Interview: Dan McAvinchey

Howard Hart: Tell us a little about Guitar Nine; how it all got started and what the beginnings were like.

Dan McAvinchey: Guitar Nine started out as a record label to release my own CD, "Guitar Haus" back in 1996. As I was recording the tunes for the album, I was also learning about the Internet, and how it could be used to sell music, especially music of unknown musicians. I visited a number of web sites, and after that, I was convinced that in order to attract visitors, the Guitar Nine site had to be more than just a company and its CDs (especially since I was starting out with just one CD). There are thousands of sites like that out there now, and they don't have a lot going for them to attract people to the site.

So I decided to make the initial site layout (it opened in June, 1996) in the form of a magazine, with articles and columns and other features, that I committed to updating every two months. Some friends and I wrote articles on releasing your own CD, guitar technique, studio recording and other topics. To give the site an international appeal, I had my wife translate a number of articles into Spanish. I also added departments, such as a Home Studio Registry (where musicians could meet and find other musicians with the same gear), the Undiscovered (where we reviewed guitar-oriented, independently released demos and CDs), and the World of Links. With this foundation, I felt it gave people enough reasons to come by and check out the site, especially since it was updated regularly. By the time my CD came out in May, 1997, we had built a steady group of readers, which offered a lot of 'free' exposure for my CD.

Howard Hart: Needless to say, you're probably exposed to a great many players. What overall advice would you give to younger players who might be thinking about recording and releasing their first CD?

Dan McAvinchey: Yes, I began meeting a large number of players on the Internet, both people that just wandered by, and guitarists who had sent me their recordings for the Undiscovered section. I've written a number of articles that really extort musicians to record their own CDs instead of circulating demos of fast playing hoping to get some kind of recording contract.

The main advice I can give to younger players is to listen to a lot of recordings in your music style (especially the ones you consider to be quite good), and try to figure out what makes them good, so that when you write and record your own tunes, you have some basis for comparison. There are so many thousands of talented guitar players in the world, that it stands to reason that if you are going to record a CD and expect someone to pay hard-earned money for it, that it needs to deliver more than just polished guitar techniques. Young players, especially in the instrumental area, really need to figure out how to craft an interesting song from start to finish--it has to be more than just improvisation and guitar tricks over a basic groove. And they also have to be careful about going overboard on the emulation of a guitar hero. If someone says to them that their music and playing sounds just like Joe Satriani, one the one hand, that's a compliment, but on the other, it means you now have to ditch what you have and work twice as hard to sound different, to make it sound like no other. The phrase 'just as good as...' should not be in their vocabulary!

Howard Hart: Guitar Nine has now ventured into the vocal zone. What prompted you to add this to the Guitar Nine picture?

Dan McAvinchey: One word, David T. Chastain. OK, so that's three words, but it was his idea, and anyone that is familiar with his work knows he has a number of great instrumental recordings as well as a number of guitar-heavy vocal releases. He was already into the Guitar 9 concept so he thought we should have an area for guitar/vocal recordings. We decided to do it, but run it as a separate web site (Guitar Music 9 - that would share a common ordering system and order fulfillment of CDs. A great number of the artists on that site have instrumental recordings as well, so this gives them a way to get one check every month!

Howard Hart: Do you find that sales for instrumental guitar music are better overseas than in the states, and if so, what are your thoughts on this?

Dan McAvinchey: We send about half our orders overseas (48 different countries at last check), so numerically more CDs are still purchased in the United States, but that's really because the country is so big. I feel the demand for instrumental guitar is stronger overseas, and if the economies in the Far East and Eastern Europe were stronger, I believe we'd sell even more there. Another factor is that the rest of the world doesn't have the Internet penetration that we enjoy here in the US. When they eventually catch up, we could be sending as many as 80% of our orders abroad. Certainly there is a lot more press there concerning instrumental artists, and even though I can't read most of it, they send a lot of visitors our way, even now.

Howard Hart: How do you feel about the whole MP3 thing?

Dan McAvinchey: I'm afraid since I attended collage a long time ago that there is something missing in my background that makes me not thrilled about it as a music consumer. Everything I've read about how people began uploading and downloading commercial music, it seemed it really got popular on collage campuses where the people there had four things I don't - a fast Internet connection, a ton of disk space, a lot of time and no money. Sure, in that circumstance I could see the appeal of one person buying a Pearl Jam CD, ripping the tunes to mp3, and uploading them in secret to a university server so all their friends could share the music for free.

The first time I downloaded an mp3, I was impressed by the sound quality, same as everyone else, but I wasn't so crazy about the 20 minutes it took to download. To get the average of 12 songs on a typical album, I was looking at four hours - no, I think I'd rather have the CD, with all the information, and the ability to play it anywhere. Even if I could download them in 20 seconds like I can today, I still have to store them someplace on my hard drive, I don't have any information on the artist, and it sort of turns enjoying music into managing files on a hard drive (slight exaggeration, but if you were to build an extensive collection...)

