience for that time.
The moment we are told we have to gig for £50 and if we don’t like it there are many more out there to take our place, is the moment we lose our dignity.
Of course, playing for free is always good when it comes to mates and charity, as long as it’s for a good cause.
Beat the Credit Crunch – Pick Up Your Guitar & Earn Some Money
With cash in short supply, it’s no doubt many people with regular day jobs and those who have had stints in bands in the past are using the crisis as a great excuse to blow the dust off the strat, get back out there and get themselves back on the gig scene as a way of relieving the stress, raising a bit of cash and having a laugh at the same time. What better excuse to get out of the house and go down the pub to play guitar with your mates.
The need for a bit more cash is also a great excuse to start raising the bar on your playing. Going from messing around with a few stray pieces from your favourite songs to getting a proper set together in order to get out busking or book your self a gig is a great way of motivating yourself to play better and beat the depression.
If you get any grief from your other half cause you’re spending too much time playing your guitar, you’ve always got the excuse…’it’s no longer a hobby, it’s a job.’
The best part of being a musician and trying to earn some cash from your hobby, is it gives you the perfect excuse to go out and buy that guitar or fx rack from hell you have always wanted, because now it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity.
So stand up to the credit crunch…go out and buy yourself that instrument you have always wanted. You’ll be helping to combat the recession, motivating yourself, promoting local business and treating yourself at the same time.
Think of it as an investment, it’ll pay for itself within a few gigs anyway.