Photo source: Mike Lull Custom Guitars
The world is a big place. Thankfully, no matter where you go, there’s a good chance that you’ll run into some pretty talented people. Every now and then, these gifted individuals muster up the courage to put their money where their mouth is; they take a leap of faith and invest in their own abilities, skills, and marketable traits. Rather than being a small cog in the big machine of corporate protocol and company culture, they become the head honcho of their small, yet hopefully mighty, independent business. In a world of chain restaurants and outlet malls, they continue to supply their community with a superior local product. There’s a fantastic baker in Flagstaff, Arizona making unbelievable muffins (at Macy’s European Coffee House and Bakery); a brilliant poet and ceramic artist in Paducah, Kentucky (Terra Cottage Ceramics); and a first-class instrument maker in Bellevue, Washington (Mike Lull Custom Guitars). These are real people, working really hard, and making a living off of their very special gift.
As someone who travels quite a bit, I love seeking out the small businesses that strive for excellence. I try to find them, support them, and enjoy the product that they make. I’ve spent an excessive amount of money buying chocolates in Boulder, CO and artwork in Asheville, NC because certain businesses make an extraordinary product that I happen to enjoy. While they may not be “local” to me, they are an important part of the “local economy” and deserve to be recognized as such. They are owned and operated by a single person, a family, or perhaps a small partnership. They don’t mass-produce much of anything, their products won’t show up on a shelf at Wal-Mart, and they rely on the loyalty of their customers.
If there’s one thing particularly wonderful about supporting these local businesses, it’s that you can usually talk to the person making your product. You can interact, ask questions, and build a relationship with the person roasting your coffee or fixing your broken zipper. They can give you tips, help you find something based upon your preferences, and if you’re lucky, customize an order. You, in return, receive a superior product, a bit of knowledge, and the satisfaction that comes from directly supporting the artisan.
Wouldn’t it be cool to buy an instrument from someone you’ve established a rapport with? Thankfully, there are people all over the world who specialize in making instruments, amplifiers, pedals, and other musical gear. You can find them, look at pictures on their websites, read reviews, and fall in love with something that only they make. You can email them, call them, and place an order to your specifications. It’s just as easy as calling your local bakery and ordering a birthday cake (though don’t get me wrong… it’ll probably take longer and be slightly more expensive). They’ll do a great job because they respect their craft, hope to provide the best quality product, and sincerely appreciate your business.
Small businesses know that your choice to support their brand is something special. There are plenty of buying options in the marketplace, including established brands that are both cheaper and more accessible. In other words, you could have bought a Fender. Now there’s nothing wrong with Fenders; I love Fenders… I have Fenders. But, I also have other instruments. I have instruments that were hand crafted by someone that I know, by someone who knows me, and by someone that I can pick up the phone and call. It took a long time to find the right instrument and the right person to make that instrument, but I’m sure glad that I did. In addition to getting something absolutely beautiful, I made an investment in a local business that, despite being many states away, is still a niche company. I help keep their lights on and their tools sharp; they help me perform my best with gear that I love.
So, if you’re considering purchasing a new instrument, a new strap, or a new pedal, I urge you to do some research. Go to a few music stores and look closely at the names on headstocks. Visit a trade show or exhibition and see if something catches your eye. Do your due diligence by paging through magazines, searching online, and reading forums or reviews. There are some remarkably talented luthiers, engineers, artists, and visionaries who are making products that deserve to be heard, played, and purchased.
If you’re a musician, you are one of those talented folks as well. You supply the artists in your community with the hours of expertise that you’ve invested in your craft. You supply the world with the music you record or the clubs with a band to perform. You give the teachers students to teach, the stores customers to provide for, and the gear companies a market for their products. We all want support, encouragement, and recognition — it’s a two-way street that you drive down every time you go to a local venue, visit a local music store, or support an independent business. Be there for them and they’ll be there for you.