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Makers' co-op


Carl Stross
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The roadblock for most people with something of this nature is business model: how do we make it make money? I am not suggesting a (North) American violin/bow factory, shop instruments without an individual name attached to them, or some sort of assembly line. The Stentor violin video that went around a while ago where everything was handmade in an assembly line but that happened to be in China is not the model I had in mind. While I think working in that kind of environment could be beneficial to a young maker in a lot of ways, I do not see that being a business model that works in North America.

 

Upton Bass is a shop in Connecticut that comes to mind as an exception to this "rule". They do repairs and restorations and also sell instruments that are not their own, but they have a team of makers who make "Upton" basses. I do not have any affiliation, I do not own an instrument of theirs, and I have only visited once, but they have been in business since 1999 and they seem to be doing fairly well for themselves. What the breakdown is between repair, restoration, making, retail, etc. I have no idea, but they are cranking out a decent number of instruments so they have found a way to make it work in North America. 

 

Instead of suggesting the Upton model, I am suggesting a shared space where people who happen to do the same thing happen to be under the same roof. The benefits of being able to share machines, bulk order, pay less overhead, and potentially have a business assistant/manager/secretary/accountant/web designer/whatever you want to call that person at your disposal seem considerable, and nothing has been said about the sharing of ideas, information, techniques, etc. between colleagues. Even if everyone relatively keeps to themselves but sometimes you find yourself chatting with someone over a coffee, or the guy across the workshop says "Hey Mike, what are you working on today?" you could learn/absorb a lot too. 

 

I see the space functioning much like some of the summer workshops, without the structured teaching aspect. A space where makers can make, we just happen to be in much closer proximity to one another than is often the case. 

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The violin market is totally saturated, unless you can make & sell a top flight Cello for half market price (bigger price differential to violins), even then no one is gonna buy it without a foot in the door, no matter how good it sounds. 

Selling violins is probably easier if you have a top location and a PR team like S.P. Greiner or a very good 'reputation', if not then you better get lucky. 
Working as part of a team for marketing purposes....the New Work group did that via Phelps 20 years ago, but the market was stronger. 

Talent perspiration location and who you know + money = business, but for most people it's a struggle. 
 

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I've been watching this thread with interest.  Not that I ever expect to make a living making violins, or even a realistic hope of selling any that I make, but I have some questions.

 

One thing I find hard to understand is the antipathy in the violin world towards any kind of "factory" setup.  I understand that some examples of this may (have?) produce a consistently sub-standard product, however for other instruments this doesn't seem to be the case.  Thinking of guitars, almost all of the most-revered instruments come from factory situations.  Martin, Gibson, Fender, Guild, etc.  Nobody disdains an instrument made by these companies "just because" they're made in a factory, and the fact that they're made that way (and even, in most cases, mass-produced) doesn't even impact on their price.  A top-line (new) Martin or Gibson acoustic six-string is worth a 5-figure price.  The best vintage instruments, many times more.

 

I also wonder how much is known about how Stradivari's workshop functioned?  I'm pretty sure it was common at the time for masters in various disciplines to make extensive use of apprentices?  Is it possible that in Stradivari's workshop, the majority of the "grunt" work was done by apprentices, with the final work being done by the Master himself?  If so, wouldn't that equate to almost a factory-like setting?

 

I'm just wondering, given the extensive discussion of the economics of violinmaking, why nobody thinks a "factory" model could be made to work (quite aside from whether anyone with the talent to make a violin would WANT to work under such conditions)?

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I've been watching this thread with interest.  Not that I ever expect to make a living making violins, or even a realistic hope of selling any that I make, but I have some questions.

 

One thing I find hard to understand is the antipathy in the violin world towards any kind of "factory" setup.  I understand that some examples of this may (have?) produce a consistently sub-standard product, however for other instruments this doesn't seem to be the case.  Thinking of guitars, almost all of the most-revered instruments come from factory situations.  Martin, Gibson, Fender, Guild, etc.  Nobody disdains an instrument made by these companies "just because" they're made in a factory, and the fact that they're made that way (and even, in most cases, mass-produced) doesn't even impact on their price.  A top-line (new) Martin or Gibson acoustic six-string is worth a 5-figure price.  The best vintage instruments, many times more.

 

I also wonder how much is known about how Stradivari's workshop functioned?  I'm pretty sure it was common at the time for masters in various disciplines to make extensive use of apprentices?  Is it possible that in Stradivari's workshop, the majority of the "grunt" work was done by apprentices, with the final work being done by the Master himself?  If so, wouldn't that equate to almost a factory-like setting?

