Granted , Curleigh pointed to the “ high level of choice … competing for your time , money , and passion ...” as a factor that may have diminished interest in musical pursuits , but adds that , increasingly , those options – social media particularly – prompted many people to become creators in their own right . So , when the rubber stopped hitting the road in 2020 , he summed up : “ People start going , ‘ Wait a minute , I got time on my hands and I ’ ve always wanted to learn to play guitar or learn to surf or cook . I ’ m going take some time to do it .’”
Now , with the world appearing to be on its way back to something approaching “ business as usual ,” if only “ usual-ish ,” the question is : what , if anything , can the MI industry – dealers , distributors , manufacturers – do to keep that trend going long-term ?
To answer that , examining what ’ s happened over the past 22 months is a good starting point .
When the pandemic first hit , unsurprisingly , many in our industry had concerns about what the immediate future might hold in the MI market . As Scott Hager , founder of Ontario-based boutique pedal distributor Search and Distro Music Equipment , notes : “ I was plenty worried about how it would play out in general and how it might affect our livelihood . Many of our manufacturers were already suffering due to some of the odd trade practices implemented in the U . S . not long ago . As a result , parts shortages were already an issue before the pandemic arrived and became much more of an issue as things progressed . As we tend to stock large quantities … we had stock to sell even as things got leaner .”
Consequently , Hager adds : “ We were able to capitalize early in the pandemic on opportunities to buy extra stock that was passed over by other distributors and dealers who were either worried about spending during the shutdown or simply not set up to sell online efficiently … We did that primarily to support our manufacturers , but in the end , it was very much to our benefit as we had stock to supply where others did not .”
Those who doubled down did well , says Blaine McNamee , owner of Vancouver ’ s Rufus Music . He says his business has never been better than it was during 2020 . Those who didn ’ t , couldn ’ t , or wouldn ’ t double down , or were just caught short , however , may face a potentially existential business crisis , McNamee believes .
“ If you didn ’ t adapt during the pandemic , you ’ re going to go out of business ,” McNamee says . “ I can ’ t just call a supplier and say , ‘ Hey , I ’ m out of guitars . Send me some more .’ With all of my major partners , I have orders well into 2023 , but if you didn ’ t do that a year ago you ’ re not going to have product to sell . That doesn ’ t mean the market will slow down , it means that you didn ’ t adapt .”
It ’ s a stark warning , but the supply chain has been an issue throughout the pandemic and continues to be . To get a better idea of how things played out on the ground in 2020 , in addition to McNamee , Canadian Music Trade spoke to Blaze Music President Rod Bader , and Michael Kirman , the VP of Steve ’ s Music Store , Inc ., as well as Mario Biferali , the vice president of sales at Quebec-based Godin Guitars .
While the timing of the uptick in sales varied slightly , Kirman says that for Steve ’ s Music , it manifested in about May or June 2020 . “ The first month or two were chaos for everyone . We were scrambling . In the summer of 2020 , there was a massive increase in demand … especially the second lockdown , and it ’ s been steady ever since . It started with electrics , then switched to acoustics , and now it ’ s both .” Peripherals were big as well , he adds : “ Pedals , definitely – people might be trying to buy something a bit more unique . Boutique pedals have always done well , but the lower-price-point pedals are also flying out the door .”
Sales increased across the board , Kirman continues : “ Ukuleles , as usual , the sales were very high . For guitars , we were seeing the beginner and higher-end [ sales increase ], and then the midmarket started moving a bit later . We almost sold out immediately of our beginner guitars .”
Supply issues , as well as the previouslymentioned desire by players to improve or augment their rigs or instruments , also drove demand between price points . “ People ’ s use of their discretionary income switched from travel and in-person social activities to , ‘ What can we do at home ? What can we do with the kids ?’ Or , ‘ I played guitar or piano as a kid , so I ’ ll pick it up again .’ Towards the third wave there was an uptick as people went from beginner [ products ] to the next level ,” Kirman says . While many may have feared and experienced a loss of income , the overall uncertainty drove demand , he believes . “ People are spending money on renovations and more on themselves , locally ; on things that made them feel comfort , security – redoing a room or spending money on a nicer instrument gave them a level of comfort .”
Given the means of connection was largely online during lockdowns , in addition to plain comfort , people were looking for more “ analog ” pastimes as a respite from screens . “ Absolutely ,” Kirman says , “ with people picking up an acoustic guitar to just de-stress .” While playing has always provided that kind of break . “ I think people are starting to re-discover it as a way to relax and recuperate from a busy day of being plugged in .”
Granted , meeting demand was challenging . “ We couldn ’ t replace them fast enough ,
CANADIAN MUSIC TRADE 21