ESP had a challenge.
For years, we’d wanted to have a way of connecting with the people who attended concerts and festivals where our family of endorsed artists were performing. We figured — quite correctly, it turned out — that many of the fans who went to these shows were also guitarists and bass players who would love the opportunity to try out our instruments.
But how would we make that connection with those musicians? It turns out that we weren’t the only ones thinking about solutions to this problem. Enter Carmen Mark "Squiggy" DiGiacomo, a man who’d spent considerable time putting together a plan to create an environment at various shows that did exactly what we’d been hoping for. He calls it “The Music Experience”, a tent area set up at many festivals that allows attendees the chance to get hands-on with our gear.
Squiggy, please describe The Music Experience for people who’ve never visited.
The Music Experience is an interactive instrument exhibit. People can come in and play music, and it’s an environment where there’s no judgement. It’s conducive to a situation where you can pick up anything you want, play anything you want, and play as loud as you possibly can.
Isn’t that what music stores are for?
The thing that differentiates it is that while everything at The Music Experience is for sale, sales isn’t the determining factor for success. Our mission is to turn attendees into players, and turn players into fanatics. It’s set up like a traveling NAMM show.
Look, I came from the dealer network. The sad part is that a lot of dealers are afraid to carry alternative instruments. If you’re a metalhead like I am, where can you go that you can walk in and see 30 Vs, or 30 EXs? The products we feature at The Music Experience stand for rebellion, and all the things metal traditionally stands for.
Tell us how The Music Experience got started.
It started out as me being a dealer in that space, and seeing that landscape very quickly change. How can you add value to the instrument and not be just somebody moving boxes?
I feel that things like Amazon and eBay dehumanized every brand in our industry. As a result, the brands have publicly gotten away from their core values and emotional pillars that built the brand. So, I was a part of the Internet wild west. I was part of that dehumanization process. I saw the writing on the wall, and I saw less and less people people buying instruments based on the emotional connection, and instead just buying off price. They got away from buying based on, “Why is this guitar different from other guitars?”
Sounds like you’re a man on a mission.
I’ve dedicated myself as an apostle to the industry. I’m trying to re-humanize the industry. I’m out there speaking the gospel of instrument makers.
What should people expect when visiting The Music Experience?
Hopefully, the first thing you’re going to see is an environment that invites inspiration. We encourage people to pick up a $5000 guitar and plug it into whatever.
People get to talk to manufacturers. There are autograph signings every 30-45 minutes. So you come into the tent, you pick up Gary Holt’s signature LTD GH-600, you see Gary playing it on stage, and then he comes over and signs autographs. If you think of it in those terms, ESP is our rock star. Gary is ESP’s rock star. Our job to put them in the same place.
How has it been working with ESP as a partner to The Music Experience?
The thing I love about ESP is that ESP has been synonymous with hard rock, metal, and rebellious music. They’ve been that way, unapologetically, for a long time. ESP knew exactly what they were. They embraced it. They make the tools for that type of musician. That’s something I’ve been drawn to. I appreciate brands who are aware of what they are.
Working with ESP has been great because frankly, there are a lot of brands who are afraid of heavy metal. They see guys with tattoos, and who walk around with big spikes on, and most of them get scared. ESP is just not one of them. ESP embraces it.
As a card-carrying member of the metalhead community, I feel as though I’m a part of ESP.
How do you see The Music Experience evolving or growing?
I’ll tell ya, probably the biggest growth area right now is Loudwire coming into The Music Experience and being our media component. Loudwire has more YouTube subscribers than the top five guitar manufacturers combined.
One thing our industry has done well is to cannibalize itself. If one company is up, another is down. What Loudwire has done is given us the ability to reach the others. We’re preaching to everybody else now. It’s like if Rolling Stone or Billboard or Spin, in their heyday, would have had a gear section. We would probably be in a much different scenario right now if the instrument industry got into a cultural space.
What’s made The Music Experience successful in such a relatively short time frame?
What our industry has done well is that we’re portrayed as this gigantic image, but the fact is, it’s not true. We’re very small. A couple of guys have stepped up and made The Music Experience happen. Danny Wimmer, of Danny Wimmer Presents… without him, none of this shit even happens. It was all about his understanding of why it’s important to have guitars there. At the end of the day, without Danny’s blessing, it never would have even started. For Loudwire, it’s Josh Bernstein. Without him going to bat in the cultural space, and Danny signing off on it, the future of The Music Experience doesn’t exist.
It’s exciting. It’s like human SEO. We engage with people. 100,000 people show up, and 40,000 of them are walking through our tent. If that was Google AdWords, what would you pay for that? And it continues to grow. We’re moving into the country space. We’re already in the blues space. Inspiration is universal. It doesn’t matter whether it’s blues, or country, or pop. The cool kids play guitar, and at the end of the day, James Hetfield is going to be cool for a very long time.
Learn more about The Music Experience at their web site.