Retail View – Surviving, Thriving with Technology Gear
For some music retailers, new technology products bring feelings of trepidation or concern. Low margins, the plethora of other channels that sell these items, and the sheer amount of new gear coming out monthly can be overwhelming. Yet the consensus is that customers want to see music technology products in your store, and its part of our landscapewhether we like it or not.
Everything is computer-based now, says Jon Haber of Alto Music. And if youre an MI dealer, and not comfortable with these products, then youre in the wrong business. While Haber takes an especially aggressive stance, others do well with a softer emphasis. Some feel geography plays a hand, as two dealers we spoke with make the case that the further one is from the big cities, the smaller role new technology products take.
But all agree music technology has an important role nonethelessand its growing.
Jonathan Haber, President
Alto Music president Jon Haber, overseeing three stores in New York with a total of 60-plus associates, takes an aggressive approach to every aspect of his operation, and it hardly stops at the perceived challenge that is new technology products.
Everything is his answer to what products he carries, and from keyboard and recording workstations, to software, to Roland electronic drums, ProTools products and plug-ins, and more. They are even an authorized Apple dealer have been long before it was cool. Stocking every model and setting up everything properly is a big investment, he admits. But its worth it.
A big key to his success is his staff. But hes supporting them, too: A lot of the guys have this gear at home, because anybody who works for me can buy it at my dead cost. I know some [owners] play with their cost but I mean literally what I pay for it if I get a rebate, they get a rebate. Also, I let them pay me off over time with no interest. People think Im crazy, but this policy encourages them to get gear in their hands.
His approach to what he chooses to stock is exhaustingly liberal as well: If it looks cool, we buy it. You have to give things a whirl. We go in with guns blazing. You have to work like a dog, but Im an optimist. So its not surprising that Alto lays all this out in front of God and everybody, and its important to maintain it like that. Headphones are available everywhere, so its not necessary to ask a sales person. Its all priced competitively with what one can get on the Internet. Yet thats not all
You have to have your [stuff] together on the back end, Haber adds emphatically. You have to pay your bills on time, not pay late fees, and be able to take advantage of any discounts a manufacturer might offer.
Apple is actually one of its biggest sources of sales and they stock the computers, the memory, and configure a computer to a customers need. We can sit here and do it on a dime. If someone needs a computer loaded with certain program and they need it by 6:00 in Manhattan, well get it there.
Daddys Junky Music
Senior Vice President
For the 20 Daddys Junky Music stores that dot the Northeast, computer-based recording products have been one of the few areas thats been growing, according to Senior VP Chris Gleason. In particular, the computer interfaces. They carry a variety of brands including Digidesign and M-Audio. Its becoming so pervasive that manufacturers like Yamaha and Alesis offer stand-alone mixers that include these interfaces. DigiTech has even included that software in floor effect units.
They carry the keyboard workstations, and some of the notation/sequencing software, though in a limited number of SKUs. This is influenced by the lower margins that tend to accompany these products and the number of channels that theyre available through.
But so is the recording-related gear they do well in
Thats true but for whatever reason, customers interested in that kind of gear first choose to come into a traditional music store.
The modeling amps do well for them, particularly Line 6 products. He says that they were first in and have been successful at dominating the segment. Fender and Peavey have been less successful in that area, although Vox has of late done a nice job in providing sophisticated digital amps at lower price points.
Speaking about the Line 6 guitars with built-in modeling software, Gleason expresses surprise. I felt it was the most perfect interface between computer and guitar, but they are a difficult sell. I think its because of the way the guitar feels. Its a great idea, but the guitar part was not up to the standards of the players.
Daddys has seen resurgence in electronic drums coming from all places, the church market. As more churches adopt rock-based music, they are looking for a drum that allows them to control the volume more accurately.
The downside with these high-technology products is that they are subject to the variables in the market. So when the next new model comes out, the value of the old model takes a large dent. Having the right products, and having your staff interested in them are two of the most important things in being successful, he says. Overall, he does see them as a necessity.
Customers want to see the latest, newest gadgets, and this stuff acts as a draw to keep folks coming into your store.
Mark Paulick, Purchasing Manager
Honestly? Were in a place where people kick the tires and then order it online, which really kind of [stinks], says Henris Musics Mark Paulick. People buy these products from us, but not as much as Id like.
