“World Music” is one of those gloriously vague, all-inclusive musical genres (even more so than jazz – although plenty of World Music artists simultaneously get pegged with the “jazz” label, but I digress…). The percussion instruments associated with such a wide-ranging style are, not surprisingly, numerous (to say the least): djembe, ashiko, bodhran, cajons, conga, tabla, bongos, doumbek – the list goes on, and on, and on…
A few years ago, we’d been hearing anecdotal evidence that World Music drums offered dealers a unique advantage in that many were small and comparatively inexpensive, and there had been an up-tick in popularity for those styles of music. However, we’d never really attempted to gather data to explore this product segment.
To address that, MMR recently polled over 100 MI operations either dealing exclusively in drums and percussion, or with sizable drum departments, to find out what’s really happening out there in the world of, well, World Music…
Sales of percussion instruments specific to the “World Music” genre are…
“Smaller hand drums are the ones that are doing best. We’re not selling many low-end congas these days. Mostly single drums.”
David Randall, Field of Dreams
“They are slow. The only consistent seller for me is cajons.”
Shane Kinney, Drum Center of Portsmouth
What price points are doing best?
“People are buying expensive djembes, but inexpensive accessories.”
Ed Hartman, The Drum Exchange
William Trull, Toby’s TNT Music
What one specific World Music percussion instrument is selling best for your business?
Do you plan to expand or contract your store’s involvement in this category in the coming year?
“I would love to explore ethnic [percussion], including tabla, djembe, Middle-Eastern, et cetera instruments.”
Dan Dunlop, Rocket Music
“As the market increases, we will adjust accordingly.”
Mitchel Banks, Don Banks Music
What trends have you been noticing with respect to World Music drums and percussion?
“A lot of new hand percussion products are being released.”
David St. John, Gard’s Music, LLP
“Portable drums – congas, bongos – are more popular now.”
Danya Nestor, Endless Music
“The major issue for us is the lack of MAP pricing and enforcement with the larger manufacturers… With such a swing in prices the consumer may be confused and less than confident with their purchase.”
Fred Mulvey, Ethnic Musical Instruments
“Cajons and djembes are dominating this market. The ease of use and portability of these instruments make them a great candidate for anyone wanting to learn an instrument. You do not need years of study, but instead in many cases can sit right down and play. They’re fun, therapeutic, medicinal: there is something for everyone in this category right now.”
Glenn Noyes, Guitar Center
Westlake Village, Calif.
“Colorful percussion is selling well to the hobbyist player right now. They play for fun and like to show it.”
John Spinelli, Seminole Music & Sound
“A few years ago these were often impulse sales. Purchases are now more considered.”
Keith Giles, Giles’ Alaska Music One
Survey & Market Review
Director of Percussion Marketing
KMCMusicorp (Latin Percussion, Toca Percussion)
While the demand for certain Latin and Cuban-style instruments has stabilized in recent years, the larger “World Percussion” market, as a whole, is on the verge of a very significant expansion. The appetite for portable, lightweight hand percussion instruments has grown steadily and both LP and Toca have steered product development to satisfy these needs.
There has been a great demand for LP to broaden its offering of Brazillian instruments. Currently, there is a void in the market for high-quality, authentic sounding Brazillian instruments and LP is taking steps to fill that void with a much wider variety of traditional Brazillian instruments that have a truly authentic sound. For Toca, the drum circle market has exploded and the company has been right there, developing a variety of versatile African-inspired hand drums in a range of price points.
LP released its new Americana Cajon Series earlier this year and the response has been phenomenal. The product is manufactured just a mile away from the company’s headquarters in Garfield, N.J. which allows us to constantly monitor the quality of the product and work closely and more efficiently with the factory on the development of new models. Toca’s lightweight Freestyle II Djembes have proven to be just what the growing drum circle market has been looking for. They’re lightweight and weatherproof, making them easy to carry to indoor or outdoor community drumming events.
