Interview: Dan McAvinchey

Kurt Bell: What was your musical background before Guitar Nine?

Dan McAvinchey: Almost twenty years of guitar playing, and about ten years of composing and recording tracks in my project studio, took me to the point where I felt like it was time to try and put a proper album together and release my own CD. I had the same inspiration as a lot of guys in the late seventies after "Van Halen I" came out - how can I play like that? Bands like Scorpions, UFO, Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith were also early influences.

Kurt Bell: How did you become interested in starting Guitar Nine?

Dan McAvinchey: In the early to mid-nineties, due to the number of independent CD releases appearing in the ad sections of Guitar World magazine, it suddenly seemed like the cost to get your own CD pressed was within reach of any motivated musician or band. I bought a lot of those albums via mail order, and I liked the results a lot of those guys were getting. In addition, around 1995, I had already had a lot of exposure to the Internet, and it seemed like the ideal way to reach a lot of people that would have been difficult to reach otherwise. I had been online since 1991 with America Online, but that was a closed system - you couldn't see how you could participate with your own thing as an individual, or as a small business. But with guitarists such as Todd Grubbs showing the way, who had his own Internet web site in 1994, devoted to promoting his own CD, it was clear things had changed, and the Internet could be the key strategy going forward for releasing and promoting independent music.

Kurt Bell: What was your original vision for Guitar Nine?

Dan McAvinchey: Originally I had two goals in mind. One, I needed a company, a label, behind my CD, which was being recorded for a 1997 release. So I read all the books out there at the time about starting your own record label, I filled out the forms with the city and the state, and voila - a record label was born. However, I also figured some advanced promotion for the CD wouldn't hurt, so instead of waiting until the record came out to create the web site, I taught myself how to put a web site together and registered the domain name. My goal for the site was an information-heavy, feature-rich set of columns and articles that would appeal to musicians in general, and guitarists in particular. This, I reasoned, would be the most likely group to give instrumental guitar music a chance, so I was hoping attraction to the site would allow for maximum (and very affordable) exposure to the music. In June of 1996, Guitar Nine was online with our first 'issue' - the home page had a magazine style format, with promised updates every two months.

Kurt Bell: What has changed the most about Guitar Nine from the early days?

Dan McAvinchey: Interestingly, we still have a magazine style format, with promised updates every two months. The biggest change however was adding the whole e-commerce idea to the business, really morphing from what I thought would be a small, independent record label with a content-rich site, into selling for independent artists around the globe.

In late 1997, after selling my own CD on the Internet for a couple of months, I was contacted by another guitarist here in Raleigh, Yontz Sucre, who was asking how he could sell his own CD on the site. I had not really thought before about taking on other musicians' albums for sale, but after giving it some thought, I decided to take advantage of all the e-commerce tools I had already created to sell my own CD. Since the second 'issue' of Guitar Nine, we had been featuring the Undiscovered Artists review page, and I had received a dozen or so instrumental guitar records to review. I decided to contact 4 or 5 of those artists, and if they all agreed that selling their CDs on the site was a good thing - then I would make it happen. So in early 1998 we had about 10 instrumental guitar CDs for sale - and it just mushroomed from there, as more and more guitarists looked for additional sales outlets for their music.

I did have one requirement from our early days as a new source for instrumental guitar music, and that was that each CD have as much information about it as possible on the site. That's why, in comparison with a ton of other music stores on the Internet, you'll always see a complete track listing with times, sound clips for over half the songs on the album, instrumental designations (which songs on the album have vocals (if any), an album description, a full credits listing (with every musician, producer, engineer and graphic artist that worked on the CD), artist pictures, the entire CD package scanned (front and back, inside and out), links to artist news, third party reviews, customer comments, artist web site links and more. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to put a new CD online, ready to sell, but it's time well spent on the customer's behalf. You can quickly tell all the sites out there that spend less than 5 minutes putting a CD online - it's basically, here it is, if you want it, gimmie your money, and get your information somewhere else - well, that's not right.

People who want to know more about the philosophy behind the Guitar Nine site can read "The Guitar Nine Difference", which was written five years ago, but is just as applicable today as it was then.

Kurt Bell: Where is Guitar Nine located?

