In the Key of Sales

Building Solid Connections with Young, Local Musicians

[fa icon="calendar"] May 1, 2018 10:00:00 AM / by Matt Jacoby

Building Solid Connections with Young, Local Musicians

Put yourself in the shoes of a teenage drummer who’s interested in buying new gear for gigs. Would this young musician enjoy visiting your store? What about your website? What’s the vibe of your business from their point of view?

While it’s tempting to brush off the opinions of teenage musicians, their impressions are quite literally the future of your business. Fail to connect with them early, and they’ll seek other outlets online. Welcome them with open arms, and you’ll find lifetime customers.


Music Retail Transformation

Let’s look at some intriguing research that proves this point. Eric Garland, executive director of the trend-tracking company Competitive Futures, studied the future of music retail. He teamed up with a small independent retailer called Larry’s Music in Wooster, Ohio, which stirred up controversy recently by refusing to sell Fender guitars over philosophical differences.

Together, they did a deep analysis of music retail trends and the root causes behind them. Here are some major trends they identified:

  • Big box music retailers are actually shrinking in square footage, despite rumors to the contrary.
  • People who used to be music catalogue readers are now web-first consumers.
  • Kids and millennials avoid music retailers that have poor/nonexistent mobile sites.
  • Music store customers view themselves as very informed based on internet research; however much of their supposed knowledge is incorrect.
  • Independent stores can beat big retailers - even those that offer lower prices - by developing personal relationships, especially with younger people.
  • Social media and e-commerce solutions are the future of music retail.

If the conclusions listed above surprise you, it’s time to get comfortable with them. Experts like Garland say music retail is facing a “radical future” where traditional assumptions about consumers no longer hold true.

As a generation, Millennials are much larger than the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers many music retailers still rely on. By 2020, Millennials will control $24 trillion dollars in wealth and are already abandoning most of the top retailers of the past 30 years.

But here’s the silver lining: The outlook is good for smaller and independent music retailers. Gen Xers, and especially Millennials, are bored with the bland offerings from high-volume websites and big box stores. They’re open to new retail experiences that don’t feel cookie-cutter. And they prefer spending money at local businesses that seem aligned with their values.


What Does Your Business Value?

In fact, values are a key part of developing relationships with Millennials and young Gen Xers. Research shows that they want their dollars to go to companies with a clear mission and ethical behavior.

So here are some questions to ask yourself about your music business:

  • What, exactly, is our mission in the music community?
  • Do young and local musicians understand our vision?
  • Do young people think we’re an ethical company?
  • How well do we promote our values?

It might be time to develop a new mission statement for your business that is more focused on the values of younger generations: local sourcing, education, support, diversity, authenticity, charity, volunteerism, social justice, healthy communities.


Deeper and More Genuine Connections

In practice, all of this means that your music business may need to take big strides toward actively welcoming younger people. Show them that you’re totally different from boring big box stores. Remind them why independent music retailers are important.

Ideas for connecting with a new generation:

Promote charitable giving. Make sure your advertisements, website, and in-store displays highlight your company’s values beyond making a profit, like charitable giving and support for the local community.

Choose ethical and local vendors. Help your customers understand where your instruments and supplies come from, and why they’re good choices. For example, what kind of wood is in a violin? Does it come from an ethical source? Does the purchase support an independent craftsman?

Offer space for free gigs. Show your support and respect for the struggling musicians in your community. Create a space for local performers to do free gigs at your store, while customers browse as usual.

Become a first-gig destination. Make your store the place for every young performer’s first gig and promote it heavily on social media. Assist nervous performers with coaching, lessons, webinars, and other mutually beneficial services.

Discover young superstars. Treat young and local performers like superstars. Take photos and display them on a prominent wall in the store. Share their achievements on social media. Let the world see your support for them.

Stay connected with parents and grandparents, because they tend to invest in kids’ lessons, instruments, and gear well beyond their teenage years. Research shows people in their 20s and 30s are still heavily dependent on parents and grandparents for financial support.

Host events. Music retailers have huge opportunity to enhance the customer experience through events like new band nights, meet-the-instrument seminars, celebrity chats, and live-streamed performances.

Make and share tons of videos. Young people love video, and that’s good news for music retailers. Lots of everyday events at a music store are YouTube-worthy: receiving a shipment of new instruments, tuning a high-end violin, seeing what a local rock star buys, enjoying impromptu jam sessions. Guitar retailers are having great success with demos and 360-degree imagery.

Fully pursue online sales. If young people sense that your web/mobile site is an afterthought, it’s an instant turn-off. Invest in a mobile-first e-commerce site and make every online sale as special as an in-store sale. Trade publications estimate that 20 to 50% of independent music retail sales are now online-only interactions.

Promote oddities. Successful music shops embrace their odd side, because it sets them apart from their mass-appeal competitors. Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan, posts videos about “oddities and rarities.” Many shops put one or two motivated employees in charge of creating quirky videos about strange instruments and cutting-edge techniques.

Have a sense of humor. Allow the human side of your business to shine through in advertisements, social media posts, and in-store interactions. Young people avoid stuffy, snobby brands. Research shows humor on social media is especially effective in highly-competitive and saturated industries like music retail.

Ready for even more music retail tips like these? Download Octave Media’s ebook How To Reach New Music Retail Audiences. It’s packed with tips for music retailers in search of new customers and revenue.

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Topics: Music Merchant Marketing, NAMM

Matt Jacoby

Written by Matt Jacoby

Matt is the Chief Percussion Officer and VP of Cadence Strategy at Octave Media. When he's not helping music merchants develop an automated system to increase website sales, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two little men.