Revolutions Aren’t Born In Boardrooms

Revolutions Aren’t Born In Boardrooms

Nobody saw it coming, not even the legions of baby boomer kids positioned squarely in the path of the oncoming cultural tsunami, watching as the very fabric of society began to tear asunder on Sunday, February 9, 1964, when The Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Elvis and Sinatra were a prelude to the grandiose influence that historic broadcast would have on American life. I remember, for example, my entire third grade class discussing the performance the next morning, led by our 20-something teacher, no less, who seemed as awestruck as we were. She asked if any of us wanted to play an instrument like The Beatles. Nearly all hands shot up.

Now multiply that by all other classrooms in the country on that same morning, and you get a hint of how quickly things would change. Garage bands sprouted in every neighborhood of every town, as likeminded teenyboppers tried to emulate the surge of pop bands from England and the US that jumped on the bandwagon.

Bands weren’t the only ones cashing in, either. Once sleepy music stores were soon swamped with new customers demanding the latest gear. We’ve heard tales of the golden years on Music Row in New York City, when Manny’s and Sam Ash sold Stratocasters and Ludwig kits nearly as fast as delivery trucks could unload them.

The mid-’60s music explosion was so pervasive that it bolstered music commerce for decades. However, if you charted the progress of the musical instrument market from 1964 to today, you’d see a gradually descending line, punctuated by occasional peaks spurred by popular musical trends.

Whenever the line tracked upward — as a U2 or Red Hot Chili Peppers spawned wannabes — drum set sales would peak for a number of years, and settle back down. Then video games and other options started grabbing a big share of adolescent time. Later, file sharing and streaming content drove a nail into the heart of the recording industry. Young consumers saw fewer reasons to spend decades learning an instrument to get a $100 gig, when they could invent Instagram, then jump out of an airplane, or something like that. So here we are. Even though the economy has sputtered to life in recent years following the Great Recession, the music products industry still faces challenges. Unlike those heady days on Music Row, percussion industry leaders are now worried about supply outstripping demand, and some have joined forces to develop ways to stimulate interest in drumming.

They send teachers to elementary schools to give workshops, hand out goodie bags at Warped Tour stops, and sponsor similarly well-intentioned promotions. I’m sure such efforts help create new drummers. But it’s pocket change compared to seeing Ringo for the first time in 1964, when the entire world suddenly wanted to be in a band.

We need a cultural revolution all right, but it’s going to happen on its own timetable. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe 20 years from now. One thing is sure — it will be born on the streets and not around a conference table.

More Andy Doerschuk