Fort Wayne, Indiana

I get a lot of calls from there. A certain subset of my putative readership “musicians “ knows exactly what I am talking about.

The second largest city in the Hoosier state, site of Purdue University, and the economic and cultural center of northeastern Indiana, Fort Wayne is the home base of Sweetwater Sound, one of the top two or three major online retailers of musical equipment, if not the prevailing number one these days.

Other than for throwing a little baggie of penny candy in every shipped box (Smarties, Atomic Fireball, Bit-o-Honey, micro Tootsie Roll, standard striped peppermint lozenge, and an occasional banana taffy), Sweetwater is known, lightly mocked, and finally respected in a say-uncle way for their tireless, incessant emphasis on personal relationships and first names.

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As soon as you create an account there, you are assigned a kind of “music bro” sales liaison. Thenceforward, all pages of the site will be, for you, branded with your personal music bro’s likeness and contacts. And you will get regular calls.

If you are not, at the moment, into talking with your dude about “how the music career is rockin,” or “how that [recent major purchase] is working out for you,” don”t take calls from Fort Wayne. It’s that simple.

I’m not sure when exactly my disdain for Sweetwater’s marketing philosophy “a patina of intimacy and the ennobilization of the stubborn persistence of the rock-star dream” turned to acceptance, engagement, and even reliance, but it did, and I now am often the one initiating contact with Adam H., by my count my third bro, though it is possible I failed to even register the names of my first two or three.

It’s pretty easy to feel jaundiced and worse about personalization, in an era in which you will be inexplicably treated to six months of contextual advertisements for the product you just bought, or bombarded with ads about opioid addiction treatments immediately after your doctor prescribes you some codeine or Vicodin (that happened to me — so much for confidentiality laws).

Like so much about the Internet, dynamic personalization could have been cool, could have been useful, could have been subtle and mindful of the line between use and abuse. Instead, it chose to be creepy, sleazy, and exploitative.

Which lends a feeling almost old-world and quaint to Sweetwater’s brick-and-sorta approach to pressing flesh in the digital world.

I can’t get out of this daily entry in good conscience without mentioning the heat that Sweetwater’s founder Chuck Surack took at the very onset of the recent Black Lives Matter protests. Surack was called out for being a Mike Pence gubernatorial campaign contributor. You are on your own in determining whether that is something you can live with, and I will not equivocate or point to worse offenses by better people.

I understand that these are times when people of conscience brook no quarter. Appeasement, ambivalence, playing the field, and hedge bets have all taken on the complexion of knowing complicity in oppressive norms. I will relay that Surack neither hemmed nor hawed on the issue, publishing a response that spoke to career-long community engagement and awareness of social justice. You’ll have to read it yourself to see what you think, and that’s all for now, okay?


Read more installments of Village Voices by John Burdick.