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United Breaks Guitars: Cautionary Tale to Companies and Customer Service Reps Dealing with Musicians

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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Companies would do well to realize that when you screw with musicians you are likely to have your interaction memorialized in song and the power of the internets means an awful lot of your customers may be hearing that song in no time at all. Here’s the gist of the United Breaks Guitars story from Dave Carroll, who heads up the band Sons of Maxwell.

In the spring of 2008, Sons of Maxwell were traveling to Nebraska for a one-week tour and my Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. I discovered later that the $3500 guitar was severely damaged. They didn’t deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss. So I promised the last person to finally say “no” to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world. United: Song 1 is the first of those songs. United: Song 2 has been written and video production is underway. United: Song 3 is coming. I promise.

The video: (embedded below)

An account of the fall out below from the Times, Revenge is best served cold – on YouTube:

But Carroll kept his promise. The first song, United Breaks Guitars, has now been played 3,515,357 times on YouTube, become a smash hit on iTunes, and has resulted in Carroll’s rather bemused appearance on every major news network in America. Meanwhile, within four days of the song going online, the gathering thunderclouds of bad PR caused United Airlines’ stock price to suffer a mid-flight stall, and it plunged by 10 per cent, costing shareholders $180 million. Which, incidentally, would have bought Carroll more than 51,000 replacement guitars.

The airline’s belated decision to donate $3,000 to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz as a gesture of goodwill (Carroll said he was beyond the point of accepting money) did nothing to contain the damage.

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