Friday, August 6, 2010

5 People You'll See at the Music Store

Ah, the music store. Home to more wankery and self-consciousness per square foot than any other retailer on the planet. Anyone can try on a sweater or test drive a Volvo, but it's a humbling thing to walk into a Guitar Center and stare blankly at a wall of guitars, fearing judgment from all angles were you to take one down for a few minutes of noodling. I mostly felt this way during high school, because I was a.) a teenager and b.) developing as a musician. Nowadays, I could give a shit about the other 50 people in the store--in fact, I often get a chuckle at their expense. A role-reversal, yes, but it's something you earn.

Anyway, I've been in enough music stores to note the kinds of quirky folks that populate them. And they're often hilarious. Without further ado:

The 16 Year Old Shredder

What with stock photo prices being so high, you'll have to deal with the watermark.

The first thing you hear when you set foot in a large guitar store is some high-speed riffery emanating from the electric section.

Chances are, it'll be some wirey little high school sophomore, squeezing every note out of a Fender Strat. He'll glance around every few seconds to see if anyone's noticing him. His mother is next door in Barnes and Noble reading Better Homes and Gardens with a macchiatto, and is under strict instructions to remain there and under no circumstances enter the music store. They'll meet up at the Kia Sedona in a half an hour.

But, hey, the kid's pretty good right? I mean, he's playing some serious high-velocity licks! In truth, his level of play could be accomplished in eight to nine months of steady practice. Kudos to the pubescent Page for his tenacity thus far, but in all reality, he's still not that great. He's at the stage when he thinks his playing will draw the awed gazes of every employee and musician in the store. He assumes Eric Clapton's private helicopter will land in the parking lot and old Slowhand himself will be escorted in, and engage our hero in an epic guitar battle (and lose). In fact, he's driving the employees insane, because as soon as he leaves, another Acne Frehley will take his place.

The Tap Soloist


Another character in the electric section is the tap-soloist, who lives and dies by a guitar method called finger tapping. Oh, so much tap-soloing occurs in music stores every day. I've mentioned my distaste for this before, but it's the ultimate tactic for pseudo-talented guitarists who think speed positively correlates with talent. While there are some folks who can employ it to great effect, I could probably teach you to do it in about 45 seconds (like the video above, in fact). Then you can walk into Guitar Center and annoy everyone, too!

The Tap Soloist is aged 14-28, shaggy headed, deliberately unrefined, and a poor-to-mediocre player overall. He'll sit there and just tap-solo, playing some demonic guitar through a heavily-distorted amp. I equate public finger tapping to stepping into the slow-pitch batting cages, cranking a few meatballs over the pitching-machine, and then expecting praise. Wow, real impressive there, Ken Griffey.

The Drum Beast


Take the 16 year old shredder, add 10 years, 100 pounds, 900,000 tattoos, and voila. The Drum Beast will camp out at a set and unleash his fury on a set of Tamas, performing his personal Moby Dick. He'll need to hurry because the turkey burger special at Ruby Tuesday's won't cook itself, and he took an extra shift because the Ale Shack downtown double booked on his band and had to cancel. Undeterred, he'll let loose on the skins (behind a sound wall of some sort, mercifully) for minutes on end, stamping the double-bass pedals like they're flaming bags of poo. When he smashes the last cymbal, he'll twirl the sticks once, set them down, and pathetically walk away. As with the Shredder, the culmination of his performance will come as a great relief to all those in the store. And like the Shredder, he'll just be replaced by another Beast.

The Mortified Band Geek


Music stores--especially independent ones--often make their money selling and setting up band instruments for local high school students. Therefore, it's not uncommon to see a suburban housemarm stroll in amongst the tattered rawk melee, her shoe-gazing preteen in tow. He'll longingly gawk at the 16 Year Old Shredder, a god in his eyes, and wish he could quit this trumpet shit and pick up an axe of his own. Of course, when the Shredder is 23 and working at Tuesdays (see Drum Beast), the Band Geek could be playing in a university jazz band and enjoying unbridled amounts of ass. But for now, the Geek will squirm as his mother makes some shit-lame comment about the exorbitant prices to the dude behind the counter. Which brings us to...

Music Store Employee


You've gotta give the guy credit, he knows more about instruments than most musicians twice his age. (In most cases. I've encountered non-musicians working at music stores, which is mind-boggling.) But for the most part, the guys employed at music stores are struggling young musicians, basking in their 15% store discount. Other times, they're burnouts who figure the opening shift at Guitar Center could technically be considered "making it in the music business."

While they might be accomplished musicians, there's one thing they aren't: Salesmen. They often work on commission, so in their mind it translates to "Hey, if someone buys expensive stuff, I get more money". So their sales approach is totally unstructured and transparent. Seriously, have you ever had one of these guys try to upsell you? It's hilarious. It usually goes something like this:
Me: Hey, I'm looking for an acoustic in the $500-$700 range.
Employee: Ok. Um, Ibanez makes good ones in that range.
Me: OK, thanks, I may play a few and let you know what I think.
Employee: Also, the Gibson J-200 is a good acoustic.
Me: Uh...yeah, it is.
Employee: Yeah, you might like it instead.
Me: But....it's $4,500.
Employee: Uh...yeah. It's good, you might like it.
Me: Yeah I'm sure it is, I'm just not in the market for something like that.
Employee: OK, cool. Um just so you know, we have a deal going where you'd save $300, but it's only today.
Me: Yeah. I'm not gonna buy that guitar man.
Employee: OK, well let me know if you change your mind and I can throw in some strings or something.
Always Be Closing, baby!

***

You probably won't find all five of these folks in the same place. Most smaller music stores don't have drums set up and ready to go, and places like Guitar Center aren't your best bet for getting your tuba varnished. Also, that's probably a sexual innuendo somewhere. But anyway, if you're considering entering the realm of musicianship, you'll probably come across these characters at some point. You might even be one of them. For instance, I was the 16-year-old shredder, I'll admit it. But my mom never drove a Sedona. Nor did I finger tap! But I did fall victim to my own version of guitar gimmickry: As a huge Zeppelin fan, I acquired a violin bow and tried to replicate the "Dazed and Confused" sound.

So we can laugh all we want, but none of us are innocent. Hey, that's why we're musicians! We like being heard. Which is probably why there are so many music blogs, really. Because having a blog is kinda like making it in the music business too, right?

Right?

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