Henris, a three-store operation in the Green Bay area with around 80 employees, is carrying keyboard workstations including the Korg Triton and Roland Phantom, and many of the Alesis products. Software-wise, Cakewalk and Finale products are in stock, as are computer-related recording products include offerings from Tascam and Roland, and they carry a lot of USB boards, including those by Peavey, Tascam, M-Audio, and Alesis. The Roland electronic drums also do well for them.
They keep their staff up to date through the literature and relying on manufacturer reps to come in and do their magic. Staff teaching staff, and having a staff member get particularly excited about a product and then disseminate it to everyone else works, too. That enthusiasm also translates into sales: Like anything, its easier to sell something when youre personally hyped on the product. And we have a very good crew here.
One of the ways to beat the Internet is pushing service after the sale. A lot of customers will pay a little more for a product knowing they can come in and ask some questions after they get it home.
They have some of the hard disk machines set up with headsets so people can demo them, but a lot of the product is kept behind the counter for theft reasons. And by doing that, it makes the customer ask a sales person for assistance, and then you can carry out a conversation. Youre not Wal-Mart you want to educate the customer. If a customers buys something and gets it home and cant figure it out, its not the manufacturers fault, its not their fault, its the stores fault.
Buying carefully is important. I dont need three products with the same features at the same price-point because then you just confuse the staff and the customers, Paulick says. Also, youre tying up capital with three different vendors when you could just be with one.
Most challenging is making a profit on all of this. Margins on recording equipment are not high. And I know recording products are overall huge, but the music stores have just a small part of it.
At Samuel Music stores, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and consists of five stores in central Illinois, the pace is a bit slower. Merchandising manager Jim McDonald feels that is influential in their modest participation in new technology products.
Where were located is probably not the technological Mecca of the country, McDonald says. We certainly have a number of digital studio people, and we sell digital recorders, some software, and certainly do fairly well with the Yamaha Keyboard Workstations, but were really on the fringe.
Tascam and Roland digital recording products are found at their stores, as are the Vox modeling amps and the Yamaha Silent Brass, which he says do pretty well for them. We also do well with Yamaha electronic drums, and all of our teaching studios are equipped with their Explorer sets. Having beginners learn on those sets has two advantages: it exposes beginners to the new technology and allows them to have three drum lessons going on at the same time without having to vacate the store, he laughs.
Their sales dont justify dedicating a person to new technology products, but access to good manufacturer reps and a policy of constantly educating employees help, as does simply inviting customers in to experiment with the new gear.
The biggest challenge with these technologically driven-products is that its constantly evolving, he says. If we look back at the history of portable keyboards, there were Wurlitzers, B-3s, and Rhodes, and that was that. Then you have the synth explosion of the 1970s and 1980s, where everyone and their dog were creating new keyboards now, its all computer-based.
They dont have a computer dedicated to the products on the floor, and he admits it would be more visual if there were; but all the products are out from behind the counter and accessible for the customers to hold and work with.
While not a major part of their business, he keeps these products in stock because there is a definite market for it, however modest.
The tech segment will not stay stagnant, he says. Where exactly it goes, what tangent or direction it takes or what direction it goes into, I dont know. My crystal ball is a little cloudy right now!
Five Steps to Success in New Technology
The biggest misconception that dealers have about selling technology revolve around pricing, obsolesce, and training, says Danny Rocks. They see that the pricing is cut-throat, the technology changes so fast that theyll be stuck with out-of-date merchandise, and that it costs to train and retain dedicated staff to sell niche products.
Rocks, who is a 30-year veteran of the industry and now is President of Los Angeles-based The Company Rocks, a consulting firm specializing in embracing change, says that its an important segment nonetheless. He offers these five tips to success:
- Dedicate a workstation. These are high-ticket items that customers want to be able to try out before they purchase. By doing this, you separate yourself from the e-commerce site who can only list items and prices.
- Obtain not-for-resale (NFR) copies of the software programs. Most vendors are happy to supply NFR copies for free to their dealers. But when you install the programs, make sure you create easy-to-access desktop icons, or a dashboard to make it easy for customers to access the programs.
