RPMDA 2010: “Your Business Fix on Route 66”
Music publishers from around the world gathered with local and national print retailers and music store owners at the recent Retail Print Music Dealers Association’s annual convention, which took place in downtown Oklahoma City from April 15-17. The collegial three-day event featured an exhibit hall where 46 publishers and other exhibitors showcased the latest print music offerings, as well as a number of workshops, breakout sessions, and social events designed to facilitate communication among the over-200 attendees of the tight-knit retail print music community.
Following a quick general session entitled “Speed Dating with the Publishers,” during which print music publishers and suppliers unveiled their latest product lines and services, Denny Senseney, past president of the RPMDA, kicked off the first full day of the convention with a rousing speech about the ever-more critical responsibility shared by all members of the music industry to advocate for school music programs, as local and federal budgets shrink and cuts to education – and music and the arts, in particular – are a constant threat.
“The success of music education affects all of the businesses in the music products industry,” Senseney noted, making it incumbent upon retailers and manufacturers to do their part to ensure that “future decision makers like what they’re doing with music [so that they will] want to make sure it won’t go away.” He went on to outline a brief action plan, indicating that all music stores should attempt to provide either “emergency” or “wellness” programs for their local schools. Emergency programs would be geared toward providing immediate action because of an “imminent threat” to a music program, whereas wellness programs would focus on advocacy, monitoring policy makers and exuding positive influence.
Dr. Paula Crider, retired director of bands at the University of Texas, delivered an eloquent and stirring general session in support of music, referencing both her many years in music education and a number of quotes from some of the great thinkers of Western Civilization. “Music teaches ‘humanness,’ and you can’t put a price on that,” Dr. Crider stated, adding that the goal of any music program should be to, “create lovers of music rather than just performers, as music has the power to transport us, to imagine the possibilities and ponder ‘what if.’” Among the many anecdotes she used to illustrate the importance of music in all aspects of life was one about Albert Einstein, himself an avid musician, who reportedly made many of his most significant scientific epiphanies while pondering physics problems as he played his violin.
Mark Parker, the dean of Oklahoma City University’s Wanda L. Bass School of Music, delivered the convention’s closing keynote address, which continued a theme that kept popping up throughout the three-day gathering. Using “Creative Oklahoma” as a model, Parker illustrated the importance and potential benefits of advocacy for music and the arts.
For the third consecutive year, Hal Leonard’s David Jahnke moderated a workshop where dealers and publishers presented their “best ideas” in front of the full assembly of RPMDA attendees. The series of two-minute “pitches” ranged from drumming up in-store traffic by launching a recital series to renegotiating loans, which Ruby Beeston, owner of the Best In Music chain, claims has saved her company over $250K. The audience chose the winning idea by ballot, selecting a PR initiative by Sheilah Craven, manager of The Leading Note, who generated great publicity for her business by donating 10 percent of one month’s sales revenue to a local ensemble, as nominated and voted for by the store’s customers.
The convention’s breakout sessions provided an eclectic mix of retail and marketing strategies. Michelle Webb and Michele Dwiggens of Beacock Music Company co-presented a session on implementing in-store group music classes, which they say have the potential to “dramatically drive up numbers” in terms of both store traffic and direct revenue from lessons. Offering the right music lessons can allow a store to focus on individual pockets of revenue that might otherwise be untapped, said Dwiggens.
Cort McClaren of C. Alan Publications led a presentation on identifying and targeting potential buyers of percussion music. Acknowledging that many drummers simply don’t read music, McLaren indicated that consumers’ playing experience will directly determine how much their interest in print materials, stating, “The more they know, the more they buy.” Other sessions focused on cutting in-store expenses, using technology as a cost-effective way to increase and generate business, and examining the ever-changing genre of sacred music.
On the schedule of events were also a number of social gatherings, including an opening night cocktail party, a trip to the nearby minor league baseball park, and a “boots & jeans” banquet and awards ceremony on the final evening of the convention.
Pender’s Music Co. of Denton, Texas was well represented at the awards ceremony, with president Richard Gore receiving the RPMDA’s highest honor, the “Dorothy” Award for lifetime achievement, and manager Richard Rejino, also a past RPMDA president, being given the John Walters “President’s Choice” Award for service as a mentor and advisor to outgoing president Lori Supinee during her time on the board of directors. Marcia Stearns of The Bookmark was honored with the RPMDA/Sandy Feldstein Service Award, a distinction given to a person who is not currently on the board of directors and who has volunteered his or her time and talents to the organization over a number of years.
The 2011 RPMDA Convention will take place from April 27-30 in Tampa, Florida.
Amidst the palpable camaraderie and collective sense of optimism, however, one relevant question was not directly addressed: how is the print music industry responding to the digital revolution? This is a subject that weighs heavily on the minds of all print media professionals, with music publishers facing potential copyright infringement issues, and retailers up against the growing threat of being cut out of the print music loop by digital downloading, both legal and illegal.
As a representative of one small publisher put it, “There are some analysts who believe that as the economy picks up in the next three to five years, sheet music sales will be almost entirely digital downloads. That’s a heartbreaker because it means that there will be a whole lot of music stores who will be hurt in a big way because of this. Retailers and publishers need to work together to find the answer, especially in terms of the sales component.”
Yet, the answer may well already be out there. “Whether the end form results on a piece of paper or on a Kindle, it’s still all about content,” says David Jahnke of Hal Leonard. “Hal Leonard got into the digital download services very early in the game. At every step of our process of looking at a new initiative, we try to find ways to include the retailers. That’s how we came up with our Hal Leonard Digital Retailers, which is an in-store module that dealers can use to print out music from our catalogue.”
Jahnke continues, “At this point in time, is there a way for the retail community to capitalize on digital downloading? Not necessarily. However, if you take a look at the history of digital music downloads, 98 percent of those are pop songs, whereas 60-70 percent of our business is education. It’s band books and method books. It’s teaching people how to play, and that type of material isn’t going away any time soon. Will the printed materials be a thing of the past? Maybe in 40 or 50 years, but that content will be available in some form or another. As long as music stores are committed to lesson programs, committed to beginning and continuing education, there will always be ways for them to profit with print, or at least print content.”
Bryan Bradley, COO of Alfred Music Publishing, has a decidedly optimistic take on the impact that new technologies have on the retail print music market. “I think digital downloading is a great opportunity for a lot of reasons,” he says. “In the print music industry we tend to follow the audio industry. They’ve been through this and we have the opportunity of learning from how that industry has adapted. Apple and iTunes have proven that if you can provide the customers with what they want easily and for a fair price, they’re going to move away from illegal downloading. The beauty of it is that dealers should be able to capitalize, too. [Alfred] is a manufacturer, not a retailer, and we have built a back-end that any dealer can use to sell our product, digitally, to the end user. This can happen in their store or through their Web site.”
Are most retailers ready to move from hard copy to digital sales or embrace an in-store printing system? Bradley insists that the transition is both an imperative and quite doable feat. “I don’t care what industry you are in,” he reiterates, “times change and if you don’t adapt with the times, you are going to have problems. However, it has never been easier to make that transition because it is very inexpensive for dealers to hook up their system to incorporate digital print retail.”
In the lobby of the hotel hosting the convention, a placard outside of the elevators carried a quote from Oklahoma native Will Rogers that seemed to speak to this very issue: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”