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Slow Down

By Katie Sloan
In Center Block
Nov 30th, 2017
0 Comments
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Matt Shepard’s path from band leader to successful business owner.

Article by Michael DeVault  and  Photography by Brad Arender

A sign on a door in Matt’s Music reads, “Slow Down.” It’s the kind of warning one might see hanging in a high school to discourage students from running in the hallways between classes.

The symbolism of the sign, intentional or not, becomes all too apparent when one begins to unpack owner Matt Shepard’s journey from college musician to owner of the region’s best sources for quality musical instruments, equipment, and installation. When Matt graduated from ULM, then NLU, in the early 1980s, he had every intention that his degree in marketing would take him far away from Monroe.

“I did the regular job thing for a while,” Matt tells BayouLife. “I worked in Baton Rouge for a bank, and then I went to Dallas, where I worked for Motorola for a few years.”

But corporate life wasn’t quite what he expected. By the late 1980s, he was ready for a change. On a trip home, he heard that the owner of Specialty Sound was thinking about selling the business. Matt had come to know the company, and its owner, while playing guitar in college. Matt recognized the opportunity to move home, and he discussed it with his father.

“I was a guitar player, but I’d never done the music thing,” he says.” I’d been around music my whole life, but I saw this more as a business opportunity. I convinced my dad to help me get the store.”

In mid-1991, Matt’s Music was born. Twenty-six years later, Matt has transformed the small shop where people could buy guitars and drums into one of the region’s premier providers of sound systems, mixing equipment, and professional-quality musical instruments. The company also provides professional services to churches, schools, and corporations, and it serves as a hub for the region’s hundreds of musicians, professional, amateur or aspiring.

To help transform the business into what it would eventually become, Matt relied on his own experiences as a musician. Earlier, Matt had formed a band with his brother, Luke, and local drummer Steve Quinan. The Fields played an audience-pleasing assortment of jangle pop, the genre of rock made popular in the late 80s and early 90s by bands such as Pearl Jam, R.E.M., and Louisiana favorites Better Than Ezra and Cowboy Mouth.

Over the course of the Fields’ run, the band play a host of local nightspots, including Enoch’s and the Depot, and toured extensively throughout the region, opening for bands such as Better Than Ezra and Cowboy Mouth while also headlining smaller venues in Baton Rouge, Shreveport, New Orleans and beyond. The Fields were a local hit, according to Terry Tugwell. Tugwell is a live music aficionado who remembers the Fields – and Matt himself —  quite well.

“A lot of people today may not know that he was one of Monroe’s most popular musicians 20 years ago,” Terry says. “The Fields played at every club, the biggest parties. They were a great band, and people loved to hear them. And they loved Matt.”

Local music impresario Doyle Jeter remembers Matt and the Fields, as well. Jeter owns Enoch’s Irish Pub, a live music venue that has hosted musicians of regional, national, and international importance for more than 30 years. Both Tugwell and Jeter believe Matt’s experience playing and touring have helped inform the growth of Matt’s Music.

“That’s probably why he’s been so successful,” Jeter says. “He’s a musician at heart, he treats all musicians who walk through the door like family, and that’s probably the most important factor of why he’s been so successful. He relates to musicians on that level.”

Jeter also notes Matt has something many musicians lack.

“It’s rare for a musician to be that business savvy,” Jeter says. “That’s helped a great deal.”

Like Matt and the company he runs, Enoch’s, too, has evolved over the years, moving between venues and following audience trends. By the early 1990s, the bar had become a signature nightspot for seeing bands. When it came time to set up a permanent, house sound system, Jeter called Matt. He’d rely on Matt’s expertise again in 1995, the day internationally renowned Leon Russell was set to perform. At the time, Enoch’s occupied a location on 6th Street near Louisville Avenue. The venue was large, but the sound system wasn’t what Russell would need. Jeter credits Matt with helping get the venue ready for Russell’s performance – and many more instances too numerous to count, according to Jeter.

“Without Matt’s support with sound equipment and other things, Enoch’s wouldn’t be what it is today,” Jeter says. “The Leon Russell performance is just one example. We called Matt and he was there in 30 minutes to help us set up, to treat Russell right.”

Matt’s involvement goes beyond area live music venues. Through Matt’s Music, he’s a supporter of the Northeast Louisiana Celtic Festival, the Northeastern Louisiana Music Awards, the Louisiana Food and Music Festival, and a dozen more area events. Matt’s Music also continues to support area nonprofits.

When Tipitina Foundation announced plans to open a facility in Monroe, Matt’s Music provided them with studio equipment, instruments, and other items at a discount. He sees organizations like Tipitina’s as part of the new music scene in Monroe.

A lot has changed over the last 26 years, both for live music in Monroe and for Matt’s Music. While Matt sees the potential live music has in Monroe, he notes that it’s not quite as hopping of a scene as it was in the mid-1990s. One reason: closing time.

“Back then, the bars closed at 12, and that made it a lot easier for people to get out and have a good time,” he says. “That helped the music scene because people could come out and not feel like they had stayed out all night. Nowadays, bands don’t start playing until 11 or midnight. That kind of limits what your audience can be.”

Nevertheless, on any given Friday night, you can find Matt at the back of the room at any number of area bars or venues, listening to the band. And he’s still a big supporter of Enoch’s.

“Hands down, they were so supportive of live music, it just made it the place to play,” Matt says. “They still are.”

The company has grown to employ more than a dozen employees, and it’s expanded its offerings to include diverse installations in churches and at schools. In fact, the company has an entire division devoted exclusively to contracting and large-scale installations. Over the years, Matt’s dad continued to be supportive.

“When I was five years into this and wanted to expand, to become bigger and better, he was more than willing to help me,” Matt says. “I knew I had to pay him back, and I did. But my dad was a big part of our success.”

Matt’s father lived to 93 and only recently passed, which means he got to see the business his son has built. That’s something Matt is thankful for, quipping almost playfully, “He was really proud when I quit asking him for money.”

He’s still focused on growing Matt’s Music, always looking to expand lines and add cutting-edge equipment. He attributes his business’s success to the support he receives from the community. For both Jeter and Tugwell, Matt is a force who’s brought tremendous enrichment to the community – and if they have their way, one day Matt will have enough time to do another set in the spotlight at Enoch’s. Until then, Matt and the business he’s built will remain the way he enters the music world. And there’s something special to be said about that, according to Tugwell.

“For the last 30 years, he’s helped make the dreams of many young musicians come true,” Tugwell says. “He helps provide them with their very first guitars, first drum sets, first keyboards, and he gives young musicians the encouragement they need to persevere.”