Dan McAvinchey: We are here in sunny Raleigh, North Carolina. Independently owned and operated for the past nine years. I mention that because I get a lot of e-mails along the lines of, "I heard Michael Angelo secretly owns Guitar Nine," or, "I heard this famous instrumental guitarist was going to add Guitar Nine to their media empire." At this point, I still have all ten fingers in the Guitar Nine pie.

Kurt Bell: Can you give a brief layout of Guitar Nine? What is it like behind the walls?

Dan McAvinchey: People would be surprised how small it is. For years it was just my wife and I, working out of a spare bedroom. The whole site was run on a shared web server somewhere in Virginia, and created on a Mac Powerbook. Once we had a few hundred CD releases for sale on the site, it was clear we needed more room, so we got a small office/warehouse to hold the inventory, and to have a separate shipping area. It's pretty much remained that way for the past 6-7 years, the only differences are we now have faster Powerbooks, and my wife doesn't help me any more! I used to have a regular job until 1999; when I quit, I had a lot of time to make the business as efficient as possible, which meant that I didn't have to hire anyone to get the job done. When selling a specialized product such as instrumental guitar music, you quickly realize sales are going to be modest at best; in order to survive as a company you must be efficient and effective - or you die.

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Kurt Bell: How many products does Guitar Nine currently offer?

Dan McAvinchey: Right now we have well over 2500 different products, and that breaks down into over 1900 instrumental guitar CDs, almost 500 guitar-oriented CDs with vocals, over 200 DVDs, 100 instructional products, and a lot of refrigerator magnets.

Kurt Bell: How did you become interested in shred guitar?

Dan McAvinchey: Probably like a lot of guys who were into heavy metal in the early '80s - through Shrapnel Records. Those early instrumental records with Tony MacAlpine, Greg Howe and Vinnie Moore were all super, and showed a great player could command the listener's attention for a whole album - without a screaming throat man. Shortly after that you had Yngwie Malmsteen's first Rising Force album, which was mostly instrumental, then Joe Satriani and Steve Vai hit the scene. The guitar magazines paid a lot of attention to the instrumental guitar scene throughout the '80s, and it was a great time to get to know a lot of these artists.

Kurt Bell: Who do you feel are some of the best shredders out there today?

Dan McAvinchey: Well, 'best shredder' implies there is some kind of standard you could apply to rank one guitarist's playing over another's. I don't really know what that standard is, to tell you the truth. I would never want to be a judge at one of those Guitarmaggedon contests, trying to pick the 'best' guitarist. I know that there is more overall guitar talent out there than ever before, every town in the world has a dozen great players - but since there is so much talent, fans of the music can be more selective, if they want, specializing in just neo-classical shredders, for example, or just melodic rock shredders.

Now if it comes down to who I would choose to listen to most often, if I have a few minutes, I'd throw a few names out there such as Mattias IA Eklundh, Goncalo Pereira and Alejandro Silva, and I still come back a lot to Howe, Satriani, MacAlpine and Malmsteen - who are all still active and recording after twenty years.

In terms of reaction and attention from site visitors, names such as Jeff Kollman, Rusty Cooley, Joe Stump, George Bellas, Tom Hess, Theodore Ziras, Michael Harris, Neal Nagaoka and Elias Viljanen spring to mind as well.

Kurt Bell: Who do you feel has the best technique of the shredders you have heard?

Dan McAvinchey: Again, there seems to be hundreds of guys out there who can almost play anything that is thrown at them musically - if I were choosing sides in a contest to cut heads, I'd choose the guys I just mentioned, and let you have the next 100 picks!

Kurt Bell: Who is the fastest guitarist you've ever heard?

Dan McAvinchey: In terms of sheer speed I'd go with Michael Angelo and an Italian guitarist named Fabrizio Chiruzzi - I've seen video of both, so I know they're both capable of playing the fastest possible licks.

Kurt Bell: Do you feel there is a difference between the shredders in America, and the ones from Europe?

Dan McAvinchey: The traditional answer has always been that the European guitarists are somehow more melodic (due to exposure to more classical music as children), and that certainly seemed to be true years ago. Now, with easy access to music all over the world (almost 800 of our instrumental CDs are from outside the United States), guitarists can be equally inspired and influenced by guitarists from Japan, Australia and South Korea, as they might have been years earlier by American and European guitarists. Then you have European guitarists coming to the States to do clinics, and American guitarists doing clinics in Europe - there's a lot of 'cross-pollination' going on. So any differences now would not be as regional any more.

