Wednesday, 03 March 2010 06:38

Blame the Auto-Dialer

Where did we forget to remember things? I trace it back to the auto dialer...you basically had to remember peoples phone number. I resisted for a long time but put the stuff in my cell phone and let that part of my brain become dormant......that part of my brain sits on the couch with a bag of Oreo's. Maybe it was the calculator? Yeah...thats it I used to be able to ad and multiply...OK I still can do margins. The math part is sitting on the same couch with a bag of Cheetos.

Now the most disturbing ones of all. You Tube and cell phone cameras. Now what we are buying a bigger couch so the part of your brain that used to capture memories and experiences is buying ice cream.

I went to see Joe Bonamassa and got to sit above the mixing console and there had to be a hundred amateur cinematographers and young Spielbergs. It's a balancing act for them between staying through the encore or rushing home not to beat the traffic but to be the first to post on You Tube.

I love You Tube... i love my cell phone camera. But, (there is always a but) understand that you probably wont be able to let your mind enhance an experience and make your memories greater than it was. You will also understand that there will be fewer and fewer off the cuff comments or candor. The artist will approach everything they do with caution because everything is on the record. Bummer.

My best friend sat in with an artist recently...just brought his guitar. I was there. It was special... The crowd loved it. Until the you tube was posted. Here was a wonderful player plugging directly in to a strange amp and stepping into the headliners kitchen. One of the many people with the cell phones were right in front of my pals amp....the mix was awful and the people posted multiple videos and the comments were so mean it was a shame. My friend will not sit in unless it is planned and he has his rig. He cant afford the bad internet press.

There used to be a TV version with comedians and the live version....They are now the same. We gained a camera but lost a channel.

I refuse to give up this part of my brain. I will make a promise that I will always watch with my eyes and not thought the screen of an iphone. I will look for a day when there are special performances that are unique and special.

How much should we let technology affect chance and inspiration? At least now you know.
Tuesday, 05 January 2010 07:31

Float like a Butterfly....sting like a bee

I am a card carrying entrepreneur.

America was built on the backs of passionate entrepreneurs. Every success story, publicly traded company and institution today started as entrepreneurs and somehow lost their way. Here is my perspective.

My best analogy is the caterpillar. The slink along the ground and crawl and do what they want. They somehow stumble into this process that they don't quite understand....its called a cocoon. After awhile they break out and become a butterfly and sail off to great heights. The only problem is that they end up too far from the ground...That's OK because they have created an opportunity for the next cocoon. Distance from the ground creates opportunity.

I think one of the problems is that our programming of success is all whacked out. In surfing some think that the reward is on the beach on the podium. I think its the time in the tube. I think its the immersion in the process and not the podium.

Living in the desert I am surrounded with people who thought the goal was the economic finish line and they are like groundhogs day...same foursome, same time. They sold their relevancy....They were lions and now they are duffers. They usually have developed a substance problem along with a gambling problem.

But back to the loss of entrepreneurship. Its not like losing your virginity...You remember that. It is gradually distancing yourself from your customer and your product. Symbolically the exec keeps moving to the top floor instead of keeping their offices on the ground floor. The further the exec rises physically the more likely they are creating the opportunity for that next determined caterpillar.

I get several calls a week with offers to "take some money off the table" My business and lifes work has now been buzz-worded into a piece of furniture. What they are telling me is that they can load me down with debt and with their unique and talented professionals they can value engineer me into a coma of non relevance.

Signs that you are losing your entrepreneurial spirit:

1. You start every sentence with "At the end of the day" My current pet peeve....At the end of the day I have dinner and try to make it to 9:30.

2. You stop using your own product.

3. You dread consumer contact.

4. You can't answer a question regarding your product or services with out blackberrying a junior marketing exec.

5. You hire high priced idiots to ask strangers questions about your product and its applications. This is called 'market research' or 'focus groups'. These are the same monotones that call you during dinner.