 

I'm just wondering, given the extensive discussion of the economics of violinmaking, why nobody thinks a "factory" model could be made to work (quite aside from whether anyone with the talent to make a violin would WANT to work under such conditions)?

I think there are a few things going on , most of the real high end stuff is still made essentially by hand , be it guitars, violins, houses, electronics , whatever . for the vast majority of products,when the production of goods is centered around a factory setting , inevitably standards are either lowered or changed to accommodate a broader market and efficiency in production. In instances like the loyd loar mandolin produced by Gibson, essentially, here we have a mandolin that was carefully produced and tuned  by a very select few people who carefully oversaw every step to produce a limited amount of high end products, so even though it came out of the Gibson factory, it was not , "off the line" so to speak.Factories, given proper incentive, can do good work, 

   Another consideration is demand, when Gibson made the Loar mandolin , it was at a time when vast mandolin bands roamed the city's and towns of america, they were a major source of entertainment, and make a modern violin section look rather small in comparison, with 50/60 people all playing mandolin together, crazy I know , but true. with a very active market a company like Gibson could make the substantial investment in materials, workers, research, develpment and marketing that is necessary to turn a profit producing high end mandolins. today guitars rather fill that slot , how many guitars are sold each day VS violins? 20-1? 30-1? 

   On setup, factories will be forced to find the lowest common denominator. In order to get the most out of any instrument,set up becomes the central issue and is a very dynamic process that involves good communication with the individual players to assess their needs,The set up person must also take into consideration, local and seasional climatic conditions and movements of wood. a factory in a humid environment shipping instruments to Arizona would be nut's to offer a one size fit's all set up, or even to glue on a cello top securely.

  Strad's shop probably functioned much the same as shops today ,The big dog calls the shots. the underlings ask how high on the way up.

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I don't agree, there is much more violinist looking for a new violin today than 20 years ago, even if there is more violin-makers able to live only building!

I don't have current stats but I ran across this little blurb in a 2000 Strad.

 

Making Music 2000, a UK study. It report an increase over 1997 numbers of students playing instruments but still fell behind 1993 in total numbers. Further, there was an increase in the 5-7 yr old group but a decrease of 8% in the 11-14 yr group. Maybe someone has an update on today's beginning students and also what happened to these now 20-30 yr old (millennials?)

 

My own experience at auctions (on-line and in person) is that prices are getting pretty heady...ridiculous in some case. I'm not talking high-end, but rather about things like repair-projects and century old violins of dubious provenance.  Irrational exuberance? 

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As for the number of 'orchestral string instruments' being produced, I friend gave me these numbers as compiled by the WTO from import/export data, retail and wholesale sales and other 'informed estimates'. I'm just not sure what it encompasses.  It at least gives an estimate for the change in production year over year.  In just looking at Chinese factory production I would think it is closer to a million a year. 

 

A  CNN article from 2010 reported:

On the eastern outskirts of Beijing, Donggaocun claims to be the violin-making capital of China, the largest exporter of stringed instruments in the world.

It is home to at least nine big factories and more than 150 workshops that churn out about 300,000 violins, violas, cellos and basses, according to Chinese government figures. That includes about one-third of the world's total violin production.

 

 

Unit Volume

2015 378,000

2014 332,000

2013 343,000

2012 377,960

2011 370,200

2010 296,610

2009 290,845

2008 350,850

2007 421,074

2006 409,131

 
 
Meanwhile,   http://www.violinmakers.biz/   lists 678 'violin makers' worldwide with about 180 in the US. These are not factories but makers.
 
My point? It is not hopeless but it is competitive and the idea of an individual in a shop knocking out 10's of instruments a year is probably not a winning business model. Makers need to be aligned, either together or with full service shops (rentals and low end instruments) to have a better business model.  JUST AN OPINION.
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I'm essentially giving my first two away. One to a buddy and the other to a co worker. Asking price is like a little over cost of materials.

I'd rather just see my instruments in players hands than collecting dust while waiting for a big return.

If we're all being honest with ourselves, I doubt any of us got into this for the money.

Seeing something that I lovingly made make another person happy and fulfilled is worth FAR more than what it can fetch on the market.

This philosophy comes with the caveat of a day job for sure. Bit regardless of what crappy or high paying job that I will have, when people ask me what I do I will always reply violin maker first.

Optimistic? I suppose. Naïve? Definitely.

Dun matter to me. Jus wanna carve some wood.

The satisfaction economy is still strong as ever!

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I'm essentially giving my first two away. One to a buddy and the other to a co worker. Asking price is like a little over cost of materials.

I'd rather just see my instruments in players hands than collecting dust while waiting for a big return.

If we're all being honest with ourselves, I doubt any of us got into this for the money.

Seeing something that I lovingly made make another person happy and fulfilled is worth FAR more than what it can fetch on the market.

