By: Jessica Hopper
[Editor's Note:Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.]
There is a boutique amp manufacturer who I've had a relationship with for seven years who makes amps that I love. They give me a huge discount on amplifiers and ask nothing in return. I've visited their shop a few times, and that's where my problem starts. The owner of the company has politics that I can't stand. Not just differing views, but really extreme, uneducated and uninformed. And they definitely aren't shy about it--there are posters all over the shop, bumper stickers on the company vehicle, constant talk radio blasting vitriol. I've been thinking about getting a new amp lately because every time I play through my current amp I just think about this person's politics and get bummed out. What should I do?
What a timely question for this divisive election season! It's good you are thinking about what you are lending your reputation to. We've all been eager young gear hounds at some point, seeking out an amp head because our hero/heroine had one on stage. Given that you are in an internationally touring noise band with a dedicated fanbase of audiophile weirdbeards/fellow musicians, your set-up is of particular interest to them.
Companies know that even passive endorsements are incredibly powerful--perhaps even more so than direct endorsement. I remember a decade ago when Red Bull started striking deals with midwestern emo bands (most notably Get Up Kids) for them to put cans on top of their amps on stage, to appear they were drinking them during their shows.
I think that if it's bothering you and on your mind whenever you are playing, you need to honor your conscience and trade it in for something that is agreeable. It sounds like you can do your homework and find a small manufacturer that is in line with your political orientation. Your focus should be on your performance, not whether you are tacitly funneling money to someone who could be funneling it into a scholarship fund for Glenn Beck's Patriot Camp.
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There is some icky biz behind the scenes. Guitar Center is owned by Bain Capital, so we have all collectively paid into Mitt Romney's Cayman retirement fund by buying picks. Gibson Guitars settled a case last week, though admitted no wrongdoing, after the DOJ caught them importing illegally harvested timber from endangered trees.
I don't think it would be a productive use of your time to tell this guy that you are done using his amps. It's election season, rhetoric is high, you'll probably just get into a fight that there's no winning. The better bet is when you do get a new set up and are invariably asked about it by fans and friends, be explicit about why you switched. Word will get around and that'll be enough to undo whatever good will and interest you helped them cultivate.