Now that's speaking as a consumer. As an artist, I think it's a great promotional avenue. It certainly beats mailing out a bunch of cassettes, and as soon as you finish a new tune, you can upload it and the world (in theory) can enjoy it within an hour of the final mix! I have a bunch of tunes on the site, and I think its a great way for people to be introduced to the music. I'm not sure indie artists can make much money SELLING mp3 files, I would have to ask a lot of people that question, but for free promotion, you can't beat encoding a few tunes and posting them for free to a site such as

Howard Hart: Do you think we might see a turnaround in the near future as far as quality guitar playing is concerned?

Dan McAvinchey: I sort of think that if you are an instrumental guitar artist in this day and age, you have a rough road ahead of you because there is currently almost no press on guitarists doing what we do (save a couple of guys who got popular in the '80s and continue to get written about). So, without press, a lot of potential fans won't find out about you. That's where a site like Guitar Nine comes into play, you have a constant in a world of change. We'll continue to sell CDs by these artists because we like the style and format and not because of the current level of popularity sensed by the media. And that means that fans of this music won't have to wonder (as they do when they read some of the national guitar mags) what happened to all the instrumental artists? And it also means if you enjoy creating this kind of music, that you have a site available to you that you KNOW the fans come to.

Again, speaking as a consumer and fan, I had a difficult time acquiring a good number of the instrumental guitar CDs I bought before 1996. I've gotten emails from fans who tell me they've spent incredible amounts of time trying to track down and purchase CDs from dozens of unknown or underground artists all over the world. Our main goal is to make it a lot easier to be a fan of this music. Heaven knows how many people have just given up and simply altered their musical tastes because they couldn't get enough of the music they really liked. I know personally that I bought hundreds of standard rock, hard rock and metal records in the '80 and '90s, that if I had the option and ability to do so I would have bought instrumental CDs instead--it just wasn't an option.

I once read where the ex-basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar had lost 3000 jazz records in a house fire. I thought, how would you even go about trying to collect 3000 instrumental guitar records? I think of jazz as a niche music style (i.e. not mainstream, Top 40 or that holds appeal for younger kids) and I think of instrumental guitar as a different kind of niche. Prior to right now, it's certainly been a lot easier to be a fan of jazz, since there is a great deal more to pick from. With Guitar Nine, our hope is to offer a permanent connection between fans and artists of this niche-full of information, bios, interviews, reviews, sound clips, secure ordering, lightning-fast delivery and all the other goodies you'd expect from even the largest CD store on the Internet.

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Howard Hart: You're an excellent player yourself. You've obviously busted your chops over the years and paid some practicing dues. Do you find that running a company like Guitar Nine takes away from your time with the guitar, or is there a pretty good balance?

Dan McAvinchey: Prior to right about now, it took 100% of my time, since my CD came out in 1997 I've devoted myself to building Guitar Nine. I recently left my 'day job' and now I find myself in a transition period where I'm adjusting to the newly available time and working to create that balance you are talking about. It's easier said than done, because quite frankly, there are an infinite number of projects and ways I can continue to maximize and leverage the Guitar Nine site and extend its reach. So I simply have to get better at managing my time and not devote 100% of the day to any one thing.

Howard Hart: Can we expect another release from Dan McAvinchey soon?

Dan McAvinchey: I am putting the finishing touches on a Guitar Nine compilation CD called the "Handz Of Danz", fourteen tracks by six guitarists all named, of course, Dan (they were kind enough to let me contribute two tracks of my new music). The CD will feature some brand new material
from these participating artists, as well as some older tracks. As soon as that CD is up for sale on the site, I begin working on a whole lot of new material for my next CD, which, if it's not out by early 2000, someone needs to come by and slap me!.

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Dan McAvinchey is a guitarist with an advantage. He has a 1997 release entitled "Guitar Haus", a thirteen track hard rock offering, which emphasizes melodic tones and driving rhythms. "Guitar Haus" also features the drumming of two drummers with gigantic backgrounds. One was from Elton John's Band, the other from Winger and the Dixie Dregs. You're saying "Yeah, yeah, big deal!" Well, it is. McAvinchey has a leg up on most guitarists, and musicians for that matter. Besides a leg up, he uses that advantage to help musicians less fortunate then himself. Guitar Nine is a web site that promotes unsigned instrumental guitarists. This is a great help to any struggling musician.

Dan was recently interviewed by Howard Hart for the HHGI Guitar Online Magazine. Following is a transcription of that interview, courtesy of HHGI Guitar Instruction.