The satisfaction economy is still strong as ever!

 

S.E. ...love that term! ...is it common among the underpaid and generally happy?

 

I do repair work not building (too old to start). My satisfaction is getting something old a new life in new hands.

Sent my first two 'complete setup and repair' violins to a charity with a kids orchestra in Caribbean.

I know other real amateurs that send their repaired violins to South Africa.

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I think it is impossible competing with the Chinese..

 

Society prefers getting "made in China" products. That's why I sign some of my violas as LU MAN FU!!!

 

Graduating in a good violin making school and then start making violins in a factory is like studying cuisine  in a Cordon Bleu school and eventually going to work in a Mac Donalds restaurant.

 

Being a maker and an entrepreuner are very different things. It is a bit like cooking (which I love) and running a restaurant (which I would hate).

 

Violin making  (and selling) is a tough business, both in the elite and in a sweat shop in China.

 

If you wanto to make new instruments, try to make top instruments for top players.

 

But perhaps I am too pessimistic today.

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The satisfaction economy is still strong as ever!

Love the term "satisfaction economy",  though given recent events,I'm not sure it is as wide spread as we would all hope. Maybe teaching "how to be happy classes" in schools would help.

Since the 1950's, there has been a change in how goods are produced , called "planned obsolescence" by it's supporters, and "how to make stuff just barely good enough to give the illusion of quality when very little is actually  present" by it's detractors. The basic idea is that if a product is made that actually fills all the requirements of the consumer ...then the consumer will cease to consume having a devastating effect on profit margins of manufactures..

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I think it is impossible competing with the Chinese..

 

Society prefers getting "made in China" products. That's why I sign some of my violas as LU MAN FU!!!

 

Graduating in a good violin making school and then start making violins in a factory is like studying cuisine  in a Cordon Bleu school and eventually going to work in a Mac Donalds restaurant.

 

Maybe a return to an apprentice model? Working in a shop (learning business skills as well as craftsmanship) and earning a low wage is financially good for the teacher and the student ( 3-4 yrs of violin school is awfully expensive!).

 

Apprentice has access to tools and the masters experience, also gets to do some grunt work to free up the teacher for more advanced or innovative work. This is of course not the model that the schools would like. Not everyone working in a *** restaurant is a cooking school graduate. Some are just 'apprentices', right?

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Maybe a return to an apprentice model? Working in a shop (learning business skills as well as craftsmanship) and earning a low wage is financially good for the teacher and the student ( 3-4 yrs of violin school is awfully expensive!).

 

Apprentice has access to tools and the masters experience, also gets to do some grunt work to free up the teacher for more advanced or innovative work. This is of course not the model that the schools would like. Not everyone working in a *** restaurant is a cooking school graduate. Some are just 'apprentices', right?

While this might be a good model, it's pretty difficult to find these days (in the fiddlemaking world, working with anybody really good, without a prior violinmaking school education). And there are serious issues with the legality of "apprenticeship" type situations.

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I have personal experience with a profitable specialty service becoming "commoditized". Basically, we offered a high quality, personalized service at a time when there was a small market willing to pay for a premium service.

 

As the service became "successful", the market expanded and low end suppliers saw a way to adapt their services to offer a lot of what we offered "at a discount". Basically, the service devolved into a commodity that could be offered with an economy of scale and reduced quality while still providing enough service for the general market to be happy.

 

Basically, when the market becomes big enough, the product/service will devolve into a commodity to be made cheaply and offered cheaply in mass quantity. This is basically what most of the violin market is today. Those needing something exceptional and willing to pay for it are few and far between. If you are hand making high quality violins  (appearance and tone), I doubt there is enough of a high end market to meet the supply.

 

I told the owner we should develop a service to compete as a commodity as long as the profit margin made sense and the capital investment could be recovered within a short time. In other words, just enough to play on our reputation to make a killing, then surrender to market to those who could do "cheap" better than us. He thought he could sell quality at a premium price, but the company went under in less than a year.

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This discussion fails to address the root causes of the issue, economic policy, monetary systems, globalism vs nationalism as it relates to economic issues and an apparent failure by the average person to understand how and why your "leaders" intentionally created a situation that slowly and intentionally undermined many peoples economic prospects.

 

Jefferey wrote something to the effect of " Those who are frightened by Chinese instruments in the market don't have a grip on reality.  They are here and fill a market demand"

 

Now I very much respect Jeffery, and agree with 99% of what he says, this statement however gets right to the roots cause of the situation. IF we were dealing with an even playing field, that being that both in China and the USA, both countries currency's and cost of living are even, but of course they are not. Then I might not worry so much.

