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Brian Ball - Marketing, Ernie Ball

By: Ajax Garcia

Fly On The Wall is a feature interview created and hosted by Ajax Garcia; front man of the seminal underground rock band The Napoleon Blownaparts. Ajax offers much more than just an interview -- he takes the reader behind the scenes of some of the most interesting companies and the people who make them work.

In this case quality breeds success and where Ernie Ball as a heavy player in the music industry is concerned quality is first on a long list of priorities that facilitate a tradition of awesome musical products for over 30 years.

Musician and art mogul Ajax Garcia sits down with the man behind the Ernie Ball scene, Mr. Brian Ball, for an in-depth one-on-one conversation. Find out first hand just what it takes to keep the super successful Ernie Ball and Music Man Company’s in tune.

Ajax: So did you know that I got my first tattoo done with an Ernie Ball E string from a Slinky pack when I was just 12 years old?
Brian: You too?

Ajax: HA! Yes it is true I did. So hey Brian do you play an instrument man?
Brian: Guitar.

Ajax: Of course. What style of music do you dig?
Brian: Mainly rock, funk, some punk, and acoustic.

Ajax: So who would you say are your musical influences?
Brian: My musical Influences include Rage Against The Machine, Ben Harper, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rodney Crowell, Bad Religion, Thrice, Nonpoint, Bob Marley, Steel Pulse, Unsigned Music, The Receiving End Of Sirens, and Big D and The Kids Table are cool.

Ajax: Right on man – I am curious what your long term goals are with Ernie Ball the company?
Brian: I want to build and sustain market share in all product segments, continue building the Ernie Ball Battle Of The Bands through the Vans Warped Tour, raise money for our charity benefiting Pediatric Kidney Disease and to be the best team member that I can be to the Ernie Ball Company.

Ajax: That is a beautiful thing that Ernie Ball is doing so man keep on giving. I am going to write my mayor and pitch a proposal to him that is designed to help build a program that will focus on bringing music and art back into California schools. My hometown is Fresno California and crime is off the hook! We call it Fresno “Murder City”. I truly believe that youth need music and art to help develop their young minds. Expression through music and art is important and now days with these programs disappearing from our schools more and more kids are turning to the streets, drugs and violence.

On a lighter note can you share with me how technology has shaped or affected the manufacturing of guitar strings?

Brian: Slight technological improvements have come in coated technology. There are many limitations to those current products, most notably tone. There is a lot of history with traditional strings, and guitar players are somewhat fickle.

Ajax: Not to cut you off but yeah you are right about the fickle remark. If my tone is dull my fingers feel heavy and I hate that and it really effects my guitar playing. I am always looking for new products that help prolong tone - sort of like a string cleaner or something? I hate changing guitar strings man.
Brian: Well we are gearing up to launch some exciting new products in the near future.

Ajax: Cool! I am curious who were some of the first artist to endorse the Ernie Ball brand?
Brian: Probably Emmy Lou Harris, Merle Haggard, Jimmy Page, and also The Rolling Stones.

Ajax: Can you imagine fucking Keith’s strings? (Laughs) Have you ever considered launching Ernie Ball Records?
Brian: That would be a great venture if the business climate of the record industry was better. Apple has proven that traditional record labels don't have the power they used to have.

Ajax: What do you mean if the business climate of the record industry was better? Right now while the traditional business plan is ill I feel is the best time to take that brave new step in to the future man. Make our own new rules Brian. I am building the kind of career that would allow music to be given away for free to the people! We should discuss this later but in my opinion music should be 100% or at least 50% free.

Where do you see the future of guitar string manufacturing?

Brian: I think like all industries, guitar string manufacturing will evolve.

Ajax: Yeah I need a string that will wind itself – can you make this happen for me? (Laughs)
Brian: There will be a shakeup in the industry at one time or another and only the brands that are prepared will sustain in a mature market. Things I think will affect manufacturing: technological innovations, globalization (manufacturing overseas), American dollar against other currencies, and a possible steel shortage.

Ajax: You make some real interesting points. So you are obviously a member of the Ball family can you please share with the Ernie Ball fans exactly what your affiliation with the Ernie Ball Company is?
Brian: I am Ernie's grandson, and CEO Sterling Ball's son. He is the heartbeat of the company now where virtually his ideas are the driving force of the company.

Ajax: There you have it!

