Monday, October 26, 2020

Guitar Center is Circling the Drain


Man, that's a lot of debt:

Venerable music gear retailer Guitar Center is preparing for a possible bankruptcy filing, according to a new report from The New York Times.

The pandemic has been tough on all areas of the music industry, and Guitar Center is no exception. The company missed an interest payment of $45 million earlier this month, setting off a 30-day grace period that ends in default.

According to the Times, Guitar Center is in talks with creditors about a plan that would see the company file for bankruptcy, with the hope of balancing its books by early 2021. Guitar Center generated $2.3 billion in sales in its most recent fiscal year but has about $1.3 billion in debt.

 Guitar Center has faced financial struggles for nearly a decade, as its struggled to build an online shopping experience to rival other retailers. The pandemic compounded those problems when Guitar Center was forced to shutter nearly 300 brick-and-mortar locations across the United States.

 In April, Guitar Center addressed debt payments with a series of transactions that were made possible through company lenders, allowing the company to continue operating during the summer months of the pandemic.

As far as business models go, maybe it wasn't a great idea to accumulate that much debt. There are some guys who used to work for Tower Records who can help you out with that.

I would have thought that Guitar Center's sales would have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 lockdown. You have millions of people sitting around with nothing to do--sell them a musical instrument! But the simple fact is that if people don't have the money to spend on recreation or hobbies, they're not going to make purchases from a retailer like this.

Touring musicians who already have high end gear are not going to be regular customers at a Guitar Center, by and large. They may buy replaceable items, but if you're already a recording artist with a large following and a history of recording music, then you're not going to be looking for what they sell here.

This goes back to my thinking that there is too much focus on high-end or vintage instruments and not enough emphasis on the fact that today's musical gear is actually pretty good in terms of quality and durability. We have really gotten good at replicating musical instruments. Manufacturing standards being what they are, I gotta believe that what you can get now for under $500 is probably a pretty decent thing to learn with and play. The software that powers electronics is exponentially better as well.

Is this going to be like vinyl records and high end stereo equipment? Which are things you can now only buy at specialized retail stores that are smaller and harder to find? I hope not. 

As always, I could be totally wrong and way off here, but I just don't get how a company with a billion dollars in debt that is based on selling things that people usually only buy with discretionary funds is rocking a solid business model.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

McCartney 3


Sometimes you just want to get away and go back to a time when things made sense, like when Paul McCartney was able to put out albums full of music any time he wanted to:

Paul McCartney released his debut solo album McCartney in 1970. McCartney II followed in 1980. It’s 2020, and, today, Macca has officially announced that a new album called McCartney III is on the way. It’s out December 11 via Capitol. Check out the album cover below.

Paul McCartney wrote, produced, and performed McCartney III, which got recorded earlier this year in Sussex, England. “I was living lockdown life on my farm with my family and I would go to my studio every day,” McCartney said in a press release. He continued:

I had to do a little bit of work on some film music and that turned into the opening track and then when it was done I thought what will I do next? I had some stuff I’d worked on over the years but sometimes time would run out and it would be left half-finished so I started thinking about what I had. Each day I’d start recording with the instrument I wrote the song on and then gradually layer it all up, it was a lot of fun. It was about making music for yourself rather than making music that has to do a job. So, I just did stuff I fancied doing. I had no idea this would end up as an album.

McCartney’s last studio album was 2018’s Egypt Station. Earlier this year, he reissued the 1997 album Flaming Pie.

If there was ever a year when we needed something solid and meaningful, this is that year.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Fake It Flowers

There is nothing retro, fake or contrived about Beabadobee:

Two years ago, Beabadobee released ‘Coffee’, a spindly tale recorded in her bedroom in London. Armed with an acoustic guitar and a love for lo-fi heroes Daniel Johnston and Elliot Smith, its lullaby melodies and sweet lyrics of devotion (“I like it when you hold me tight”) depicted an attempt to abate the roughest of hangovers. The results are fairly unremarkable, a tentative display of the diary entry songwriting the teenager was beginning to explore. 

 Earlier this year, a dreary TikTok-favoured remix by Canadian lo-fi artist Powfu – in which he samples the twee chorus – brought the song and 20-year-old Beatrice Kristi to a wider audience; it was played a reported 4.1 billion times in March 2020. But the mantra for Bea has changed. No longer satisfied with playing it understated or the idea that her voice should be subdued, she’s got the guitars plugged in, the drums heavy and the influences outrageously blatant. As she put it at this year’s NME Awards: “We need more chicks on stage.”

The timing has been fortuitous. Finding inspiration in the home environment is now commonplace for the foreseeable future, but last year’s gnarly ‘Space Cadet’ EP saw her embrace her inner rock star beyond air guitaring in the bedroom mirror. The unashamed ‘I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus’ saw her pay her dues to the Pavement frontman, while Sonic Youth got a stylistic look-in (though no name check) on ‘She Plays Bass’ and ‘Are You Sure’. A handful of headline shows – one had enough ticket requests to fill Brixton Academy, not the 150-capacity upstairs room of the London pub in which they were actually held – saw her capitalise on the hype, as did arena support slots with Dirty Hit label mates The 1975.

Getting five stars from the NME is still a big deal so that's why I wanted to highlight this brand new artist. Music is about looking forward and looking for new artists. It's great when your favorite band from thirty years ago gets a chance to put out new music. It's even better when you can mix all that in with someone who is a legitimate artistic talent.  

