The Music & Sound Retailer: Who was your greatest influence or mentor and why?

Jeremy Payne: This is a tough one for me to answer. I have so many people who have influenced me throughout my career; some are mentors who have provided guidance, some are peers who act as observed examples of success, others are authors or speakers who have shared tremendous insight and passion. It feels almost disrespectful to try and cement just one name. However, if I stop and think about who gave me the most opportunities to develop professionally and personally in my career, without a doubt, that person is Sharon Hennessey [president of The Music People]. I came to The Music People 10 years ago as an intuitive and passionate ex-MI retailer that had a lot to learn about the wholesale side of the industry. Sharon opened so many doors for me. She allowed me to take those pre-existing skills, polish them, teach me about the larger industry and explore the different facets of our company by putting me in roles with growing responsibility. She holds me accountable, calls out and corrects my mistakes, praises my accomplishments, and all of these things together cultivate growth. We don’t often talk about the bigger-picture path she has taken me down, but I feel very fortunate to have the support and guidance of Sharon.

The Retailer: What was the best advice you ever received?

Payne: “Never ignore the little guy in the corner.” Out of context it sounds kind of weird, but essentially the point is to treat everyone with respect, especially in a sales environment. The person answering the phone or restringing a guitar could very well one day be the buyer, the manager, the decision maker or the owner of your customer. Heck, they could even become your boss down the road! If you treated that person with respect from the day you met them, then they’ll remember that. Treat them with disrespect, and they’ll remember that too. As a salesperson, you can’t afford to be selective with whom you treat with respect or not; be a good human, and karma will take care of you.

The Retailer: What was your first experience with a musical instrument?

Payne: I vividly remember sneaking down to the basement with my sister as little kids and cracking open an old smelly guitar case of my father’s. He played a little bit as a young man in the navy, but tucked it away and didn’t want us touching it (because we would have surely destroyed it). That spiked my initial curiosity, but I officially got my hands on an instrument as a third-grade student and chose the clarinet. I played that through seventh grade, when I switched over to trumpet. I played trumpet and baritone horn through high school as well. Outside of school, I picked up playing guitar when I was 11. I bought a used guitar from my best friend with my birthday money. It was a hunk of junk, but I took it everywhere with me. I quickly started writing music, singing and then eventually picked up playing bass, drums, piano, and a myriad of other instruments along the way to help in my writing and recording. Fast forward to being a broke guy in college. I started teaching guitar at a local guitar shop, then moved into sales and management. As the small company grew, we needed extra help, and I hired my retired father to work some day shifts. The [journey from] him yelling at me for touching that guitar in the basement to he and I working together in a guitar shop is pretty “full circle” to me.

The Retailer: What instrument do you most enjoy playing?

Payne: I would call myself a guitarist first and foremost. I play a little bit every day, even just to strum a few chords. Playing guitar really helped me develop my personality [and] my songwriting ability, [and helped me] make friends and ultimately end up working in our industry. It’s definitely a special relationship with an inanimate object that I hold dearly.

The Retailer: Tell us something about yourself that others do not know or would be surprised to learn.

Payne: Social media leaves little to the imagination these days, but I am an avid Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioner. Aside from music, it’s the one hobby I’ve had in life that has really shaped me as a person, and I didn’t pick it up until five or six years ago, as an adult. I usually train five days a week and just received my fourth degree on my purple belt (which means if I keep progressing and training at the same rate, I might earn my brown belt within the next year). Jiu jitsu differs from a lot of other martial arts in that it is a slow progression toward belt promotions. You learn a lot about yourself as an athlete, as a mentor to others and in being a humble person. Many say there isn’t much room for an ego on the mats; you need to leave that at the door if you’re going to get better, and this fact has been a life changer for me.

The Retailer: What’s your favorite activity to do when you’re not at work?

Payne: Well, as much time as I spend training jiu jitsu, my favorite activity is hanging out with my wife, Krystal. We’re both passionate about cuisine and therefore end up going out to a lot of different restaurants and breweries. I suppose in some ways the physical activity involved with jiu jitsu helps keep my body in check for all the good food I indulge in.

The Retailer: What is the best concert you’ve ever been to?

Payne: Have you ever been to a Tied to One concert? Probably not; that’s my band, and every time we play, I have the time of my life! OK, if I deflate my head and get serious, I’ll have to say Joe Bonamassa at Artpark in Lewiston, N.Y., is up there for me. I’m not a big blues nut, but the retail shop I was working for sponsored this big outdoor concert series, and we got box seating for this event. Joe played very well, and exceeded my expectations, but the most memorable part of that concert was sitting there watching my father get blown away by a guy he hadn’t heard of before. Fast forward 12 years or so and I bet my mother wishes he hadn’t gone, because she’s been listening to his albums on repeat ever since.

The Retailer: If you could see any musician, alive or deceased, play a concert for one night, who would it be and why?

