RPMDA 2012 – A Hollywood Huddle
As Alfred Music Publishing president Morty Manus took the stage on the final night of the annual Retail Print Music Dealers Association convention, he had a simple message, delivered with a smile: “This business is like the Mafia. You can get in, but you can’t get out.”
That one-liner was directed toward that night’s President’s Choice Award winner, Mick Faulhaber, who’d announced moments before that he considered himself to be on his farewell tour. But it also served as a friendly reminder of the attitude shared by most everyone in attendance at the 2012 RPMDA convention – that of a long-term and collective approach to the industry. Print music is facing an unprecedented series of challenges this year, but the lifelong members and newcomers alike at this four-day conference pledged an optimistic push forward into the next phase of retail. It was a cooperative gathering that took bold looks into the future and found a diverse set of options. As Pender’s Music’s Richard Gore said in one panel discussion about the future of the business, “It will get better!”
It was the 36th year for the RPMDA convention, an event that gathers print music dealers, publishers, distributors, and related businesses for series of focused discussions and idea sharing sessions. There were over 200 attendees gathered at the Hilton Universal City (right across the street from Universal Studios and the flashy City Walk entertainment and retail district) – old friends, new acquaintances, and eager collaborators looking for tips on everything from social media to setting up in-store displays. As always, everyone went home with a few new tricks up their sleeve.
The prevailing theme of the convention was the unavoidable change occurring in the print retail industry. Technology has been evolving faster than ever and everyone offered a different take on the best way to harness it. The ongoing feud between Amazon and brick and mortar shops surfaced throughout the gathering, including a panel discussion about the future of the industry moderated by NAMM chairman Kevin Cranley. Pender’s Richard Gore spoke out that stores need to let their customers know how much their business benefits the local communities. “One of our secret weapons is our relationships,” he said. “Something you can forget is how much in taxes you pay that goes into communities to be able to have public schools and roads. Amazon pays no taxes. That’s one of their attractions.” He’s considering posting the numbers at the front of his store.
“We compensate your firemen. We compensate your police men. We contribute to your teachers – all the people that make your community better. We have to take it to the local level.”
That doesn’t mean turning a blind eye toward the power of the Internet. To the contrary, there were countless opportunities to get involved with it as a retail tool. Alfred sales director Antonio Ferranti gave a seminar on going “From Brick & Mortar to Click & Mortar,” Constant Contact’s Kelly Flint gave a crash course on how to use Twitter and other social media, Hal Leonard’s Maribeth Barron offered tips on how to effectively use QR codes with in-store displays, and Bethel Music Center’s Bruce Treidel explained his store’s success using Google AdWords to expand interest. Across the board, publishers encouraged retailers to move ahead with up-to-date online systems for distribution that would streamline the process of selling digital and on-demand through their existing dealer networks. They pointed out that several services existed as turnkey solutions to this problem (some even exhibiting at the convention) that could make the entire process easier.
One thing everyone agreed on was that an influx of new blood was essential to both staying on top of new technology and in simply keeping up morale.
Alfred Music Celebrates 90th Anniversary
A centerpiece of the convention was Alfred Music Publishing’s 90th Anniversary Party, which took place at the company’s new headquarters in nearby Van Nuys. Convention goers rode charter busses out to the new facilities and enjoyed group tours of the offices – from reception to production to the multimedia lab straight to Morty Manus’s corner office. A reception followed in a swank tent with surprise performances by Lisa Loeb and CEO Ron Manus’s band, Sassafrass, made up of coworkers from Alfred and Daisy Rock Guitars. The timing of the party was fortuitous – it also allowed the entire convention to help Morty and Iris Manus celebrate their wedding anniversary.
