American Music & Sound: High Growth, High Expectations
Recent partnerships with Kurzweil, Fostex expand distributor’s offerings
“We absolutely plan to expand and grow,” Lynn Martin says emphatically. “There’s lots of room for more spots to be filled.”
Some might raise eyebrows at aggressive expansion during challenging times, but to Martin, president of American Music & Sound (AM&S), the time is now. The independent US distributor of pro audio, MI, and music creation products represents manufacturers including Allen & Heath, Hagstrom Guitars, Jay Turser Guitars, Nord Keyboards, Profile Stands & Tuners, Quik Lok Performance Structures, Turbosound, and Walden Guitars, among many others.
Most recently they invited both Kurzweil and Fostex under their tent, and the ink is still drying on a recent deal with Beyer Dynamic microphones.
Referring to the old adage that in times of adversity there’s the presentation of opportunity, Martin makes the case that the time is ripe for additional partnerships. For manufacturers, it’s a way to cut down overhead during a time for soft sales. “It’s very attractive for these companies to be able to shed fixed overhead expenses in this economy, and we’re able to offer them that opportunity. If they are paying rent on a warehouse, those expenses don’t decline with sales.” But this is no short-term fix: Confidant that AM&S will “wow” manufacturers with their service and benefits, “we fully anticipate that when the economy improves, they will stay on us.”
“American Music & Sound is a great partner for us,” said Kurzweil’s managing director of Kurzweil Global Operations, YT Kwon. “Their strength in the market will be the perfect platform for our products.”
“We have been partners with American Music & Sound for a number of years with our EtherSound install products,” Hiroyuki Makiura, president of Fostex, was quoted in their release. “AM&S has incredible leverage in the US market; we are looking forward to great success using their distribution network.”
Martin was a violinist who dabbled in rock and roll with the reverent instrument when he started working for music retailers in California, including Guitar Center and K&K Music. He drifted into production work for concerts and clubs, and then became a manufacturer’s rep before he landed a position at Harman Pro from 1991 until 1999. He left as executive vice president to become vice president of merchandising for Guitar Center.
He left all of that in 2002 to start American Music & Sound. “Basically our goal from the start was to become the largest music product distributor in the U.S.,” he says. Martin started humbly enough when he was awarded the rights to distribute Allen & Heath pro audio mixing consoles. He partnered with Montreal-based JAM Industries and today he is president of AM&S, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of JAM.
Today, AM&S has four centers of operation throughout North America: Customer and technical service, and IT are housed in the JAM’s HQ in Montreal; in the Memphis area, there’s a 155,000 square foot distribution center; in Farmingdale, N.Y. they have their sales management staff for all MI brands; and there’s their office in Agora, Calif., where sales, marketing, and product and brand development is handled. A total of nearly 75 employees handle the load of the fast growing company.
Martin is an ambitious guy who is not afraid to think big: “We aim to be a fully serving provider from transducer to transducer – guitar, to speaker; mic to PA; from music generation to music reproduction. That’s our goal.”
But despite AM&S’s aggressively adding manufacturers to their partnering roster, there is a vetting process. “We require that a manufacturer have significant brand equity already,” he explains. “A [new] product line would have to have pretty amazing new technology for us to be involved. The investment in brand building is generally too high, and we have too much mass to do that.
“We have certain criteria for whom we deal with and whom we don’t. A company has to have some revenue stream in the U.S., and it has to have solid brand equity.” Manufacturers also have to be comfortable with signing off on an exclusive deal with AM&S. It needs to be that way because of all that AM&S can offer which includes dealer relationships, brand development, and input on product development. Also included is trade show representation. For example, many who would only be able to afford a small space on the NAMM floor (and maybe not even that), now have the benefit of a booth with a more signage, traffic, and a sizeable footprint then they on their own could present.
“Another thing that we are able to provide as a distributor is that companies can take advantage of our objective market research,” he says. “As a third party distributor, we’re really able to communicate with them about the viability of various products because of our exposure and experience.”
Also big ideas.
Specifically with Kurzweil, Martin says that they want to dominate the North American market. Martin says he’s personally excited that Ray Kurzweil and Young Change R&D Institute (YCRDI) are working closing together to develop new products that are going to be competitive in the market place. “The bottom line is they have great new products and we’re looking to capitalize on the legacy and reputation of the company.” (Young Chang is the parent company of Kurzweil.)
Yet the company is also handling Nord Keyboards. Isn’t that an overlap if not downright conflict?
“Good question,” he says. “But what it really boils down to is a function of mass. Nord and Kurzweil serve similar audiences in some instances, but it wouldn’t be unusual to see a keyboardist with both in his or her rig. The Nord is definitively aimed at the performing musician and its dominance in that market is undeniable, while Kurzweil is creating products especially fitting for composition.” He adds that in this situation and others, they are separated in terms of creative and artist relationships.
Fostex is another company that he sees has having a great legacy that could benefit from the company’s ability to get their products exposure. He is looking forward to his team and theirs working to develop new product and capitalize on their previous success. Specifically, he sees Fostex regaining dominance with their studio and broadcast monitors, and multitrack recorders.
In other news, they are also going to be distributing Beyer Dynamic Mic. “One thing that we did when we took it over was hire [the previous] sales management staff. They’ve been in the field selling the mics, they are confident about the product, and understand its brand appeal. They are happy because we’re able to offer dealer data, sales data, and major supplier support that allows them to sell more effectively.”
As far as the consumer is concerned, AM&S is determined to stay out of the limelight.
“Our goal is to, within reason, remain transparent to the brands we represent,” Martin says. This involves a sleight of hand: Building up the brand in the minds of consumer, but not their own name. Yet they must brand themselves to retailers.
“For the retailer, we are a one stop shop. If you’re signed up as an AM&S dealer all that is required is a single page [agreement] and a signature. Despite all our brands, it’s still just one credit department, one customer service department, [et cetera]. So it makes it very easy for the retailer. They know who we are and the benefits of working with us without working with so many separate companies.”