Payne: In my eyes, Freddie Mercury was the best singer/performer in rock history. His charisma, vocal abilities, ability to captivate an audience and songwriting ability aren’t closely seconded.

The Retailer: What musician are you hoping to see play in the near future?

Payne: I’ve been listening to Dave Grohl my entire life and have never seen him live. I grew up in the grunge era and was too young to have the opportunity to see Nirvana and have passed up far too many opportunities to see the Foo Fighters. You’ve got me looking for tickets already!

The Retailer: What song was most memorable for you throughout your childhood and what do you remember about it the most?

Payne: Probably Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out.” My dad had that record and my sister and I would play “Movin’ Out” on repeat just to scream the “Cadillacacacacacac” part at the top of our lungs. Later in life, I reconnected with that entire album and Billy Joel as an artist in general and found a lot of inspiration in my songwriting.

The Retailer: What are your favorite songs on your smartphone/iPod?

Payne: I’ve bounced around in musical genres throughout my life, but hard rock is where my heart is. Some of my go-to artists these days are Foo Fighters, Sevendust, He Is Legend, Thrice and Incubus. I also am always game to throw on a “Best of the ‘90s” station and enjoy everything from alternative rock, pop, metal, ska, R&B, hip hop, rap and even boy bands of the era.

The Retailer: What’s the most fun thing you saw/did at The NAMM Show?

Payne: Set up and tear down our booth. Just kidding! You know, I always have a blast at the NAMM Young Professionals events. I get to connect with friends I haven’t seen in a while and network with others to grow my professional and personal network. I can’t think of one event I didn’t have a good time at.

The Retailer: If you had to select three people, past or present, to have dinner with, who would they be and what would you ask them?

Payne: My wife: She’s my favorite person in the world and I can talk to her about anything. Joe Rogan: I love listening to his podcast and admire him as a martial artist and thinker. I’d ask him this same question, who would he have dinner with and what questions would he ask them. My half-brother: I very recently learned of his existence, but am having trouble finding him and getting in touch with him. I’d ask him to tell me his life story.

The Retailer: Tell us about your most memorable experience with an MI retailer (without naming them).

Payne: I had a really memorable trip to visit a customer and had breakfast with one of their team members the following morning. That breakfast really cemented our growing friendship and, through their guidance, I made steps to become more involved in industry groups that have changed the trajectory of my career. I feel like I am making contributions to MI in a much more meaningful way as a result of this interaction, and it was all from a simple conversation. No crazy story, just genuine relationship building.

The Retailer: What is the best thing about the MI industry?

Payne: The people. People in our industry are so laid back, friendly and approachable. So many of us are band nerds and just get along so well. There aren’t many stuffy, tight-tie types, and it makes coming to work feel like hanging with friends.

The Retailer: Who do you admire most outside of the music industry and why?

Payne: Chefs. You can find passion in a lot of industries, but there is something really romantic about the way chefs approach their craft. They combine creativity, precision, safety, beauty, customer service and nutrition into doing their jobs. There aren’t many other types of people in the world that have such a unique and expansive set of skills.

The Retailer: What technology could change MI down the road?

Payne: It seems clear to me that some form of augmented reality is going to change the way people experience music. I have to believe that AR can change the way we listen to music, enjoy live performances, write music, record and even shop for instruments. It really seems more like a “when,” not “if.”

The Retailer: If you weren’t in the music industry, what would you be doing and why?

Payne: I. Have. No. Idea.

The Retailer: Tell us about your hometown and why you enjoy living there.

Payne: I’m originally from Niagara Falls, N.Y. It’s a small city in the sense that everyone knows everyone. The city has a number of stark differences, including the beauty of the state park/namesake waterfall vs. the urban and commercial decay of a past, more industrial economy. Not surprisingly, the people of the city are well diversified, too, and as a result, it is easy for me to say that the thing I love most about Niagara Falls and western New York are the people. Folks from western New York are passionate and loyal, especially to their beloved sports teams. Go Bills and Sabres! There’s a sense of community, and the people really have this “can-do” attitude. A lot of people have a chip on their shoulder about a great many things, and that motivation and passion continues to move the region forward. I can barely recognize sections of the city from when I left there 10 years ago to join The Music People, and it makes me happy for the future of Niagara Falls and the people that call it home.

The Retailer: What are your most prized possession(s) and why?

Payne: I’m not sure if living things count, but I love my French Bulldog, Gilbert (find me on social media and you’ll understand why). If that doesn’t count, my Les Paul Traditional, which was the most extravagant and meaningful gift I’ve ever received from the guy who gave me my start in the music industry: my former boss, Dave Augustyniak.

The Retailer: What’s your favorite book and why?

Payne: “Goosebumps: The
Haunted Mask.” Need I say more?

Editor’s Note: Jeremy Payne also won the Music & Sound Award for Best Rep for a second straight year. To see photos of him and other winners with their awards, turn to page 30.

To read more interviews with leaders in the MI industry, click here.

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