A Spotlight on Education
Another touchstone of the convention was a focus on music education through schools, lessons, and over-arching programs as a means to both shore up cultural resources and to strengthen customer relations. The Gist Piano Center’s James Harding gave an in-depth look at how he’s revamped his business’s education program. “You’ve got to fix the distrustful, suspicious relationships between teachers and dealers,” he said, going on to sketch out the key points of his Partners in Education Program, including discounts to members, free membership, free piano tunings, and informal themed recitals. In return, stores reap benefits like a targeted contact list, increased store traffic, great relationships with key influencers, and, of course, increased revenue.
At the yearly “Best Ideas” session, a number of retailers came forward with education-based ideas. Myrna Sistern from Middle C Music suggested that everyone have more lessons and family recitals, while Cindy Weber spoke of West Music’s recent Quad City Ukulele Club as a way to get customers to gather for fun group lessons (and a healthy boost in print music sales) and Elliot Wessel suggested retailers get involved with school and community theater departments whenever possible.
Finally, the group welcomed El Sistema-trained Youth Orchestra LA manager Daniel Berkowitz to speak about his involvement in rapidly growing education and social service movement begun in Venezuela 33 years ago. El Sistema USA is developing into a broad support and advocacy network that is helping programs based on the El Sistema model, with a goal of helping the program hit one million participants within the next five years.
2012 RPMDA Awards
The convention culminated in the RPMDA Closing Dinner and Awards, a “Hollywood Wear”-themed party that saw members decked out in their finest gowns, flashy wigs, and ‘30s gangster suits. The dinner included a heartfelt tribute to lost and loved members. The Dorothy Award, given to honor a lifetime of service and special achievement in the music industry, went to Northwest Music Services’ Bill Stonier. Senseney Music’s Lori Supinie received the “Gwenny” Award (recently named for the late Gwen Bailey-Harbour from Alfred Music) for first place in the Best Ideas session for her suggestion to give discounts to digital consumers. The President’s Choice Award went to longtime RPMDA member Mick Faulhaber of Ward-Brodt Music. Alfred Music’s Elisa Palladino was awarded the Don Eubanks Publisher Representative Award. The 2012 Sand Feldstein Service Award went to Tristann Rieck of Brass Bell Music. The evening closed out with remarks from brand new RPMDA president Carol Wilbur.
One of the great benefits of RPMDA (many would say its greatest) is the variety of backgrounds from which exhibitors and attendees visit – from well-known European publishers and veteran retailers to brand new sales reps and eager, young store managers. Here are a few of the many diverse voices at the 2012 RPMDA Convention.
Meet the RPMDA
Oxford University Press
Show’s been great. It’s the first time I’ve been and I’ve met a lot of people, which has now given me a good basis to get out and see some dealers in their shops. I think it’s great to see how some of the other publishers and companies interact and go about their business. In Oxford, we’ve been thinking ahead about expanding our reach in this market, but being here has definitely helped to solidify those plans. We’re quite strong in the Sacred and Choral markets, but now there are some other markets like high school and community choirs which we think have potential that we’d like to reach into.
Frohnen: For me it’s been fantastic because everyone’s been talking about the future of this business. Dealers are not scared of the Amazons and they’re not scared of digital. They’re actually finding solutions to tap in and be a part of it. To me, this has been the most exciting RPMDA because they’re all coming forward and being ready to conquer that part of the business.
Another thing is I see a lot of younger faces here, which is good. I see a lot of store owners tapping into the knowledge of their staff and not just trying to go at it alone. To me, that’s the key to success – tapping into people around you. If they’re interested in social media, make them in charge of it. If they’re a retail junkie, tell them to give you some retail best practices so you can make the store better. It seems like they’re all doing that.
Hendricks: It’s also interesting to see all the generations. We tend to have the 50-ish crowd and they’re bringing a lot people in their 20s and 30s, and there’s definitely a difference in how they view technology and their buying patterns and how they work with social media. It’s great that they’re listening to the younger people and getting ideas on how to market to the various generations.
Frohnen: People are returning to Main Street. People are realizing, “I hate Amazon as a business owner, so I need to go support other local businesses.” We were watching BestBuy start to shrink and realizing that Main Street is winning. Myrna Sislen is a perfect example at Middle C Music – the more people do that, the better off this industry is going to be. I don’t think brick and mortar is going anywhere.