I think there is tremendous opportunity for the dealer that is willing to look outside of their traditional customer base and explore new markets with an arsenal of hand drums. At all grade levels, educators are desperately searching for affordable and durable percussion solutions for students. Lightweight, portable drums like Toca’s new 6 lb, PVC, stackable Flex Drum are perfect drums for educators. The health and wellness market has discovered that hand drumming is an effective tool for both mental and physical therapy, making healthcare providers a market worthy of investigation. The boom in the cajon market clearly indicates that drum set players are looking for more versatile instruments for “unplugged” gigs. So pitching a high quality cajon with a wide range of sound to regular drum set customers is a great sales opportunity.
We’re noticing more and more that when it comes to hand drums, one of the greatest sales opportunities is with non-percussionists. The percussion-curious store visitor that is probably too intimidated to sit down behind a drum set and play is probably far more willing to try their hand at playing a djembe. A sharp and attentive sales associate who can offer a little education and words of encouragement is very likely to convert a browser into a buyer. By acknowledging and understanding this “intimidation factor,” a dealer with an effective on-line presence can reach out to a huge pool of consumers that might never be willing to set foot inside a drum shop. A non-invasive, light-handed presentation to Internet consumers could very well produce hand drum purchases that might never have occurred otherwise.
A trend we’re seeing – obviously a result of the ongoing economic downturn – is that a number of percussion manufacturers have focused on selling introductory level instruments. But what’s interesting to us is that we are also seeing a considerable spike in our sales of high-end instruments. Although the market, overall, does seem to be contracting, there is clearly a customer segment that sees the benefit in buying quality and craftsmanship. They’re willing to move up to the next level and Gon Bops, as a manufacturer, has benefited from this.
Cajons are hot sellers for us and for the percussion market, in general. They have been top-selling instruments for a number of years now, and this trend shows no sign of letting up in the foreseeable future. New shapes, sizes, and interpretations of this classic instrument are being developed all the time, as are new cajon accessories.
Hand percussion instruments allow dealers to offer customers quality instruments at very reasonable prices. They make great gifts for musicians of all stripes – not just drummers and percussionists. In this economy, they’re a great way for parents to get their kids into music without breaking the bank. For this very reason, Gon Bops has definitely concentrated on offering very high quality hand percussion at the best possible price. Getting back to cajons–like hand percussion, they’re very appealing to musicians of all genres, not just World or Latin music. And the price is definitely right.
Cajon accessories seem to be a trend right now. We’re seeing more and more of these as cajons continue to sell well. Also, boutique cajons are something we’re seeing plenty of. It’s a trend we like; we have a very fine cajon shop in Peru where we’ve been producing boutique cajons long before the term even existed!
With the economy in its current state, there is a general decline in the market for World Percussion instruments. Companies in the industry are constantly introducing new products, however, and customers who are unaccustomed to certain ethnic instruments may choose to stick with the trends and what they know. Right now, cajons and djembes are still the most popular hand percussion instruments.
World Percussion instruments typically come at an affordable price, and are extremely versatile and easy to travel with. They take up little space, are very light, and don’t require any type of set-up. Dealers are able to stock a wider variety of product within a limited amount of floor space. For Tycoon, having our own factory allows us the luxury of being able to guarantee our customers innovative, high quality products coupled with extremely competitive price points.
With the economy in its current state, everyone is looking for the best value deal. Consumers are always searching for something that is low maintenance and will work in a variety of settings: on stage, in a recording studio, at a drum circle, et cetera, and products that come at a low cost combined with high quality.
