Music & Sound Retailer August 2021, Vol 38 No 8

Page 36



Most of us learned a lot from the pandemic year 2020. Depending on the market and position of our businesses, we learned our strengths and weaknesses; the loyalty of our customers, suppliers and employees; and the amount of creativity we can muster under existential pressure. One lesson learned specifically within the music products industry — to the delight and (sometimes) surprise of those of us who dwell in the trenches — is that people not only want to play music, but that it’s the first thing that people turn to when faced by stress, an unexpected increase in leisure time or the impetus for self-improvement. We started getting calls last February, before Zoom-binging, gardening and even sourdough baking had their moments. Common refrains included “At last I can get back to the guitar!” and “I’m going to need more piano music!” and “I’ve always wanted to play the violin!” Sure, the desire to play more music or learn a new instrument could have been an impulsive reaction later tempered by harsh reality. Except ... it wasn’t. Of course, families supported the kids in their music studies. But the real news was the surge of adult hobbyists who were galvanized by the change in their circumstances to begin (or resume) making music. First of all, savor what this means for music: the Gallup polls commissioned by NAMM over several years always pointed out that over 90 percent of the respondents would like to play, if the barriers of time and expense could be removed. Well, last year the barrier of time was removed, and the barrier of expense was weakened because people weren’t able to spend the money they budget for entertainment in the usual ways. So now we have definitive proof: Dang right they want to play! Even better, 18 months later, the majority of those pandemic 36

players are not putting their instruments down as the pandemic ebbs. At least in my experience, they’ve found they like and value their musical activity, and following the trends within our society at large, they’re making decisions about what’s important to them and their quality of life. We hear

and, in many cases, distrust the easiest path while focusing on long-term goals. Here’s what I mean about distrusting the easiest path. Given the surge in players, it would be tempting to sit back and let things take care of themselves. After all, we have plenty to keep

constantly about people moving away from cities to telecommute, changing jobs and even industries to pursue goals they could barely verbalize pre-COVID. I fully believe recreational musicmaking is part of that trend, and it has proven its potency. Having introduced music into — or back into — their lives, people want it to stay. I hear stories of families playing music together, parents joining community bands (or even punk bands!), and it’s wonderful. So, the question arises: what do we do about it? The worst thing we can do is mop our brows, say, “Glad that’s over!” and shift our focus back to the kids while abandoning all our other new players. Of course we’ll be busy with school programs, unlike last year. But unless you think the school programs will provide you with all the money you’ll need, you’re shortsightedly ignoring plus business. I’ve always said this market of adult players existed, and not only is that proven now, but the market is mobilized. Why would we turn it away? So, how do we retain and grow this freshly active market segment? I think we need to tailor our approach to new realities

us busy already. But it would be foolish on our part to expect the trend to sustain itself. One of two things would likely happen: the trend will either peter out if we leave it unnurtured, or someone else (aka corporate America) will co-opt it for their own benefit. Think of this like planting a garden. You can’t plant your seeds and then just sit back and wait for the harvest, trusting that there will be enough rain and that pests won’t destroy things. An active gardener reaps the best harvest, both in yield and quality. Here are some things you can do to actively cultivate these new players into a permanent fixture of your business. • Listen to people who talk of being sick to death of Zoom and screen time, craving first-person experiences. Sure, people could get or continue online instruction and surf the YouTube rabbit hole, but what will really excite them is face-to-face mentoring, touching and hearing products, and hanging out with like-minded people. Um, kind of like what got most of us started. At least we know how that works! Making your store a welcoming environment where people can learn and grow is the imperative. Think of our job as

tour guides, ready to share our knowledge and enthusiasm. • Remember the excitement we all feel hearing live music. While in-store performances are ideal, they’re not practical for every location. The good news is that people still get excited about live music streamed via Facebook or other platforms. There’s still some measure of magic in knowing that what you’re watching is happening in real time. Also, making your store a nexus for info on great live opportunities is really effective. Let folks know about upcoming performances, faculty gigs, students or customers appearing live, whether in a club or at a coffee shop or gallery. People will appreciate you as a taste-maker (or influencer), and the performers will appreciate the promo. No cost to you, either. • Advocate for opportunities for these hobbyists to play and congregate. Hosting something at your store is perfect, but again, not always practical. But your support of community groups — particularly less common ones like jazz ensembles or songwriter forums — can help foster the sort of environment where musicmaking at all levels can thrive. Most of what I’m suggesting doesn’t require money, at least not on the most basic level. What it does require is sweat equity: your steady involvement and energy. It won’t pay off until harvest. You’ll have to spend extra time and put some thought into it. But I truly believe that the hobbyist market isn’t just a “segment,” I think it’s the best case for our strong future. After all, those school kids will graduate. It used to be that we’d wave “bye-bye” to them and turn to the next batch of young students. But what if the school market became the hobbyist market as the kids age out — year after year, for a lifetime? I think it can happen. I’m working to make it happen. What about you? AUGUST 2021

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