The times they are a-changin’. As with the Bob Dylan song, the music lessons business isn’t what it was even five years ago. At 2016 Summer NAMM, Menzie Pittman of Contemporary Music Center, NAMM’s 2016 Dealer of the Year, shared strategies for music retailers to keep up with the times to build thriving lesson programs. “We have to consciously adjust with how things are changing,” he said.
Here are highlights. (Watch the video for the full session.)
Increased competition for potential music students. Pittman shared these trends and advised retailers with lesson programs to take note.
1. Franchises have entered the field of music education in a big way.
2. YouTube has become an accepted substitute for human interaction and can also be accessed 24/7/365.
3. Skype is now considered a legitimate lesson platform with private teachers.
4. Online subscriptions or tutorials cost less because there’s lower overhead.
5. Mobile lessons at a student’s home are more convenient for driving parents.
According to Pittman, some of these changes can be incorporated into your own lesson program.
Are you experienced? In a nod to Jimi Hendrix’s 1969 album, Pittman asked the audience to move into solution-based thinking and identify where their lessons experience is the strongest. Here are some ways he suggested directing your lesson program experience:
• Differentiate yourself. Pittman committed to having a performance venue, @4410, where students experience playing music. That shared experience connects them with musicians and enables both to be part of a greater story. “If you walk around The NAMM Show, you’ll see examples of products and companies that are using what makes them different to their advantage,” Pittman said.
• Reunite with your students and share their stories. Pittman shared examples of students in his program who have gone on to enjoy professional music careers, continued to play at @4410 and returned to the store when they’re in town.
• Create a unique performance opportunity. If it’s not possible in-store, get creative about performance opportunities. At @4410, students get to perform in a professional environment. “The most important thing about @4410 is that it gives students a chance to connect to live performance and hone their craft,” Pittman said. If you can show students what professional realities look, sound and feel like, you can connect with today’s students.
• Spread the message. Social media is a helpful platform, but you need a story—and your student players are that story. Pittman reiterated that teens post their stories on every social media platform, and Instagram is now No. 1 with teens.
• To survive in the new normal, you must engage in social mediums to connect with students and customers. Pittman provided a list of links and stated that his store has two people (Pittman is one of them) active in this area. Pittman’s also a columnist for Musical Merchandise Review magazine and shares his “Small Business Matters” column on social media.
Video is fast and easy. Pittman gave his take on how to best integrate video.
• Instagram has gone from a 15-second to a 1-minute feed. He said he doesn’t film videos longer than 30 seconds because he believes 60 seconds is too long to engage on Instagram.
• Your phone has photo and video capability. You can use it instantaneously for live videos.
• Link your phone to your social pages and the web. Tie your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and web page feeds together, so you can post in real time with one click.
• Facebook now has movies. Don’t overdo it.
• Content. This is your voice and can be the difference in how your business is perceived. Make it count, and share your vision through video content. Buddy up with folks, and share their story.
YouTube can expand your educational reach and open new avenues. Pittman stated that YouTube is a necessary vehicle.
• Tutorials and product demonstrations have a great role in driving traffic. It’s not about the number of likes and shares. It’s about doing it and improving as you go.
• YouTube brings an entirely different dimension to the lesson conversation. Determine if you want to get into YouTube as a channel for lessons or as a teaser to get people involved with your store and staff. “I want people to get curious about us on YouTube and come in the store,” Pittman said.
• YouTube offers new opportunities in subscription-based possibilities. This includes monetization options and YouTube partner programs. People will pay for big name-musicians.
• Publish content of the highest integrity. Don’t post junk. Try to come up with something that’s appropriately funny.
Skype: a different tool that requires a different approach. Like the smartphone, Skype is here to stay. Be aware of Skype as an option.
• Skype is better suited for some instruments than others (guitars).
• If you’re a superstar teacher, Skype seems more justified because you’re not local.
• Skype appears to be better suited for individuals than stores.
• The jury is still out on this medium for individual teaching, but Pittman said he believes it works well for clinics and general broadcast.
“Whatever you jump into, do it with character,” Pittman said. “If it’s natural to you, do it to death.”