Bluegrass Black Friday

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I found myself in a local Best Buy last Wednesday night, tracking down a video that I thought my family might enjoy after Thanksgiving dinner this year. As I got out of the car, I saw tarps running along the side of the building away from the entrance and my first thought was that the store must be in the midst of renovations. However, as I walked closer, I saw seven to ten tents, most rendered practically shapeless by the tarps that had been utilized to help keep away this week’s heavy rain. At that moment, it hit me: Black Friday was approaching. The occupants of these tents were going to spend all of Wednesday night and Thanksgiving Day out on the pavement in front of this store, waiting for the doors to open at midnight Friday morning.

Three young men were playing catch with a football in the street in front of the main entrance and I heard a few other folks trading stories as they sat on lawn chairs outside their tents. Some elements of this picture reminded me of a typical bluegrass festival: the tents and tarps, the lawn chairs and the fact that these folks had come together and assembled a temporary community for themselves, living in close quarters side by side for a couple of days. No doubt for many Welcome Column readers, Black Friday would be no reason to get out the camping equipment and miss the Thanksgiving holiday at home. However, these folks seemed to be having a pretty good time. I bet that there are more than a few people out there who might think it strange to camp out in a field, baking in the sun, listening to one kind of music all weekend. So, different strokes for different folks.

This got me thinking…what would a Bluegrass Black Friday look like? I can’t imagine setting up a tent and waiting two days for funnel cakes and sno-cones but just in case you’re planning purchasing a few bluegrass-related gifts this season, here’s some advice from a professional bluegrass musician:

1. Buy direct from the bluegrass artist whenever possible – even if it costs a bit more. This is the only way to insure that your favorite musicians will benefit from your purchase. The difference in income earned by the creator of the work is significant. For instance, in my own case, if you purchase a copy of my book Banjo For Dummies directly from me at a show or via my web store for the list price of $24.95, I’ll make about $8-11 profit, depending upon whether I put a copy directly in your hands or mail you your copy. You could purchase a copy from Amazon for $16.49 (or even less for a used Amazon copy) but most standard book contracts give the author a 10% sales royalty. I’ll eventually receive only $1.64 for your purchase. With the purchase of a used book, CD or DVD sale, the artist, the songwriters and the record label receive nothing, as is the case when you make a digital copy from someone else’s purchase.

2. Buy physical CDs rather than digital downloads whenever possible – even if it costs a bit more. I know that the CD will be a relic soon but if artists have gone to the expense of manufacturing CDs, your purchase helps recover the costs of CD production and also puts more income in the musician’s pocket than is generated through an online sale. One important exception is that most digital vendors such as iTunes and Amazon allow you to purchase individual tracks, something that isn’t possible with the purchase of a physical CD. While these vendors keep a significant portion of the sale for themselves, artists do receive income from individual track sales. A few artists, such as Laurie Lewis, Darol Anger, David Grisman and yours truly, do have individual tracks available for sale directly from our websites. Check the artist’s website first before heading over to iTunes or Amazon for those downloads!

3. If you can’t buy directly from the artist, check out your local acoustic music store before heading to bluegrass musician-friendly distributors such as CD Baby, County Sales, Elderly Instruments and Janet Davis Music, among others, to find what you’re looking for. Bluegrass musicians live in a symbiotic relationship with independent music and record retail stores. They stock our music, making it more easily available to a worldwide audience and we’re glad that they are there for us – musicians and audience alike.

About six years ago, in conversation with a prominent, award-winning bluegrass artist, he revealed that CD sales for his band were about 1/5 of what they were back in the CD heyday of the 1990’s and early 2000’s and this was before the economic crisis of 2008 hit! Bluegrass artists live on the margins and every dollar earned through merchandise sales is vitally important. We often create our own record labels, act as our own distributors and storefronts out of economic necessity. It’s becoming more and more economically unfeasible to produce and distribute music in any other way. By paying a bit more, your direct support enables the artist to earn much more profit than you might otherwise think. It also helps that musician to make it to the next stop on the tour and increases the chance of the music remaining strong so that future generations can enjoy it.

All the best and Happy Black Friday, y’all!


Bill Evans
[email protected]

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