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Community Highlights: Meet Neil Newcomb of Atlanta ProWinds

Today we’d like to introduce you to Neil Newcomb.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I was born in Virginia; my family moved to Georgia in 2000. I went to Flowery Branch high school and graduated in 2007. During high school, I participated in Georgia Music Educators Associations events and ensembles, including the Governors Honors Program, All-state/district honors bands, All-State Jazz, the Atlanta Youth Jazz Orchestra, and ran my own band. My high school job was working retail in Gainesville, Georgia at Lancaster Music. After I graduated from high school, I went to Kennesaw State University, where I perused a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Performance. After briefly teaching 5th and 6th-grade band, I realized that was not for me and dropped the education major.

During my undergrad, I worked part-time retail and taught lessons at Carere Music, Ponier Music, and New School of Music, as well as teaching sectionals and classes at local Georgia High School and Middle Schools. Spring Semester of my degree I married my wife, Amy Newcomb. After I completed my education at Kennesaw State University, I went on the road and toured the country for a few years. During my time off the road, I would continue working at the music stores and began doing the repairs for the shop. I had already been informally working and studying repair for some time, then sort of just moved into doing it. I stopped touring around this time and focused on working (as a saxophonist) local union jobs. While building my playing career in Atlanta, I would use the repair business as my “day job.”

I established my own company, Atlanta ProWinds, in late 2017. I added several vendor relationships with local “mom and pop” music stores and started gaining more of a reputation. My first full year of business I was awarded “BEST OF ATLANTA” in instrument repair. The business has been awarded that for 2018, 2019 and 2020. As my portfolio and demand grew, I started hiring several specialists as a way to keep up with demand and also cater to our client’s need. I have the best repair techs in the city! So now I am just working on expanding the business and keeping my clients happy. I still freelance as a performer, but my focus lately has been more on my company.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I do not think there has ever been a working situation where there is not a struggle. Struggle is often the best way to learn a lesson and improve as person, artist, and craftsman. I would say struggles of a musician are in their own category. It is a great city to work in but several things come to mind: politics, wages, and time commitments. We do have a local union that does help, but being in a “right to work” state and so many musicians on the scene, it is sometimes hard to have a consensus on certain topics. However, we do have some wonderful people in our city and most struggles we work on together.

The struggles of owning the repair business are more like lessons for me. It is a struggle to keep up with repairs, teach masterclasses, promote on social media, keep up with the books, and expand knowledge. I really do enjoy the struggles as a business owner as I learn something new about myself and capacity.

A real challenge in both fields is not overworking. The instinct to say ‘yes’ to every playing job is very strong. The instinct to say ‘yes’ to every repair deadline is just as strong. You do not have a salary, so you only make money when you work. Before you know it, you have played every night of the week (sometimes under less than ideal situations) and have a stack of saxophones to repair that cost you the other hours of the day. There is a balance I am sure. I am working on that.

This past year, 2020, has been a real struggle financially speaking, but it has taught me my limits and how important it is to spend time with my wife and family and nurture certain friendships. Taking the time for oneself is very important and I am less stressed because of it.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Atlanta ProWinds?
Atlanta ProWinds is a musical instrument repair and retail company. We specialize in the maintenance, repair, and sale of orchestral string and wind instruments. I am known for my saxophone and clarinet work.

Judith Gilbert Klein is a specialist on the flute and piccolo. Ben Davis is quite the saxophone tech as well as a well-rounded brass repair tech. Sam Skelton is a woodwind tech with extensive knowledge of manufacturing and makes of instruments. Our newest team member, David Ramirez of Alfaro Violin, is a master luthier.

What sets us apart is the amount of knowledge we have as professional musicians. We all have degrees in performance and teach students of all levels. So our exposure to a diverse skill set is quite unique.

What I want customers to know is that we really love what we do. As performers, we know the stress of the job and the last thing you need to think about is your equipment. As educators, we know when our students struggle and the frustration they have when there is not success. We also know how hard it is to manage an ensemble of young people and how little time there is for music educators to fix broken instruments. As far as buying from us: we get the best equipment because the best players, students and educators demand it.

The crisis has affected us all in different ways. How has it affected you and any important lessons or epiphanies you can share with us?
Wind instruments can be a health risk for our techs. So we have been implementing even more rigid hygiene and cleanliness requirements for ourselves and our customers.

We have also learned the importance of scheduling repairs weeks in advance. The day of emergency repair we want to do away with by educating our clients on how to maintain their instruments better to save us time when it needs to go in. Always have a backup plan. If you are a free-lance gig worker, be as diverse with your skill sets as possible.

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