Kurt Bell: What do you think of shred today as opposed to that of the early eighties, and late nineties?

Dan McAvinchey: It's great, I think it's about time that people can be exposed to hundreds of players who may never have gotten a listen 10 or 20 years ago, because the artists had to wait for someone with money to come along and put out their music. These days, it's completely the opposite. In order to even have a chance at being picked up by a Favored Nations, Shrapnel Records or Lion Music, you need to have already put out your own CDs, and proven that demand exists for your music. Heck, even Joe Satriani and Steve Vai had to self-release their first albums and that was 20 years ago - now the environment is so competitive, and there are so many talented axe men and women that you'd have to have some really great, original CDs already out there and selling in order to even get any of those companies notice you.

Kurt Bell: What are some of the top shred albums you'd recommend?

Dan McAvinchey: I'll let the customers of Guitar Nine help me out on this one. For someone who has never experienced any of the independently released shred out there, a good starter set might be: Rusty Cooley, "Rusty Cooley"; Borislav Mitic, "Fantasy"; Rob Johnson, "Guitarchitecture"; Theodore Ziras, "Trained To Play"; David Valdes, "Paradise Lost"; Joe Stump, "2001: A Shred Odyssey"; Alejandro Silva, "Dios Eol"; Michael Angelo "No Boundaries".

If someone was too young to experience the shred of the '80s, I'd also recommend Tony MacAlpine, "Edge Of Insanity"; Vinnie Moore "Mind's Eye"; Greg Howe, "Greg Howe"; Jason Becker, "Perpetual Burn"; Joe Satriani, "Surfing With The Alien"; Steve Vai "Passion And Warfare"; Marty Friedman, "Dragon's Kiss"; Yngwie Malmsteen "Rising Force'.

Kurt Bell: In your opinion, what makes an instrumental great?

Dan McAvinchey: Great instrumentals are always memorable songs, with themes or main melodies that stick with you. A lot of forgettable instrumentals are non-stop soloing over a groove from start to finish. Look, you can take any great song and turn it into a shredding song, simply by rearranging it. If someone writes a heavy instrumental, the same standard should apply - is there enough of a song there, such that someone could play the main themes on another instrument, such as a piano? If not, you may just have a collection of expertly played licks, instead of a great instrumental piece.

Kurt Bell: How would one go about getting their CDs on Guitar Nine?

Dan McAvinchey: We have a Merchandising Program especially designed for independent artists, the details of which are all online The page gives all the information a guitarist or band would need concerning listing their independently released, instrumental guitar CD on the site.

Kurt Bell: What does the future hold for Guitar Nine?

Dan McAvinchey: Sometime in the next year we will have added our 2000th instrumental CD to the site. My goal at that point will be to find the next 2000 CDs out there - I know they are there. I want to make it as easy as possible for instrumental guitar fans to find the music they really want, and that means constantly improving the site, a little bit every week and every month. I want to make sure that these loyal fans are not limited to a handful of releases put out by a couple of well-funded labels; that they are able to experience some of the best independent music available today.

Kurt Bell: Thank you very much for your time and here's to all the best for the future.

Dan McAvinchey: Thanks for the opportunity to talk more about Guitar Nine.

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Guitar Nine has taken the unknown guitar heroes of the world, and put them on the music map. Welcoming all styles of instrumental music founder, Dan McAvinchey has created a refuge for some of the most amazing guitar players ever recorded. Offering a huge catalog of product, Guitar Nine almost guarantees to leave your wallet a lot lighter. Having ordered from Guitar Nine before, I can account that it is the fastest, most courteous service I have ever been given on an online order. Their sense of professionalism shines through on the handling of orders. Their web site is incredibly well laid out, and easy to use. Carrying a variety of CDs, DVDs, and instructional products Guitar Nine Recods offers something for everyone.

In order to gain an insight into success, Kurt Bell went down into the trenches with Guitar Nine founder Dan McAvinchey. Following is a transcription of that interview, courtesy of Shred Planet.