Game-Changers: Larry Morton (The 2016 NAMM Show)

During “Breakfast of Champions” at the 2016 NAMM Show, Hal Leonard President Larry Morton discussed disruptive technologies with NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond. Morton weighed in on how his core business, print music, has evolved with digital technology. He also touched upon Hal Leonard’s distribution business and the importance of partnering with retailers.

Highlights from the interview:

How did you approach digital technology with print music?
This was 1997 when we decided to launch the industry’s first digital sheet music website with our dealers. It was kind of a shocking thing to do. 1997 was five years before iTunes.

We looked at it and said, ‘It’s a logical extension of who we are.’ I think what drove us is we never defined ourselves as a printer. We defined ourselves as people who create music and it happens to sit in a book. And today, the book is going strong, and we just finished a great year. So print’s here for a long time. But we felt there was an opportunity to do digital. 

And then the other part of it was Hal Leonard has a very strong, dealer-centric mentality. It’s embedded in all of us. And we’ve always partnered with our dealers. So early on, we said, ‘Let’s go to our dealers, and let’s figure out a way to do it.’ So that began the first digital retailer program and all kinds of affiliates. And today, for example, we have over 2,000 dealers using our digital retailer program in their stores and online.

A footnote to that. At the time we were doing it, [it was] dot-com time. The stock market’s going crazy. Venture capital’s throwing money at all these companies. And we were literally laughed at. ‘Why would you involve your dealers? That’s stupid. It’s all going to go online.’ We said, ‘Well, this is where we’re going.’ Those companies are all gone, and we’re still growing.

The idea of print music being a static product and sitting on a music stand, that’s not the case now.
No, it’s really evolved. And one of the things that we say to each other around Hal Leonard is be our own spoilers. You’ve got to be willing to say, ‘Hey, let’s do this because that’s where the market is going and then figure out how that works.’

More and more, we’re creating physical books with unique codes that can take the consumer to the cloud where they can get additional content and get access to all this material. It can be video, it can be audio tracks, it can be additional notation.

But the ticket to that universe is through your local store when you buy the book. So we’ve never just drawn circles and said, ‘That’s digital, that’s physical.’ We see it as one universe, and you have to find a way to make it available. 

How did Hal Leonard’s distribution model come about?
We were working closely with Sibelius music notation because we were making our music through it. And in talking with them, they were having trouble reaching storefronts. 

We realized that we touch so many storefronts: education dealers, rock ’n’ roll, MI gear—on and on. So it started with Sibelius notation. Then when Avid acquired Sibelius, we had the opportunity to take ProTools to the market. And then ProTools led to M-Audio, and then M-Audio led to Line 6.

The model is, if your company wants to focus purely on product development or market development, use Hal Leonard for this resource. And the recent kicker has been the Kickstarter world. Which is kind of funny because we got approached by a couple people and realized there’s this bubbling under of all these unique music products that are being funded through Kickstarter-type programs.

We actually bristle a little bit at being called a sheet music publisher because we never call ourselves that. We just don’t think of ourselves that way. We’re in the music-making business.