6. You outsource everything but have more guys in suits shuffling papers. You don't even design your own products.


7. Your focus is more on the cash then the product and process. Entrepeneurs almost never start out to get rich...that is a secondary dream...they are convinced that there is a better way of making or doing something and usually they have been forced to prove it by others rejection of their idea.

What can I tell someone new? The heart of the watermelon is the journey not the financial ending. You will have golden moments of innovation and success...try to identify and enjoy those moments because for every one of those there are pot holes. They talk about 'ying and yang' and 'sweet and sour' For every ying and sweet moment there are at least nine sour ones. Watch your inventory and receivables. Keep your office in the center of your structure not the corner or penthouse. Never give more than five strokes in a golf match. Especially to a guy from Kentucky.
Thursday, 10 September 2009 05:29

Defining Moments....

OK....I'm really happy.  Giddy.
The economy sucks. Trying to make something in America that is a little different and costs more...(duh)

The existing business model doesn't work......Can't fixit or get anyone to listen. Everybody wants to use new technology and content but they refuse to think about the real ways to make it work and more global and accessible.  Everybody wants to control the inventory.....Thats another blog.  My fingers hurt from trying to defend the old school distribution model to passionate people from far away lands....They want the stuff and can get it but they also know that because of where they live they may
have to pay triple. Meanwhile we sell less.

We didn't build a bigger factory.  We never built inventory.  Big Factories ALWAYS become mangy dogs that you have to feed.  Im living in real time and we are down on the guitar side a little but there is no pain because I dont have unwanted inventory and the debt and overhead of a dead factory.

I hired engineers and young smart people instead.  

Couldn't sleep...too pumped!

It was the five year anniversary of my Dads passing yesterday.  I actually think I know where time goes and no longer fight it. I sort of attack it. I love it.  I have no other choice.  I learned from my father who didn't understand or accept the natural flow and the role you get to play.  The word 'get' is the operative one. I don't burn that time with regret about how I should have done something and Im not running my business on the current mantra of denial. 

Speaking of denial.....You dont think that there was some denial in sub-prime lending? Denial in people actually believing that what went up stays up? Economic Viagra failed.  America blew it's phantom equity and now the second guessers who were sucking on the hind pacifier are pointing fingers. In the Auto industry why didn't they turn heat down on production? Why didn't they understand R&D?  They never played musical chairs in first grade.  The music stopped and Ford had a seat.  Thats another story.

My Dad taught me things that are intuitive.  My Dad taught me that if you couldn't figure out why  certain choices were made it was because, 'The world is run by D students"  Sage advice. 

Enough about Pop's....Why am I excited? Im excited because I have Son's that are pumped and rarin to go.  I want to hand them the brushes but hold the easel. I have young engineers that have goose bumps and look like they have to pee all the time because they are so excited about the places they are going and the processes and products they see.  The thing I see is that they are in a defining moment and the beauty is that I couldn't see them when I had em....I don't expect them to either but guess what?   I do..... and thats one of the fabulous things about getting older.

I never understood that Dudley and I were taking on one of Leo Fenders easels.  That blind energy and determination has to be a bigger rush than heroin.  As I said in stage 54 of my life I know that I can get cheaper movie tickets around the corner and know what is really happening to these people....that's my heroin.

Leo's long gone.  I think that he liked our stuff.  Les Paul is gone.  Gotta love a guy who gigged into his nineties and still loved being a cat.  That time thing has done its thing and know I know that even though remember Im internally 30 I must be one of the last men standing because I keep getting asked for video interviews.

Now if only I could stay awake in movies......
Thursday, 23 July 2009 06:57

Interaction and change......

Remember I warned you that I'm sort of a slug on the blogging side.  I still find it kind of pompous...Hey read me!....