 

The issue is "FAITH",money is merely a means of exchange, the"money" you are using now, regardless of what country is NOT A MEANS OF EXCHANGE....it is a vehicle for DEBT based on it's creation. Create a unit of currency, attach debt to it's creation, throw it on a pile of accruing debt and now you have a never ending "profit".

 

The reason behind globalism are quite clear and quite simple to understand. They, those who control you, by being in charge of the creation of money,very much would like the following....CASHLESS ONE WORLD CURRENCY....I would very much like the same thing, BUT WITH ONE MAJOR DIFFERENCE....

 

I would want this for all of humanity as long as the currency is CREATED DEBT FREE AS A MEANS OF EXCHANGE TO SERVE THE GLOBAL POPULATION IN FREE MARKETS....whereas they want this in order to enslave all with debt, all of humanity in every country....

 

Being born into a system does not absolve one from their duty of critical thinking and knowing when it is intentionally harmful to the group....The cognitive dissonance, denial and other psychological manifestations that prevent the group from objectively standing back a looking at the problem is "Scary" at best.

 

Quite simply "we" humans, are here because because of the inability to deduce the following....

 

1. perhaps well intended governmental systems that were formed long ago have been usurped seripticiuosly by having the monetary systems handed over  {more like using the media that they control to get you to willingly allow control of these systems} to "private parties" .

 

2. That these private sub contractors are creating and issuing your currency with debt attached.

 

3. that the debt is exponential and at this point not serviceable and are in fact permanent subversive global enslavement of the worlds populations.

 

4. that currency does not AND SHOULD not have debt attached to it's creation, it should be created at cost.

 

5. that you as a group can not distinguish the difference between.your government {regardless of which one} sub contracting out the creation of money, vs just making the money.

 

6..Failure to recognize corporate criminal conspiratorial collusion and it's ability to secretly insert itself into the inner mechanics of your government at the highest levels and in essence take it over all the while  making you think "you leaders" are in charge.

 

7. based on group think psychology, and no one wanting to be the guy who says "line B. is shorter than line A." the inabilty to stand up and stop it.

 

Now if at this point you are still unaware of how the global corporation that creates currency colludes with other corporations in order to manipulate, control and ultimately bilk you, well your just part of the problem.

 

Quite simply put there is only one way out of this, it is through education and facts swaying the group opinion. You will not vote your way out of this mess as long as you continue to be duped. And this is what is the solution, easy to say, virtually impossible to do...

 

All people of all nations must realize that their governments and systems are compromised, with the most important system within a governmental system, the monetary system, being the control mechanism and that working in conjunction with other corporate sectors with the intent of beneficial interactions, they are in fact enslaving you as well as creating virtually all man made suffering with the intent of profiting and controlling you with this suffering. And that as evil and horrible as these handful of people are that have you apparently under a spell, in fact, it is YOU!!! who are the problem....money is not the problem, THE!!!! MONEY YOU ARE USING IS THE PROBLEM...AND MORE TO THE POINT YOU!!!!! ARE THE PROBLEM BECAUSE YOU!!!!! believe that it is good, have faith that it is good and do not have the courage, brains, heart and an inability to break the group think cycle that keeps us as a species down.

 

people are people, good and bad everywhere, people in China are just as good as anyone else, and visaversa ....wouldn't it be great to live in a world where all people of all nations could get along because they were not being intentionally pitted against each other, and that we as a global population could harmoniously conduct business together with no exploitation in any way? no one getting ripped off,no child slaves, no one being put out of business, no unfair competition? just a nice even playing feild...wouldn't that be great? This happens when you have an incorruptible global debt free one world currency that functions as an even, fair means of exchange in all countries

 

everything is connected, you can not talk about anything in economic terms with out understanding why things are the way they are

 

Some of you may think I am wrong, but one day I know I will be proven right....no one has to die, all you have to do is loose your religion and stop not knowing what you do, understand what it is you have faith in....

 

and by the way you have a violin coop right here called maestronet...

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The apprentice model was largely responsible for almost all arts in Italy, Verrocchio, Da Vinci, Michelangelo etc. were all pupils and had their masters. Benvenuto Cellini in his "Life" (1500 - 1571) gives a good insight about the pupil/master relation.

 

As David Burgess pointed out, this model is impossible today due to legal issues, it is a pity... ...

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I think it's unpaid internships that are illegal (depending on the jurisdiction?).  A proper apprenticeship is not "slave labor", which is what those "unpaid internships" turn out to be.  As far as I know, auto mechanics, pipefitters, and other trades still have apprenticeships.  In Germany, it's integrated into the school system.  Here in Canada, we have a lot of historic buildings that will eventually fall down for lack of qualified stonemasons.

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