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Generosity of Paul Heaton


Not all heroes wear capes:

Paul Heaton, as unlikely as it might sound, is the new Orange Goblin. In 2016, when Classic Rock magazine was shut down by publisher Team Rock, Ben Ward of the aforementioned London hard rock stalwarts launched a JustGiving fundraiser to help the laid-off staff. A few months later Classic Rock was rescued by Future Publishing, but the substantial sum raised by those sleeveless Samaritans helped keep some of the country’s most dedicated and talented AC/DC fans in denim patches and bandanas that lean Christmas.

In the same pay-it-back spirit, while the remaining rock press was pouring out a Courvoisier for Q, indie-pop hero Paul Heaton – as the magazine’s final editor Ted Kessler revealed on Twitter last week – dug deep to make a sizeable donation to the venerable mag’s staff and writers and became an instant pandemic superhero. It wasn’t Heaton’s first behind-the-scenes donation to the greater good either; in 2017 he revealed that he’d once offered to nationalise The Beautiful South’s back catalogue, passing on any further profits to the nation’s coffers. Morrissey might claim the union flag is emblazoned across his heart, but would he have it similarly stitched across his wallet?

Heaton’s act was also a sign that the hippies were right – selflessness, as rare a quality in the world of music as a sober breakfast, really will make you more content in the long run. Rock history has countless examples of kind-hearted financial karma paying off. Elton John and George Michael, famed for their unspoken charity, will forever be ‘much-loved superstars’ while Bono and Gary Barlow, famed for their labyrinthine offshore tax arrangements, will always be shady shysters no matter how many Pudseys they help shift.

You have to bear in mind that the music press in England is largely made up of the most vicious gang of jackals who have ever been unleashed into polite society. A full one third probably has rabies. This act of generosity it typical Paul Heaton. He can describe what's wrong with the world with a few lines and then he'll give you a reason to appreciate it for what it is, practically without effort.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

You Lost Your Gig For Being Stupid

I don't know why I have to even write this, but if you do stupid shit in public, you can lose opportunities that would help you bring your music to people who don't know who you are:

Country artist Morgan Wallen has been pulled from his forthcoming performance spot on Saturday Night Live after videos of him at bars and parties without a mask went viral. 


Over the weekend, videos surfaced on TikTok of Wallen Tuscaloosa, Alabama at bars and a house party, without wearing a mask. One video also showed him kissing someone who had their mask around their neck.

Wallen should be given a second chance. I don't have a problem with Saturday Night Live doing what it felt it had to do to act on behalf of the greater good. Artists who set a poor example in the public sphere have to feel the sting of lost revenue now and then. There's a reason why you hire a manager when you're trying to negotiate this sort of thing--you have to listen to someone who isn't afraid to tell you that you're full of shit.

I think Wallen heard from someone who gave him spectacularly good advice:

“I’m not positive for COVID, but my actions this past weekend were pretty short-sighted and they have obviously affected my long-term goals and my dreams,” he said.

“I respect the show’s decision because I know I put them in jeopardy, and I take ownership for this.”

No idea if Wallen has the ability to move past this and continue onwards and upwards. No idea what kind of artist he is, and I'm not going to make a value judgement on his music or his ability to entertain. In order to be considered for Saturday Night Live, you have to be ready, music business-wise, to handle an immense amount of public attention and be ready to sell music. 

The impact of a performance on a program like that is one that cannot be ignored. It can bring you an avalanche of sales and might mean the difference between a tour where you're playing theaters instead of small venues. It can also break you and humiliate you.

If there's a moral to the story, it's this. Wear a fucking mask. It could save your life and the lives of the people around you.

Friday, October 2, 2020

(What's the Story) Morning Glory?


We are at that point in human history when an album of songs turning twenty-five years old leads to discussions about how important it was and what it all meant. If you put out an album in 1970, we're talking a fifty year anniversary and so on. It's a curious way to do things.

(What's the Story) Morning Glory? is as complex as the punctuation found in the title. It's one of the greatest rock and roll albums ever. Full stop on that.

It was the thing that delivered the songs that were meant to be played live. As a band, Oasis may have been average in size and ability but they were a tremendous band when put in front of a football stadium crowd.

Oasis inspires love or contempt as soon as it comes up as a topic. I am in the camp that prefers to live in a world where being an Oasis fan is perfectly fine as long as you maintain your decorum. I don't hate bands so bashing someone else's legacy is of no concern. As soon as their 1994 debut came out, I had that album on cassette and I couldn't believe how good they were. This was the gold standard for recorded music in the 1990s. Each and every song was meticulously recorded and performed. You won't find a single clunker on the first two Oasis albums and if you look at every single released, the B-sides were often better or just as good as the songs that were not released as singles. 

Incredibly, they only released four of the songs on the album as singles. We're talking about a record that has now sold 22 million copies worldwide and has established itself as the high water mark of the phenomenon known as Britpop. 

I remember how uniquely structured it was. It kicks off with a false start and blows through a murderer's row of songs that are unbelievable in their quality and structure. There are two mini-tracks that break up the flow of the album. There are over a dozen B-sides that cannot be dismissed or ignored.

It was an essential album in an era where everything is disposable. People who ignore it don't know what they're missing.