But it is good for me to sit down and try to organize whats banging around in my coconut besides that voices I hear and the hamster running on the rusty wheel! Ok, Im not going to organize...its going to be stream of thought before the first cup of joe.
Technology has become the new crack cocaine that wears a Nehru Jacket...We pridogy'ed, AOL'ed, My Spaced, Facebooked, and now we are Twittering....One has to undersatnd that on the tech side social trends and habits aren't pendilums but really fast metronomes.  Big corporations of old media are suckers at a county fair because they make billionaires out of young social engineers that are laughing all the way to the bank on the way to the Gulfstream. They just sold a green banana for 18 billion dollars and the company has never made a dime. They are always late to the party and always pay too much.  They end up taking write downs faster than a tax increase and then create spin to justify why they paid 4 billion for Skype or a gazillion for the new and latest and greatest connector of the population that has zero loyalty.
They buy pet rocks. The problem is the higher and bigger you get the harder it is to know what is happening on the ground.  Innovation always starts on the ground.

What the hell does this have to do with guitar strings and Music Man? Sort of everything.  We sell something that is old world....(if you believe in this era that a product category that was born in around 1948 and didn't gain traction until the early 60's is old world)  We use these tools and technology to communicate our message...Tell our story.  We also use it to make sure that we are on the ground. It is also a good gut check for me to make sure that it isn't work talking to our customers.  The day it's work I'm out of here . Aloha, Baby.

In business today the interaction that we have with our customer is in my mind a huge asset.  Critics say that we waste our time.  I have a few mantra's and almost first is the I want to get as close to my customer so I can smell their breath.  Joined at the hip.  Why? Because I still share their passion.  Because I get direct feedback on what the diehards are thinking and playing. As a result we have come up with tons of products and not come up with others that if we were in the ivory tower polishing our bitchen button we might have otherwise. The biggest thing to understand is that it isnt a gps that can drop you off at the bank.  As I've said on the forum it is cayenne pepper...a little perfects and too much is inedible.

I've had to learn how to react and how the written word can be taken so many different ways.  Some use those cheesy emoticons...I wont use them and I still haven't used an ATM. Like everything else in my life I learned on the fly.  If I knew then.....

People come and go on the forum.  There are long termers that really are friends and nearly family.  We know when their cats sick , their dogs lost, and when real tragedy or joy is in their lives. We share in the passing of parents and loved ones and the arrival of the next generation of guitarists. It is just like being in a bar or at a party....there are loud guys, repeaters, sensitive ones and my least favorite..PSV's Personal Space Violators.  These are some fo my categories for drinkers too. When I run into a forumite and know their guitar or their kids name the are shocked.  It's called credibility.

Those kids of today call it 'street cred'. In my day it was walking the walk. It's funny to see big companies try to buy credibility.  The kids will take their offers and laugh behind their backs.  These companies are marketing to generations that got target marketed starting with their baby formula. They have the highest level of skepticism and the most efficient BS meter. They also have the shortest attention span in the world...if you can't grab them in the five seconds you get you are toast and you are better off burning thousand dollar bills naked in a lotus postion. Teachers and Doctors all it ADD and medicate. I think it is a immunity from oversaturation.

In the old days you used a dealer and the print media to tell your story to the public.  It worked pretty good. You used international business to bury your mistakes.  If a product went cold you pull the wool over the eyes of the europeans for at least a year....You know that there are still companies that dont understand that the word is on real time?

I decided print was dead about 8 years ago.  I backed off and spent the dough telling our story directly.  The dealer and magazines that were once conduits became the lead blanket the dentist puts on your chest for xrays.

So we use technology to tell our story.  We use it to show the public the future of our company and the things we hold sacred. We use it to allow musicians the opportunity to post their music and videos.  We use You Tube to tell you how to fix or operate things...or show you the latest video of an artist of ours. We use technology to provide the logistics for our two mobile stages that travel the country giving thousands of bands an opportunity to play live. We really use technology to change and evolve.