VP of Sales
World Music Percussion has been, and probably will always be, in a constant state of expansion and contraction. We have seen big surges in World Percussion with the shifts and changes to pop culture and the music of the times. In just recent memory, Paul Simon’s Graceland in 1987 certainly had a lot to do with bringing African rhythms and sounds to popular music and sales of various African-origin instruments exploded. Djembes found their way into all kinds of music and added a unique voice to music. Djembes are still viable today for their unique qualities and low technical demands and learning curve. This took it outside the need for a drummer/ percussionist or musical expertise. Besides congas and bongos prior, the djembe had mass appeal and expanded the pie of music makers by attracting hobbyist and professionals alike. The hobbyists purchased djembes to play casually or just for fun and they looked “cool.” The professionals gained a tremendous and portable instrument that was an addition to their regular setup and often moved the drummer/percussionist or djembe playing friend up close and personal with players in what became the acoustic “Un-Plugged” music trend years later.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, Miami Sound Machine brought Cuban and Latin rhythms to the forefront of music and the percussionist was a feature player. This saw a rise in sales of everything from timbales to various shakers, tambourines, congas, bongos, et cetera… This was certainly a time of growth for the music and percussion industry. After a slight contraction in rhythmic percussion-driven music, Ricky Martin burst on the scene at the 1999 Grammys. Percussion and World music was back again, front and center. That same year, Santana released Supernatural and conga and bongo sales exploded! The years that followed saw World Percussion infiltrate the once underground culture and music of a huge influx of jam bands where improvisation and various rhythms rule the flow of the music. I am sure Tito Puente, during the height of his career in the 1950s, or when Santana first hit the scene in the ’60s, had a similar effect on the popularity of such percussion instruments. World Percussion expands and contracts but never completely goes away. The same goes for sales of percussive instruments. It is always important to capture the shifts and trends in music. When it comes to World Percussion, the current direction is driven by several key factors. Popular instruments like cajons offer a very wide appeal. First, they are simple in design, they are relatively simple to play. They offer a wide range of cost from very affordable to custom art. They are easy to understand and they are portable. Bongos and djembes both had the same features that earned similar mass appeal and sales.
Cajons have had a tremendous product run with little slowdown in sight. It meets all the best attributes of a successful product. They have a simple design, are simple to play and simple to transport. Not to mention, there is a wide selection and wide price range of cajons. These have been great for many retailers due to their small footprint, low investment with maximum return, and high turn.
World Music Drums and Percussion are great assets to any music retailer. The vast array of product types and choices and price points allow them the ability to customize an offering that best suits their current customers or bring in customers that may not have gone to their store. Drum circles, “Mommy and Me Classes,” and Music Therapy are just a few ways to expand past just the MI customer and reach new customers. The many uses and adaptability across all styles of music and rhythmic uses makes World Percussion a huge help in finding ways to get more involved in your community and surrounding areas.
Whether you are a full line store or a specialty shop, percussion can have a healthy and prosperous return on your investment. Certainly every drum shop needs a healthy assortment of percussion because a drummer may buy one or possibly two kits, but the configuration and set-up typically remains the same. A vast array of percussive instruments gives new voices to every drummer and are always a definite must for every set player to explore cowbell, wood or tone block, drum set tambourine and shakers. The next steps could be a djembe, congas or cajon.
Even a guitar shop would do well with percussion. As previously mentioned, acoustic or unplugged performances are a welcome opportunity for instruments like congas, djembes, and cajons. A great way to sell more cajons is to put them in the acoustic guitar rooms. You will find players sitting on them to demo guitars and even the most simplistic rhythmic pattern tapped out while demoing a guitar creates interest and the inevitable response… “That’s cool – what is it?” Shakers, tambourines, and maracas have long been steady purchases by guitar players and singers. Percussion does not have to be a huge investment, but it can yield high returns and margins while offering cool and often unique products.
The cajon tends to be the largest and longest continuing trend. Although we continue to wait for the balloon to burst, it continues to grow. Early sales of cajons were driven by price point. As with the drum set, market prices for sets were going lower and lower. Now, potentially due to the duration of the cajons’ popularity, we are seeing willingness for more unique and better-crafted products, as well as higher accepted price points. As people get more comfortable, they are upgrading to better made and better sounding products. As with everything there is a direct correlation to price vs. performance. The product segment will continue to grow and contract and various products will come in and out of favor, but there will always be a market for World Percussion instruments. Cajons will step back some day and give way to the next, latest and greatest percussion instrument. We may not know what that is, but I can only guess that it already exists, is easy to play, portable, unique, and initially price sensitive. I’m thinking it is not going to be the carillon. If anyone has the inside track on the next big percussion product, let me know: my crystal ball is out of warranty. It is the responsibility of the manufacturers and retailers to keep percussion top of mind based on its wide appeal and ability reach past our MI boundaries and create new players, enthusiast and hobbyist. Percussion instruments are the special sauce in the mix.