Promotion, marketing and selling have always been a deep passion of mine. There is an art to selling and you have to have a passion for your product or you will never be able to generate enough creative energy to sell it to the masses. In your opinion what is the ideal marketing strategy that helps Ernie Ball succeed?

Brian: Our marketing strategy differs a lot from other companies within our industry. We are very proactive in event marketing, artist endorsements, and developing a significant web presence whereas most of our competitors rely on traditional mediums like print.

Ajax: So coming from a musical background and all man have you ever played in a band before?
Brian: My live music career is short-lived due to the time constraints of working here at Ernie Ball. However, I have been setting up a home studio and writing a ton of new tunes. Mostly as a form of self-expression – not as a means to play live.

Ajax: Yeah being in a band can be tough when it comes to schedules. The Blownaparts are just getting fired up again after a long break and there is so much work to do in the studio on our new CD and very little time for anything else. I try to go out and seek new bands ya know? What are your personal thoughts on the band The Darkness and other rock n' roll revivalists of today?
Brian: Personally I think The Darkness came out at a perfect time when the modern rock genre was becoming a bit saturated. People seem to enjoy the energy that The Darkness provides, it remains to be seen how short-lived it will be.

Ajax: I am not to sure what I think of The Darkness and I think that is what keeps me interested you know? It’s those damn tight pants!!

So for the younger less educated guitarist out there can you please explain exactly how a single Ernie Ball guitar string is made?

Brian: Yeah the process is fairly complex and simple at the same time. Complex when you are making over 250,000 a day....

Ajax: Wow that is a lot of guitar strings. How cool is that.
Brian: A brass ball end is secured on a high carbon steel wire through a lock twist. A nickel plated steel wire is wrapped around the core wire at specific tension and speed. There ya have it!

Ajax: As a player in the music industry what do you think about The Napoleon Blownaparts who distribute their music creatively via popular web sites and trendy fashion / music related publications?
Brian: I found that by forming strategic partnerships with likeminded players in the music game all participants involved win including the artist and the fan. I think the Internet has changed the way we think about music entirely. Technological advancements have made it so music is available at the touch of a fingertip. Most notably, websites like Pure Volume and MySpace have provided a digital distribution model that major labels have taken notice of. A young band can grow their fan base worldwide without going on nationwide tours in vans. The live element will always be there, but they have sure made it easier for a band to market them than it has been in prior generations.

Ajax: Yeah we are on the same page. Example in 2002 Extreme Beverage owned Blavod (ed. Note: makers of Black Vodka) sponsored The Blownaparts record and together we distributed thousands of free Specially-Enhanced Music-Discs to fans all over the globe. Any thoughts or advice on a free music program like the one Sem-Disc designed?
Brian: If the synergy fits, cross promotional CD's can be a great boost of exposure to both the band and the brand. However, if the synergy doesn't fit, you have a negative, negative byproduct.

Ajax: I could not have said it better. Hey man thank you again for chillin’ and sharing your thoughts, time and knowledge with my self and all the Ernie Ball fans out there. Education is key and you certainly educated me on some cool guitar and guitar string related topics.

To the rest of you? I started playing guitar when I was 12 years old and while I have never considered my self to be a guitar virtuoso I do know is this. Ernie Ball makes a damn fine product and is tradition where the guitar is concerned.

On a side note I play a Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul that was set up for ten gauge strings. After busting strings on a nightly basis I switched from my old nines to the larger ten gauge thinking bigger is better right? From there I noticed a much brighter fatter tone with much longer sustain that I really dug so I stayed with the tens. However I still broke my strings. For some crazy reason I use bass guitar picks cut almost in half and on top of all of that I sweat like three Angus Youngs and acid from sweating up on stage turns in to corrosion witch will kill your guitar strings.

This problem of string breaking needed to be addressed so I figured who better to ask help me solve this nagging issue but a member of the Ernie Ball family. I figured Brian would drop me some deep family secret to help me stop breaking my strings but instead he told me to simply wash my hands before every guitar playing session.

So not only are Ernie Ball guitar strings great for tattooing? But they are also another great reason to wash your hands and practice rock n’ roll hygiene! Ha ha ha Hey Brian thanks for the tip bro but I think the grease on my finger tips contribute to that Blownaparts sound and style…..I’ll just have to keep buying extra packs of them Ernie Ball guitar strings.

- Peace, Ajax [END]

The Napoleon Blownaparts new CD is being recorded using Ernie Ball guitar strings exclusively. For more information log on to: http://www.blownaparts.com and http://www.ernieball.com

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