A lot of people have come here because Los Angeles is a very exciting place to have a convention. The sessions were very interesting. It’s always great to meet all of our customers once a year. There’s not really a lot of new behavior this year – everyone’s complaining about the economy but it’s not the first time for that! Let’s hope that the industry continues to progress and we figure out how to take care of the downloading and piracy problem that we’re facing.
It’s easy to lose sight of what the dealers are going through. I remember growing up and going into the piano shop and buying the books and remembering just how much stuff they really have. This week has helped me say, “That’s right, I remember how much stuff they all actually have!” On top of all the stuff we send them, they’re buying from all these other vendors. It’s a great reminder that there’s so much more to it.
You can utilize social media to keep people up to date with reviews and new products and things like video tutorials. Promotion in general is easier, because the catalogs are big. People forget. Also social media also makes it easier to touch base with dealers as well as the schools and directors – being able to personalize it a little bit more than just over email broadcasts and stuff like that without being able to actually travel and see everyone. It’s impossible to be as personal as you once could be.
It would be awesome if the economy recovered. It would be awesome if this country took a stronger focus on education so that, in turn, music would return to the classrooms more. Teachers could get better salaries – but it’s a whole culture shift. Education is kind of at the bottom right now. It’s a long-term thing and everyone’s just worried about having enough money tomorrow.
There are dealers here that have businesses close to my business and we’re just all in it together in this industry. You can really sense that. It’s cliché, but it really is a family atmosphere. I think the biggest gap we have between publishers and print music dealers is technology, in that publishers are so far ahead of dealers and part of their frustration is that we’re not keeping up with our technology as much as they wish we would. They need to get their content out there and they want to go through us, but we’re not as sophisticated yet as dealers, for the most part. There are a few exceptions, but most of us are behind in that area. We’re trying to get more practical technological advice to move that along and close that gap.
I think business in general is going to just be whatever each individual business makes of it. Folks are out there doing music, so it’s up to us to make that happen. I think there are challenging circumstances, absolutely. But for us, if we have something that’s not going right, we’re pretty quick to jump on it. I think you can fix almost everything. People are still out there shopping and buying music. When we have a down month in a category like drums, my brother, Russ, always says, “They’re still buying drums – they’re just not buying them from us.” That’s the approach we always take.
Each year technology changes. Just in terms of the amount of tablets that were sold – 66,000 in 2011 and they’re anticipating 120,000 sold by the end of this year. When you start thinking about those numbers, it changes the dynamic of the conversations. So we had a lot more conversations about the future of digital publishing. Where are we going? How can the publishers help the retailers remain relevant? I love RPMDA because it gives us a format to have those discussions openly.
Unlike some other conventions, this one is really for idea-sharing. When we get customers together with the manufacturers and they open up the topics, you can learn a lot from both sides. That really doesn’t happen anywhere else. Print is still a very relevant part of this industry. According to industry censuses, it was the fourth largest sales category in 2011, so we can still help stores make a profit. The more we get together and work together, the better off everyone’s going to be.
Print music is facing a lot of the same challenges the recording industry has faced and the book publishing is facing. I think what’s happening with us is moving at a slightly slower pace, but we’re right there at the crossroads. I think the focus has been how to stay relevant as things change. And of course, things have changed throughout the decades, so we can’t panic. The internet sent everyone off into a tizzy ten or fifteen years ago, but now everyone’s dealing with it as though the Internet is their branch store, which it basically is. You need customer service, you need to merchandise it, you need to stock it, you need to make it look good – everything you need in a retail store.
I’ve always said that as dealers, our job is to make sure publishers know they can sell more music through a dealer network than any other way. Publishers need to work with dealers and, if you’ve got hoops that you’re making dealers jump through, make sure you’re making everybody else jump through those same hoops.