Sounding a buzzer to walk through the door, every customer is greeted by floor-to-ceiling instruments. Yet it isn’t your typical music store. Although they have plenty of stocked guitars and drum sets, Andy’s music specializes in world music and stunning artistic instruments that are lesser well-known. Light shines from above onto intricately designed hand drums and sparkling bowls, which are frequently used in meditation.
The cozy environment is welcoming, and general manager, Alexander Duvel, is in the business of sharing his passions with others. He is an aficionado of world music, but remains humble. Since 1991, Andy’s Music has been in business, although it has changed over the years. Customers range from amateur musicians to the members of Wilco, and Andy’s Music has evolved into a Chicago staple.
The store originated when Andy dissolved one business relationship and started another. At the beginning he bought, traded, sold and offered lessons on a very standard set of inventory for your average rock and roll music store. Andy himself is a piano player so he was interested in having a good selection of digital pianos and keyboards of various makers. He ran that store for many years as what Duvel refers to as “full-service rock and roll.”
Andy had a lot of eclectic tastes so he wasn’t shy about or scared of trying to carry exotic inventory, but he wasn’t real knowledgeable of world music.
He hadn’t done a lot of research at the time, so his main focus was just making himself a successful music store. He started to carry exotic African rattles and started to explore the different kinds of inventory. Then Andy and Duvel began filling in the rest of the space over the next couple years with hand drums and having an incredible selection of static musical instruments from different parts of the world.
By then the store was relatively successful, and had this 4,500 square feet built up with all this inventory, honoring a lot of different music communities, and becoming a full-service world music store. “There are a lot of people that do musical healing, sound therapy, meditation and Yoga Nidra, so we serve that group of people with instruments that they can’t find elsewhere,” Duvel says. “I’ve stayed in business for so long because I do what other music stores don’t; I know things they don’t. I know about how to fix and tune and maintain a whole different slice of musical culture.”
As for online competition, Duvel is just as confident in holding his own and actually sees the Internet as a tool for further progress. “Things are a tiny bit easier now than when I got started because there was no Internet. You would have to go to the library and do research; you couldn’t just download that Indian track you heard in a movie. It was much more mysterious,” Duvel says. “Information and access to the diverse sounds that are out there in the world is far easier to get. I hope that my music store is part of the process for people to experience different cultures, and it addresses the universal musician in everyone.” The increased access also brings more knowledgeable customers and extensive requests.
“I can’t cover every single base, and since people have more access to world music I get a different level of questions now than I used to.”
Duvel is still able to help though. “There are very experienced musicians who are extremely well-versed in what they know, but they don’t know that crazy African drum that they want. They heard it in a movie soundtrack and want to use it for their next recording contract,” Duvel says. “Those are the kinds of professional clients that I have a really good time introducing to a whole new musical culture or form of expression or technique.”
As for Duvel’s own knowledge of Andy’s Music’s inventory, he tries to play a lot the instruments offered at the store so he can converse as a musician from his own education, but has no shame admitting when he doesn’t know something. ”There was a period of time where we bought things that I wasn’t very clear on, like accordions for instance. I had absolutely no idea what really went into an accordion before I started working here,” Duvel says. “So I decided to buy used accordions to see what kind of traffic it created, and now it’s a successful part of what we do.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Duvel shines a little brighter when given the chance to share his expertise. “There are plenty of things that I do get to play the know-it-all about, and have the chance to give someone a brand new experience and give them the next piece of the puzzle.”