BRIAN BETHKE ‘97, New York City (NY)
CEO, Pigtronix Pedals
My wife Megan and I were married in 2012 and we have a 3-year-old daughter named Anna.
What was your academic journey after BMA?
I studied Economics, Chinese and Music at Middlebury College and graduated class of 2001. After living and working in China for 5 years, I went on to get my MBA at Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
What does your day to day work entail?
Aside from routine emails, meetings and crunching numbers, I work closely with my staff to develop new products and the strategies to sell and market our creations. This involves lots of creative problem solving.
How did you get into this field of work?
I became obsessed with playing guitar a few years before I came to Burke. I learned to play guitar on a cheap student acoustic that had been collecting dust in a closet. One day I pulled it out and decided I was going to learn how to play. For the next 10 years or so, including while I was at Burke, I practiced 2-3 hrs per day and loved finding people to jam with. While at Burke, CW Estoff, Ryan Heinz, James Devendorf and I started a band together and convinced the staff to let us use the basement of Frazier, below the library, as our band room. We called ourselves Broad Reach. At random times of the day or weekends, our cacophony could be heard echoing out from below Frazier House. We were able to get our hands on a cheap PA system and a 4-track. We wrote and recorded a whole album of music on the 4-track cassette recorder and would sometimes play gigs in the dining hall. There were others who played with us on occasion too, including Dana Dunleavy on guitar and Robb Gushiken on violin. I still have the cassettes that we recorded on the 4-track. They may never become classics, but they are fun to listen back to. What we lacked in musical abilities at the time, we made up for in enthusiasm.
A few years after graduating from Middlebury I launched Pigtronix Guitar Pedals with a friend from college who I had often played guitar with. Then in 2013 we acquired the historic Supro brand and began making guitars and amplifiers.
What is most exciting about your work?
Seeing the products, we create end up in the hands of respected musicians. When running a business, it is easy to get distracted and forget why you are doing it. Whenever I see musicians, I admire using our products it helps bring things back into perspective for me. We have never paid musicians to use our products. So, anyone out there using a Supro amplifier, or a Pigtronix guitar pedal is using it because they like it, and hopefully, it inspires their music. Often, we find out about artists using our products completely by surprise. Last week we discovered through a YouTube video that The Edge from the band U2 has been using the Pigtronix Rototron guitar effect on tour. For certain artists like this, there is special meaning for me, because these are the people, I grew up trying to emulate, and who inspired me as a guitar player and a musician.
Do you pursue personal passions in the arts as well? If yes, what are those passions? Talents?
I played in about 5 or 6 different bands at various times after graduating from Burke, but none that I would consider of a professional level. My favorite gig now-a-days is playing bed-time songs for my daughter.
Was art always in your life from a young age? How did you foster that passion while at BMA?
No one in my family was very musical. However, my mom is an artist, and from a very young age she brought me to museums, taught me how to draw and paint, encouraged me to look at things from different perspectives, and to pursue my own path. I feel grateful that my family and BMA provided a safe and supportive place for me to pursue my dreams. I truly felt while at Burke that if there was something I wanted to achieve, there was a whole network of people there to help me.
What did you learn at BMA that has helped you in your work or life in general?
Race day preparation is perhaps the most valuable set of skills I can imagine as an entrepreneur and business owner. It takes hard work, dedication, focus, and mental toughness to win races. It is the same for starting a business.
What do you miss the most about BMA?
Sunday brunch, morning runs, and Broad Reach.