- Take advantage of vendors training offers. When someone on your staff receives training, insist that they then train the rest of your staff on the program or the equipment. You never really understand something until you have to teach it to others, and peer-to-peer learning is very powerful!
- Gather information from your customers. Find out what they want to accomplish with the technology, what programs and equipment they already have, and what is working for them and why. Become a trusted and valued advisor who understands their needs.
- Eliminate techno-talk from all sales presentations. Customers do not purchase based on megahertz. They have problems and needs that your technology products can solve for them. Always understand the customers needs and offer solutions. You will gain sales and your customers will refer their friends to your store.
M-Audio Debuts NRV10 Analog Mixer/FireWire Audio Interface
M-Audio, a leading provider of creative tools for computer-centric musicians, announces the new NRV10 analog mixer with integral FireWire interface. The computer recognizes NRV10 as a 10 x 10 FireWire digital interface, delivering the best of both worlds digital production with analog control. With the included NRV10 interFX application, users can turn the NRV10 and a compatible Mac or PC into a robust live digital mixer with support for third-party VST effects. The unit also represents the latest family member of the nearly two dozen audio interfaces compatible with Pro Tools M-Powered and is compatible with most other popular DAW software as well.
Designed as a nerve center for computer-based recording and performance, the NRV10 boasts a professional-quality 8 x 2 analog mixer with a built-in 10 x 10 24-bit/96kHz FireWire digital audio interface. M-Audios Octane preamp technology assures best-of-class performance. The four mono channels and two stereo channels of the NRV10 allow users to keep all their favorite instruments, microphones, and other gear connected while working. At any time each channel can easily and discretely record to individual tracks in audio applications such as Pro Tools M-Powered and Ableton Live 6. Conversely, it discretely returns multiple channels of pristine digital audio to the mixer for CPU-free monitoring, mixing, and processing. (Competitors typically provide only a stereo return.) In-line monitoring eliminates the hassle of changing levels between recording and playback. Two aux buses enable routing to external processors or creating a custom headphone mix.
The fusion of an analog mixer and a digital interface in the NRV10 is also a boon in live performance. Using computer-based tracks on live gigs used to require making and saving software adjustments for parameters like levels, EQ and effects just so everything sounded right. Now, the NRV10 provides easy analog mixer control over direct feeds from multiple computer-based tracks. Musicians can perfect their tracks in the studio, then make temporary tweaks on the NRV10 for live performances. As a bonus, elements like live vocals can run through the same processing used in the original studio tracks. The NRV10 also has built-in digital effects to enhance tracks without the hassle of modifying files.
The NRV10 has many more live applications. Its flexible monitor source assignment can send the drummer a headphone click track and even lets a DAWs automation change effects and other parameters on the fly live for different song sections. For live dance music, the monitoring section facilitates auditioning material via headphones DJ-style before routing it to the main mix. For soft synth users, the NRV10, a laptop, and an M-Audio MIDI controller are a great way to perform them on stage. The unit is also well-suited for making multitrack recordings of live performances and recording different players to separate tracks using an application like Pro Tools M-Powered.
Input channels include TRS balanced line input, phantom-powered XLR balanced microphone input (ch. 15), channel/FireWire selector, inserts (ch. 1-4), gain control, 3-band EQ (80Hz, 2.5kHz, 12kHz), monitor send, effect send, pan/balance, volume fader with peak indicator LED and mute/cue button. The unit also features two mono aux sends and two stereo aux returns. Outputs include both XLR balanced and balanced main connections. Independent volume is provided for mix, control room, and headphones, and the monitoring section includes the ability to pre-listen or audition cues before committing them to the main mix for live dance music.
The unit also features a built-in effects section with 16 effects, allowing users to unburden the computer for basic effects especially handy live or when practicing. The effects include reverbs, delays, rotary speaker, flanger, chorus, tremolo, and more, plus variations, mute, and peak LED.
In addition to the onboard effects, the included NRV10 interFX software turns the NRV10 and a host Windows or Mac computer into an even more powerful mixing console complete with multi-effects processing. The application adds a compressor, expander/gate, and two VST effect slots to each mixer channel letting users process live instruments and mics with their favorite computer-based effects. Users can save and recall all settings.
