Here’s a guest post from Jason Hunt, Owner of The Guitar Show. It’s an interesting and engaging story about how he has adapted and overcome the challenges that 2020 has presented. His honesty is really refreshing and relatable. We hope you enjoy reading!
2020 in review: A game of two halves, just with a very short first half.
January started much like every other January. I was in full impeding show mode. At this point it’s long days in the office, disrupted only by the industry’s favourite
blag away-day, the NAMM show. A week of sunshine, meetings, hangovers, more meetings, more hangovers etc etc.
I had a successful trip, I caught up with loads of people, shook a lot of hands (back we could do things like that), I just did what NAMM is for and networked until I couldn’t network anymore. I managed to book Phil X for The Guitar Show, sold the last few stands and had a great time.
February is Guitar Show month. This year the show was the biggest it had ever been, and (reassuringly) advance tickets sales were the biggest they had ever been as well. I took the additional stand revenue and put it straight back in to the show, dressing the front entrance and the live stage in the style of The Rolling Stones ‘Rock and Roll Circus’.
I chased payments, I did marketing, I sorted artist plans, I booked hotels. I was busy, but I was good busy.
Then the news started to get a bit darker, no one really knew what was going on.
Two days before going onsite I spent 6 hours driving around Birmingham looking for hand sanitiser. I took everything the local chemist had (not much) and finally found an online company with stock. It turns out that I bought enough to last me for about 4 years, but how do you gauge how much you are going to need for 4000 people. I’d never done it before.
The show was the most successful one so far. For the first time in 25 years of running events I didn’t receive a single post-show complaint and the feedback was glowing. The re-book rate was 85% within a week, The Guitar Show 2021 was going to be massive.
March, April and May morphed together into a single new month ‘Lockdown’.
The overriding opinion was that it would blow over quickly, everyone I spoke to said the same thing, “at this rate you’ll be the last show and the first show”. I was still fairly confident at the point, I’d got 85% in the bag, the remaining 15% wouldn’t take long.
I took the offer of a Bounce Back Loan, thinking it would be better to have it and pay it back earlier. I doubted I would need it, but it turned out I would be proved wrong.
I launched the 9-42 Podcast whilst we were in Lockdown V.1. People had been on at me for years about doing a podcast but to be honest the idea terrified me. I am an Event Manager, I have no desire to be anything other than that, I stand and fall by the quality of the product I produce. But by May I had no product,
What I did have was quite a good contact list, built up over 25 years in the events business. Ant Short did a good job of persuading me, and after he agreed to co-host I was nudged over the line about the project. I re-branded myself as the ‘Reluctant Podcaster’.
After 25 shows I have completely changed my mind (Ant said I would) and I love doing it. It keeps on growing, the guests (artists and industry folk) keep getting better and it’s a lot of fun, plus it keeps The Guitar Show out there.
June, July & August we are no longer in Lockdown but events are still not allowed, I decide to make a decision in September because February still seems like ages away. My initial thoughts were to push it back to May time, because it will all be fine by then…
To stop myself from going mad, I put myself on an online training course.
When I worked at The NEC it felt like I was on one every other month, but it had dawned on me that I hadn’t done any in over a decade. I chose one run by a guy that had worked for Nike, in the branding dept. They are called Ekin (because they know the brand backwards). A fascinating look at how consumers respond to your brand and how to communicate with them. Like a lot of good training courses, most of it wasn’t new to me, but had certainly slipped my mind and I wasn’t using any of it. For 3 weeks it gave me a focus that frankly I had been missing, not working on the show was really getting me down.
October. Lockdown v.2. Decision time.
The show isn’t going to happen, I know this, I am just struggling to admit it to anyone else. My company may be small, but it is mine and I’ve worked really hard to make it the best it can be, I also have to deal with the fact that I’m not going to earn a living in 2021.
The days are darker and so is my mood. The pressure of having to announce the cancellation of the show is getting to me. I still have people phoning and emailing about booking, I’m ok talking about it on the phone, I’m depressed as hell when I have to write it down. Raj from Fairdeal Music phoned to ask me if I was alright, I lied and told him I was fine.
I hate being in a funk, and as Tom Petty once said, I won’t back down, so a stern word with myself is the order of the day. It’s not my fault, there are people in a much worse position, it’s not over, it’s just postponed. I buy a few business books; I read endlessly about marketing and promotion and I try and work on a plan.
Grace Notes – The Guitar Show Newsletter is launched. I lecture for BIMM on Event Management, I talk about when Music Live had a huge following on Myspace and how that disappeared overnight because of this new thing called Facebook. Own your data I say, Facebook could go the same way, all that time, all that energy you’ve put in to building a following could be gone in the blink of an eye. Sometimes when you talk the talk, you forget that you have to walk the walk too.
The training course had said just give stuff away, not product, but stuff. I have a single pair of stupidly expensive jeans that were a birthday present, Japanese Selvidge Denim from a UK company called Hiut. Every week I get a newsletter from them, it talks very little about jeans, but shares interesting news/art/photography/podcasts etc, I always read it. Why don’t I do the same, but make it all guitar related?
Grace Notes was born, so far issue 1 has an engagement of 41%, much higher than the industry standard, a good start. Issue 2 is ready to go just before Christmas. I highlight podcasts (not mine), books, films, records and recall a treasured memory (the next one turns out to be about Duff McKagan).
I’m doing The Guitar Show work, this feels better.
I sit here in December getting ready to interview Bruce Kulick for the podcast. He is the guitarist from my teenage heroes KISS. I’ve told Ant that he needs to stop me from geeking out tonight, no one wants me to talk about this thing that happened in 1988 at The NEC on the Crazy Nights tour and I’m certain that Bruce won’t have a clue either.
But tonight is all about hope. I wouldn’t be doing this if there hadn’t been a pandemic, and 9-42 and Grace Notes wouldn’t be happening.
I start work on The Guitar Show 2022 in January, I have that 85% to contact and make sure they are ok to rebook, I have that other 15% to go back to and I have all the new potentials that have contacted me in the last 10 months too.
I know it’s going to be ok, the responses from social media and The FretBoard Forum show that the public miss it, it has a place in the market. The seemingly vertical growth of guitar sales this year would indicate that we all have future, I just need to be ready to entice these new players to my favourite weekend of the year.
Listen to the 9-42 Podcast
Sign up to Grace Notes