Rock House’s New Partnership with Hal Leonard Energizes Both
More DVDs from emerging “guitar heroes” in the works
Rock House is ready.
The creator of educational DVDs is all set to take their unique approach to educational DVDs to the next level, and they’ve chosen to partner with Hal Leonard to ensure success.
From the very beginning, Rock House knew their strengths: products and marketing. So in their original business plan, a distributor was needed. “Music Sales was a nice fit, and they didn’t have anything [in their catalog] like Rock House DVDs,” explains Rock House cofounder Joe Palombo. “So we built a great relationship with them as they needed what we had.”
While Music Sales got them in a good position and they had a great working relationship, Palombo admits there were some limitations. “It’s no secret that Hal Leonard is the company to be with if they believe in you,” he says. “I visited there twice and there is not a weak link in the place. That’s really impressive. And they’ve already given us tremendous advice.”
Most importantly, it’s all timing. “Three years ago we couldn’t go to Hal Leonard, but now we can,” he says. “We’re big enough now. And they don’t look at us like just a company whose products they are distributing. That’s a piece that was missing from Music Sales – the commitment.
“Don’t get me wrong – we listen. We’re open. That’s the best thing about our company. We hear something good, we listen.”
But wait – Hal Leonard has quite a few DVDs in its catalog, itself…
“It was a big concern at first,” he admits, adding that they had plenty of other suitors when the Hal Leonard acquisition of Music Sales first went down. “But we did our research – and Hal Leonard is great; and when you look at their product offering, it is complementary to ours. There’s very little overlap. They don’t have the artists we have, and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is really a natural fit.’”
Guitar Heroes of Now
Founded in 2002, Rock House today has just three full timers, in addition to owner/partners Palombo and John McCarthy. The company leanness is enviable: no loans, no debt, and no lines of credit. “We owe no money,” they say.
Palombo’s background is in publishing and product development, and he handles the marketing of the methods. McCarthy is a respected music educator and author who has been creating instructional products since 1986 – and has produced over 150 VHS/DVDs over the years, plus a dozen books. Together they forged their experiences to, as Palombo says, “reinvent the way people learn music in the home.”
Rather than pine for the days of Eddie Van Halen and the guitar heroes, Rock House has their ear to the ground – and even the underground – for the emerging guitar heroes that exist for the current generation. “Beyond Steve Via/Yngwie Malmsteen and a hand full of others, a light bulb went on for us that there are scores of incredible guitar players from this new era. By engaging those players and creating DVDs with them, we really hit a home run.
“We have every important guitar player from this generation signed and doing products with Rock House.”
He understands some of the challenges with their products. “For those in our age group, late 40s or older, we don’t always understand who the new players are,” he says. “The music is not the metal we grew up with. But not learning about the new guitarist is a tremendous opportunity lost. The market hasn’t changed – kids still have their heroes. If storeowners can discover who the 16, 17, 18-year-olds are listening to, it’s a great advantage. A lot of these kids may not know who Joe Satriani is, but they know who Alexi Laiho is.”
Their rooster of artists include names that many of a certain age aren’t necessarily familiar with, but guys under 20 sure are: Laiho (Children of Bodom), Michael Paget (Bullet for My Valentine), Kiko Loureiro (ANGRA/Neural Code), Oli Herbert (All that Remains), Ravi Bhadriraju (Job for a Cowboy), Rusty Cooley (Outworld), among others, all have Rock House DVDs with their names on them. (He adds that there are things for the “older guys” as well — Vernon Reed [Living Color] of and Mike Gordon [Phish] are working with the company as well.)
“Guitar heroes always come from metal. That’s not going to change.”
Training the Artist
The success of Rock House products can be attributed in part that these are no celebrity vanity projects, but tightly scripted educationally sound products. “We’re presenting the artist in an instructional environment. The lessons have to be killer.
“Artists are put on notice from day one that they will have to go through a training process. When we’re signing an artist, we tell them up front that they need to be open to how we approach the educational aspect, and they need to let us do what we do. Even someone like Rusty Cooley, who is already an incredible teacher, goes through the training.”
There are several ways that the final Rock House DVD gets developed. Artists capable of writing their own program submit it to McCarthy, who guides them through it, talks technique, and shapes the final lesson plan through the training process. Other times, McCarthy will sit with them from the very beginning to write the program with them.
Palombo attributes their success to their staff – and a young one it is. Anthony Lawrence, a 20-year-old guitarist who works for them part time. “He’s an amazing guitar player and we’re lucky to have him working with us. He helps us keep our unique approach.” Also there’s Caitlin Kalafus, a 16-year-old drummer, guitarist and songwriter who was awarded 2007 NAMM’s “world’s fastest female drummer” honor.
Jim “Professor Jim” Rutkowski is another young player who brings to the Rock House table an impressive expertise in guitar theory, Palombo says.
Going forward, Palombo says they will continue to expand their catalog in 2010, including a few surprises. “We have a jazz course with Alex Skolnick, who is a famous heavy metal guitarist with Testament,” he says. “He’s developed a technique for taking classical metal songs from Kiss, Black Sabbath, [et cetera], and rearranging them as jazz pieces. It’ll show rock guitarist how they can expand their repertoire by understanding jazz, even if they don’t necessarily play it.” Also new titles by Paget and other or their signed artist are in the works.
“We’ll have a lot of new products, with tons of content. There’ll be lots of bonus stuff that increases value. That’s going to be a big push.” Also their Web site, which he says has almost 200,000 registered members now, will continue it’s sophisticated approach that engages customers before, during, and after they’ve bought one of their DVDs. “When you get a Rock House DVD, you register on our site, and then have access to all kinds of support that goes with the lessons,” Palombo explains.
He adds that the Rock House team is excited about the future with Hal Leonard. They really want to be part of what we do,” he says. “There’s a lot of opportunity to develop things together. It’s a team.”
Hal Leonard Builds a Bigger House with Rock House
Q&A with Hal Leonard’s Larry Morton
Hal Leonard continues to expand its offerings through acquisitions and partnerships with other publishers large and small. Recently they signed a deal with Premier Media Holdings which publishes Premier Guitar and Guitar Edge magazines; acquired Shawnee Press; and signed a distribution deal with Faber Publishing, just to name a few.
This past June, they formed a joint venture with Music Sales, where they gained exclusive distribution rights to their entire catalog – more than 6,500 titles. Rock House had a distribution deal with Music Sales and was wooed to continue on with Hal Leonard.
MMR: Rock House is known for its aggressive marketing – was that one of the things that attracted you to the company?
Larry Morton: We’ve long admired their guerilla-style marketing and promotions. For the future, we’re working with Rock House to develop a powerful ‘bricks-clicks’ marketing campaign to drive their online community of young musicians into music stores.
MMR: At first glance there seems to topics cover by Rock House products that are also covered by Hal Leonard.
LM: We cover some of the same musical topics, but in very different styles and approaches, so there is plenty of room in the market for both the Rock House and the Hal Leonard DVD catalogs. Working together, we can make the overall DVD musical instructional market bigger for everybody.
MMR: What does the Hal Leonard/Rock House partnership hold for the future?
LM: We’ve already formed a great working relationship with John and Joe, so we’ll be coordinating ideas for new products and working together to build the business.
The Rock House brand is very strong and has a lot potential to grow within the music instructional realm. We’re certain that we’ll have growth opportunities in the coming years.