The NRV10 is the missing link for computer-based recording, comments Adam Castillo, marketing director at M-Audio. It enables musicians to move seamlessly between writing, recording, practicing, editing, and mixing without needing to change cabling or connections. Its ability to return multiple channels of digital audio from the computer also makes it a breeze to take studio tracks to the stage. NRV10 interFX even lets you use your favorite VST plug-in effects live. And compatibility with Pro Tools M-Powered represents our ongoing commitment to providing musicians with complete, synergistic solutions.
The NRV10 began shipping in November at a suggested retail price of $899.95.
Web site: www.m-audio.com
NAMM booth # 6700
New Windows / Macintosh Hybrid Guitar Pro from eMedia
eMedia Music Corp., publisher of the worlds best-selling series of guitar tutorial CD-ROMs, announces the release of Arobas Musics Guitar Pro 5.1 CD-ROM a Windows / Macintosh hybrid version of the best-selling multitrack tablature editor software for guitar, banjo and bass. In addition to writing scores, Guitar Pro 5.1 is a complete tool for beginner and accomplished guitarists alike to improve, compose, or accompany themselves. Now Macintosh users can experience what over one million PC users already know Guitar Pro is the standard for tablature editing and composition, eMedia notes.
Guitar Pro 5.1 is a complete workshop for guitarists at an affordable price. Guitar Pro is known as the most powerful and intuitive tablature editor on the market. New advanced notation features add drum notation, vocal notation, and tablature support for any stringed instruments with four to seven strings. The user can create complete scores for a band in minutes. Guitar Pro 5.1 is a total solution for creating lead sheets, scores, or lesson sheets for students. Guitar Pro 5.1 features the newest in playback technology, including RSE-Realistic Sound Engine. RSE provides real time playback of scores with realistic sound samples taken from high-quality guitars and real time effects such as wah-wah. These new features make Guitar Pro 5.1 the guitar players choice for composing and transcribing.
Improved ASCII import/export and the newly enhanced speed trainer will show you why Guitar Pro is a dominant force in guitar music on the Web.
Guitar Pro has been a best seller in Europe and has over a MILLION users worldwide. It is hailed by Guitarist Magazine as an intelligent, simple, clear and precise tool. Riff Magazine says Guitar Pro, is unquestionably the best that can be found in the field of tablature editing for PC.
Guitar Pro 5.1 is available now with an estimated retail price of $59.95. The hybrid CD-ROM is compatible with Windows 98 SE/2000/XP and Macintosh OSX 10.3 or higher.
Web site: www.emediamusic.com
NAMM Booth # 6504
Avlex Rolls Out MA-808 Portable Wireless PA System
Avlex Corporation is introducing the MA-808 Portable Wireless PA System. Featuring a rugged, high-impact enclosure with retractable handles and integrated wheels for easy transport, this bi-amplified system delivers clear, powerful sound thanks to a Class AB amplifier for the high-frequency driver and a Class D amplifier that drives a large, 10 woofer. With a built-in MP3 recorder/player module, support for two wireless receiver modules, and storage provisions for the transmitters, the MA-808 is a complete, self-contained PA solution.
As the new flagship of the MA Series, the MA-808 bi-amplified power system plays an important role by using dedicated amplifiers each for the HF and LF sections. For thunderous low end, the MA-808s Class D amplifier delivers 120 watts RMS and feeds a 10 woofer. To ensure crystal-clear high frequency performance, the units HF section is powered by a 50-watt RMS, Class AB power amp.
Featuring MiPros Auto-scan and ACT (Automatic Channel Targeting) functionality, this true diversity system ensures clear, reliable reception over substantial distance free from signal dropouts and interference. Another important aspect of the MA-808s wireless design is its built-in antenna, which eliminates any possible inconvenience caused by antenna breakage.
In addition to its wireless capabilities, the MA-808 comes with one wired microphone that can serve as an additional microphone source. Additionally, the included MP3 recorder/player modules 3-in-1 design supports CDs, MP3, and SD Flash cards. The Flash card reader/writer supports MP3, WAV, and WMV formats and features 128 MB of memory, with record capability up to 506 minutes (8.4 hours). Record modes include SP (standard) and LP (long).