Ill end with the word change....Change is the only creator of opportunity both good and bad. Nothing ever happens when you do nothing.  Imagine that? The problem with change is that the bigger you get the slower you change and that is the beauty of the system.   The process of success breeds detachment and indifference to the customer and product you are selling.  That's what creates opportunity for the smaller hungrier band or company.  We are only here because My Dad really believed that people wanted choice over their strings and Leo Fender and the Gibson guys didn't.  They weren't on the ground....my Dad was and I never forget it.
Sunday, 15 November 2009 06:51

Advertising Marketing ...'Marketising"

In the old days....(about a decade ago...ok maybe two) a manufacturer did print ads, point of purchase material, artist endorsements and if you were progressive like my father you came out with a t shirt....(1971...the first promotional clothing in our industry) to market their product. There was no line or distinction between marketing and advertising. It was all the same. The last ingredient of your 'marketising' was that you left it to your dealer to tell your story.

They got a 100% commission to tell your story. Back then the dealer hadn't had the life beat out of him or really the dealer was usually a player who had to feed the kids and whose wife got tired of the late night gigs. (Remember live music? What a time...but I digress)...what did he or she do? They opened a guitar store. No formal training, no business plan....Out of that crop came a handful of great serial entrepreneurs but really the mortality rate of these stores were massive. What am I getting at? The advent of the category killer and the big box retailers and the dealers basing everything on price..but for a few cases your dealer became the lead blanket they put on your chest when you go to the dentists office. At best you were one can and the consumer was the other can and the dealer was the piece of string. That string broke.

Along came the web. The most amazing conduit and distributor of propaganda, misinformation, and bias. Ying and Jerry Yang. My dads biography in Wikipedia is wrong...I tried to change it and they undid my changes and slapped my virtual wrist. If it's Wiki its true. Wiki used to be a hawaiian dance now it is a large partially fact based resource to guide you. If it was a GPS unit you would rarely get to where you wanted to go.

What happened is that nobody sat back and said "There are 20 million guitars out there and our industry pours 90% of of their 'marketising' money in stupidly expensive print media that has 200,000 subscribers. We ignored the 19,800,000 other owners of the product we were trying to sell. We focused on the already converted Why? It was easy and truly we didn't grasp just how big our market was or could be.

I think I got hit by lightning about 15 years ago because I woke up with a crazy thought....What the hell am I doing? Print was in a sprint race with the consumers attention span. They were both losing. The dealers coffee had gone luke warm and I felt like a amp head without a speaker cabinet.

We hired six young artists from Cal Poly...We bought an RV that was the wildest looking thing ever...you could go anywhere and pull up and hang 18 guitars on the side with headphones for the kids to play. We went everywhere there were kids. We were in an industry that thought BMX, Skateboards and Nintendo were threats and competition. I saw an entire industry determined to fight their demographic. How on this green earth....could you fight your demographic and prosper? We saw opportunity... We bought Volkswagens new Beetle and wrapped them in graphics and gave them to dealers to drive...Nobody wrapped vehicles back then...we put someone in business....we joined the Warped Tour, we started the Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands, We now have two mobile stages. Along comes Brian Ball and he gets us in this new video game called "Guitar Hero".

Now we weren't the first music company approached by Guitar Hero...we were the first to jump, pounce, and attack the opportunity. Meanwhile we see a sales bump within months. Back at our industry association headquarters they hold a summit to determine whether Guitar Hero is good or bad for our business. They will deny it but our industry wouldn't know a game changing opportunity if it landed in bed next to them. I guess they would have preferred it to be called Tractor Hero. A group of self-important artists started an elite campaign like PETA..."Guitarists against Guitar Hero" I am going to start one against fake fur. I threw up in my mouth a little...Sure its a game but the game was in invitation to experience a similar feeling of playing with a band. Duh?
Its a numbers game. The more you expose the more you can convert. Dealers across the country were refusing to stock the game and were fighting it. (remember we are master at fighting change and opportunity) Some dealers got it and had free Guitar Hero lessons. They sold a ton of guitars and real guitar lessons were overbooked.

