There’s no “typical day” in the life of a music store owner.
And that’s just how Doug Edwards likes it.
Edwards owns and operates The Music Plant downtown on 11th Avenue. He’s been selling, maintaining and repairing musical instruments for about 30 years, and he still loves what he does.
“Partially why I like being in this business so much,” Edwards says, “is because it’s never the same from one day to the next. There’s always something new and different happening and always something new to learn. Like, even though guitars themselves are essentially pieces of wood with strings put on them, there are always small refinements going on that we need to keep up with, for example.”
One of the most significant changes in music equipment over the years, Edwards says, has been a shift in the world of public address (PA) and speaker systems.
“I don’t think consumers understand how good they have it in the PA world these days,” Edwards says. What used to cost someone to fill a room with good sound is less than half what it cost not that long ago.
“A 24-channel mixing board that did nothing more than mix, period, with no outboard gear at all – no EQs, no compressors, no effects built in – for a decent quality one used to run you around $4,000. You can now buy a $2,000 digital mixer that has all that outboard gear and EQs and effects included, and the amount of power you have available is double what it was.”
And the same thing has happened with guitars. Despite guitars basically just being “pieces of wood with strings put on them,” as he says, he’s sometimes blown away by how far those pieces of stringed wood have come through the years.
“The guitars that I’m selling today are far superior and far cheaper than when I started the store,” he says. “There’s no doubt about it. The guitar that I sell today for $250 or $260 dollars would have been $450 or $500 30 years ago, and that’s not an exaggeration.”
While the gear itself changes, forcing Edwards and his staff to keep up with the times, some things remain consistent. Like the fact that this time of year, they field a lot of calls for lessons.
“When we start coming up on the end of summer, we get a lot of people coming in and calling about starting lessons in the fall,” he says.
Another thing that remains consistent in the music gear industry – at least in our area – is the demand for ukuleles.
Campbell River is huge on ukuleles.
“We have the largest selection of ukes on Vancouver Island, for sure,” he says, wandering over to the racks.
“Part of what caused it, I think, it is that we have had, for years, a very strong uke group run by a local teacher named Vince Sequiera, called Pacifica Ukes,” Edwards says.
“He was a forerunner long before it became an ‘in’ thing and his development of a really high quality uke program forced us to develop a good selection of ukes being available,” he says with a laugh.
“And then, for whatever reason, it moved out into the general population. Probably because people are moving around a lot these days, and they’re small, portable, easy to play units, and there’s such great quality in them for how inexpensive they are. It’s scary, actually, how good these things are for how much they cost,” he says picking one up off the rack. “And look at this thing. It’s beautiful. It’s no surprise to me that it’s becoming a phenomenon.”
One phenomenon he could do without, however, is the advent and explosion of online shopping, but not for the reason you’d think.
“I totally understand wanting to bargain shop,” he says, “I get that, but if you’re not actually shopping and being educated, you don’t end up necessarily getting that bargain you think you’re getting.”
He says the Internet is great in some ways, because there’s a lot of information out there, and a lot of opinions easily accessible to people who want to educate themselves before making a purchase, “but there’s also a lot of unscrupulous people out there who want to take advantage of people.”
He tells the story of someone coming in for maintenance on what they thought was an American Fender Stratocaster that they just got a great deal on by buying it online, “and it turned out that someone had taken the neck off one thing and the body off another thing, slammed it together, jigged the serial number, and what he thought was a steal at $400 was actually worth, if you’re lucky, $20 or $30.”
There’s also the fact that everyone’s taste in instruments is different. You can’t necessarily trust online reviews – or even your own buddies’ opinions.
“I’ve helped customers buy guitars for 30 years now, and there’s nothing more pleasing to me than when they come in thinking they have to spend such and such on whatever they’ve been told is a great guitar, and we take a dozen guitars off the wall, and they find one that suits them and walk out of here with a much less expensive guitar than they thought they wanted.
“Our goal here isn’t to sell you something, it’s to get you what you are looking for.”
After all, Edwards says, he’d hate to think one of his guitars is sitting on a stand collecting dust because it doesn’t suit the person who bought it.
He’d rather have that person actually making music with a $200 guitar than have a couple extra dollars in his till.
Because the more people are making music, he says, the better the world is for everyone.