The Flash player/recorder also incorporates a built-in USB port that facilitates data transfers when connected to a PC, providing another means of placing music or other program material onto the system. The system records in the MP3 format to conserve memory while providing audio quality, and with the DUP (duplicate) button, program can easily be transferred from CD to Flash memory in the MP3 format. For ease of operation, the MA-808 provides a VFD (vacuum fluorescent display) display panel thats easy on the eyes plus an IR infrared remote controller.
The MA-808 is both an AC- and battery-powered system. There is a large capacity, rechargeable battery that can recharge while being used. Further, the MA-808 uses a universal AC switching power supply to ensure constant, reliable voltage.
The MA-808PA (without CD/MP3 player) carries a suggested retail price of $2,995. The MA-808PAD (with player) carries a MSRP of $3,495. Both models are expected to ship in January 2007.
NAMM Booth # 6810
Yamaha Motif XS Expands Workstation Line
Yamaha Corp. of America expands on their top line of synthesizer workstations with the Motif XS, featuring new sounds and new creative tools in a redesigned, intuitive user interface.
The Motif SX includes new Xpanded Articulation sounds featuring 355 MB of wave ROM to inspire creativity while Performance Recording with four intelligent arpeggiators and over 6,000 phrases instantly capture musical ideas. Also included are an Integrated Sampling Sequencer with up to 1GB of memory for creating complete MIDI/audio productions, studio-style mixing, and VCM (Virtual Circuitry Modeling) effects from the Yamaha high-end mixing consoles to master your music right on board. A large color LCD and eight assignable knobs and sliders allow hands-on control over virtually any parameter. Firewire and Ethernet computer connectivity and a special Yamaha version of Steinberg software, Cubase AI, complete the package for a fully integrated music creation and recording solution.
NAMM Booth # Anaheim Marriott, Marquis Ballroom
Condenser Mic Enhances A-T 3000 Series UHF Wireless Line
Following on the heels of Audio-Technica enhancing its 3000 Series UHF True Diversity Wireless Systems with the addition of automatic frequency scanning, the company is offering the new ATW-T371 handheld cardioid condenser microphone/transmitter. Employing A-Ts Artist Series ATM710 cardioid condenser element, the ATW-T371 wireless mic is designed to be used as a handheld or mounted on a microphone stand. The ATW-T371 features rugged metal construction, soft-touch controls, and a multi-function LCD display. It is powered by two 1.5V AA batteries with a life of 6 to 8 hours. A dual power switch permits selection of high power for maximum range, or low for extended battery life.
The 3000 Series is a 200-channel frequency-agile UHF wireless system designed for a wide range of applications including MI/live performance, regional touring companies, fixed installation, public address, A/V rental houses, and places of worship. The Automatic Frequency Scanning function automatically determines and sets the best available frequency (open channel) particularly useful when employing multiple wireless systems, thereby avoiding interference and intermodulation. Up to 16 simultaneous systems per frequency band are compatible, for a total maximum of 32 simultaneous systems across two bands.
The 3000 Series systems and components are available in two UHF frequency bands: 541.500 to 566.375 MHz (TV channels 25-30) and 655.500 to 680.375 MHz (TV channels 44-49) with 200 selectable frequencies in each band. Soft-touch controls offer quick, easy access to the most important functions during set-up and operation. In addition, the 3000 Series features Audio-Technicas digital Tone Lock squelch plus an easy-to-read LCD information display in each unit that provides convenient visual indications of settings and operation status.
The true diversity ATW-R3100 receiver features an all-metal housing for superior shielding, as well as dual independent receiver sections. Its true diversity operation selects the best signal from the two independent receiver sections, thus reducing dropouts and minimizing multipath distortion. The ATW-R3100 offers 200 PLL-synthesized UHF frequencies, advanced digital Tone Lock squelch, soft-touch controls with LCD information display, step-through menus to minimize set-up time, a meter hold setting function, plus an adjustable-slope high-pass filter (Off, 6 dB, 12 dB or 18 dB). The meter hold setting function permits the AF bar graph in the LCD window to capture and display the highest level audio modulation received from the transmitter. This function is particularly useful during setup or sound check. The ATW-R3100 also includes a transmitter battery-life fuel gauge, XLRM-type balanced and 1/4 unbalanced outputs plus a ground-lift switch and all rack-mounting hardware.
The complete line-up of 3000 Series systems is currently available at suggested retail prices ranging from $699 to $949.
NAMM Booth # 6740