It's not just our industry...The greatest story that can be told in the last ten years of American Business is Sony vs Apple. In the red trunks was Sony a super heavy weight...armed with the largest catalog of recorded music, artists signed to slave contracts.....they were a powerhouse in consumer electronics..the cherry on the sundae was that they created the personal music player the Walkman. Remember those? I think it's a phone now. In the Blue trunks is Apple quirky personal computer maker with zero music catalog and a 2.4% market share in the computer business and no history of mainstream consumer products......We know who won but nobody talks about the significance of that victory.

There was a kid that really figured out how to deliver music to kids in a manner that they wanted....basically stealing it via the internet. The Music Industry tried to put Sean Fanning (creator of napster) in jail when they should have hired him...talk about fighting your demographic....they litigated and legislated themselves into a pathetic state of non relevance. They focused on the stealing instead of realizing that there was a consumer that tired of having to buy a whole CD when they only wanted one song? Remember 45's? Singles? Most importantly there was a consumer that wanted a different method of acquisition. Apple got it. Sony and the rest of the biz didn't case closed. War over.

The lesson learned here is to understand that opportunity is still everywhere. Amazon is amazing....how come it wasn't Barnes and Noble? The bigger you get as an organization the more opportunity you create for the next generation to cut your legs off and make you irrelevant. You must stay close to your customers.

I have almost 14,000 posts on our forum....My mantra is that I want to be able to smell my customers breath. Occasionally I get accused of pandering there by some newbie. That is the best one....Im there because I eat sleep and breath our company and its products and programs....I get to hang with other addicts. More on that later...time for more coffee.....
Monday, 09 March 2009 10:14

25 Years.....Wow.

Ok so here we are at 2009 and it's the the 25th Anniversary of Ernie Ball and Music Man.
I guess in relationships Anniversaries can be  pressure or for someone else.  In business it really gives you an opportunity to step back and pat yourself on the back, kick yourself in the shins, second guess yourself, and then give yourself carpel tunnel from patting your self on the back again just because you are still here.....Kind of like being in a marathon. Only you dont have to run.
Monday, 06 October 2008 07:26

I guess I have to talk about EVH….

This is a edited message that I responded to on our forum about the old 5150 guitar strings.

It is an example of you never know when you take a little creative initiative where it can take you.

5150 strings are what put EVH and I together….

I was twenty two……but I want to be 17 again. It’s a blog….I get to. I want to talk about Albert Lee.

The Ball Family was always surrounded by music;. Family get togethers were everyone playing or singing something. If we weren’t doing that we were listening. Everything from Western Swing to Summer of Love Rock and all in between From Bob Wills through Lenny Breau all the way to Cream and beyond. We were always the ones that baffled record store clerks…..(That is like talking about the ice delivery man) with the varied stack.

Saturday, 24 May 2008 05:23

I’ve been everywhere, Man…..

Ok, where was I? Tokyo, Fort Worth, San Luis Obispo and back to the California Desert. Oh, Yeah history…

The great thing about those times is that the lines were blurred. I was helping Leo, beta-testing amps for Tommy, getting them artists. I remember Tommy askng my Dad if he could hire me. My Dad said it was my choice. Talk about conflicted. I could be on the ground floor with my godfather and Leo Fender or I could stay in the family business. I chose Ernie Ball. I really didn’t have a choice as I have mentioned it is what I felt preordained to do.

Monday, 28 April 2008 06:27

Semi-retirement……Huh?

So he has moved the family kicking and screaming to Newport Beach in 1967. I look back on the kickng and screaming part….lets see Newport Beach…Boats, beaches and babes…The San Fernando Valley…

We are settling in and things are going well. My Dad is Salesman/Graphic Artist/Product Designer/Back up shipper /and chief bottle washer. The kids are still showing up after work to stuff labels into strings and I got the pleasure of filing invoices. Back then there were just two other employees, Marie Farley the pick printing lady and a guy who I wont mention his name as he started as a 12 year old student and worked for my dad and handled all the shipping into his adulthood.

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