Music Sales Group Redefines its Brands
“What we’ve done is maintain the integrity of these publishers’ work,” Steve Wilson, executive vice president, Business Development of Music Sales, says of the many companies that have been rounded up under the Music Sales banner in recent years. “We have made a strong effort to establish different publishing brands and imprints and have them maintain their own identity.” They have had a strong start, acquiring several well-known music publishing companies in the last few years: Boston Music, Bosworth, Wilhelm Hansen, Chester Music, Novello, and Shawnee Press, among others.
It’s a delicate balance that involves both respecting the integrity of the publisher’s history, and yet introducing the content to a new generation of users. For example, for Boston Music’s catalog, they took their best selling method Tune A Day and “updated them for the 21st Century,” Wilson says. These releases cover string, brass, piano, guitar and drums. The new versions come with correlating performance pieces on CDs and are also available with DVDs.
Also updated over the past two years is the extensive Hot Licks video library. “We took about 50 of those classic videos and updated them to DVDs,” Wilson explains. “But we didn’t just transfer them from one format to another; we updated each title to include special features such as real-time slow motion and looping – advanced features the original videos could not offer. We also remastered each title for dramatically improved video quality. There are new menus and new packaging and aggressive pricing – all are just $24.95. These are the greats in their prime: Eric Johnson, Joe Pass, John Entwhistle, and George Benson, to name just a few –and the student is getting guitar, bass, or drum master class-level instruction.”
Some of their company acquisitions aren’t as well known in the USA. European companies like Bosworth Music (Germany) and Unión Musical Ediciones (Spain) are now easier to get in the U.S. than ever before, and are included in their European Companies catalog available to dealers.
One of the biggest names to be brought under the Music Sales tent is Shawnee Press. “We’ve made good strides into expanding their offerings and creating products that are terrific gift items,” Wilson says. “Mark Cabaniss, president of Shawnee Press, has deftly handled all the progress and exciting new directions that Shawnee has taken.” While Shawnee was known first and foremost as a choral house, they have recently expanded into the wider market of sacred piano/vocal folios. “It’s growing. It’s a very positive area for us,” Wilson notes.
In addition, Music Sales has instituted an extensive Print On Demand (P.O.D.) program with the Chester/Novello back catalog. “We don’t want old publications that have had good market appeal but might not warrant large print runs to simply disappear. Thousands of items that were previously out of print are now available again as PODs. It is great for some of these more obscure but still wonderful pieces of music.”
As far as trends, Wilson has noticed an uptick in Spanish language products. While aimed primarily at Central and South America, they are selling increasingly well in the U.S. too, particularly in the Southeast, Southwest, California, and Texas. The Primer Nivel Instructional Series offers substantial book and CD combinations for instruments for individual or classroom usage. Another Spanish product is the Aprende Ya! series of 14 book and CD combinations priced specifically for those impulse budget-conscious buyers, and all retailing under $10. And, unlike other Spanish methods on the market, they didn’t just translate their English-language books, but created entirely new methods authored by native Spanish-speaking instructors. “You need to do it right,” states Wilson.
Wilson takes special pride in the company’s ability to package and market unique products. Their Guitar Deck series offers such titles as Blues Guitar Chord and Scale Deck, Acoustic Guitar Chord and Scale Deck, Rock Guitar Chord and Scale Deck, etc. These cardboard guitar neck-shaped products have illustrations that fan out and show where the fingers need to be. New acoustic and rock method decks will debut at NAMM. There’s a “First Aid” kit for electric and acoustic guitars and keyboard, too. These are metal lunchbox-style cases with strings, straps, string winder, cleaning cloth, chromatic electronic tuners, and troubleshooting DVDs. Another new series to debut at the Winter NAMM Show will be the I Can Play Music series that will be “easel-backed” books, basically creating a book that comes with a mini-music stand.
Music Sales also keeps the dealer in mind. “One thing we try to focus on is really well-designed displays. We offer a deluxe floor stand rack that holds $4,000 to $5,000 worth of retail products. Then we have a three-sided DVD rack that holds 180 DVDS. Dealers can select their own assortment of products for either.”
Like several other publishers, Music Sales is also doing some serious listening. They have developed a “clean trade” policy and reduced the dollar levels and number of units that qualify for their higher discounts. “We overhauled and simplified our New Issue program, which has eliminated surplus categories – Music Sales NI program is just 12 categories and Shawnee Press just 11. It’s a very flexible program that was needed, as a lot of dealers were telling our reps that they were feeling they were getting inundated with product. As business has become much tougher, they have naturally developed stronger opinions about what they want on their floor. Our experienced sales reps have latitude and are able to understand and work to come up with the best solution to a retailer’s situation.” Music Sales is also continuing their popular “Checkmate” program, which offers special once-a-month perks that a dealer can choose. One month it might be free freight, another might be extra dating or a box of the company’s best sellers free with an order. The Checkbooks will be available at NAMM.
Product-wise, they continue to expand popular series like their “Library of” products, which is now over 40 titles, and new piano offerings include a series of six titles co-branded under the Readers Digest name – each book coming with two full performance CDs. Their Gig Bag series also continues to be one of their bestsellers.
Despite all this, Wilson doesn’t want anyone to forget that they are still in the business of representing top pop music acts. “Right now we have AC/DC’s Black Ice releasing, which is a best-selling critically acclaimed album,” he says. “And we still have the popular artists we’ve always represented, such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon,” etc.
Wilson encourages retailers to consider their many titles from Omnibus Press, their book imprint, which includes hundreds of major rock biographies. “We recently have published timely bios on Amy Winehouse, Tom Waits, and Dolly Parton, and we have great new books on U2, Bob Dylan and many gift books.
“I know some retailers are reluctant to carry these coffee table books and musicians bio’s, but the cross-merchandising potential is there. With AC/DC’s Black Ice dealers can sell the Let There Be Rock AC/DC bio and the folio from the new album — all of which helps stimulate sales for the back catalog and create increased sales. For those retailers looking to expand their offerings, situations like this are great because there are a lot of fans who want everything related to the group that they can get their hands on.”