2016 Dealer of the Year - Menzie Pitman

Menzie Pittman founded Contemporary Music Center (CMC) with the single idea that making music should be enjoyable, creative, disciplined and expressive.

What is your musical background?

My first major exposure to music was through my father, who was a jazz saxophonist. My older brother and sister also surrounded me with music. My brother introduced me to James Brown, and my sister, who was deeply immersed in the 1960s folk scene, shared her love of The Kingston Trio with me. I loved Elvis and Little Richard, but when The Beatles hit, my life was changed forever.

What made you decide to get into performing?

It was The Beatles who truly made me want to become a musician; that was such an amazing time in the music industry. My brother was a drummer, so I just started fooling with his kit. I already kind of had the bug because when my dad’s band would rehearse in our home, and every neighbor would come by the house to listen—the excitement was absolutely infectious.

What sets you apart as a music dealer?

One simple ingredient that stands out about CMC is the quality of musicians/educators in the store. Every store has good teachers, but CMC has been fortunate to attract world-class musicians: we live by the universal principle of “like attracts like.” I deeply respect our staff and the inimitable job they do. Other secrets are the passion for what we do, our distinctive perspective of teaching performance to developing young musicians, and the matchless encouragement we present to students to play their instrument of choice.

What is your store known for in the community?

Throughout the years, we’ve become known for a few things. We’re known by area school music directors as the guys who can fix budding musicians’ problems, whether it’s a problem on brass instruments, strings, percussion or a problem with voice. We’re also known for helping young musicians learn about gear, while getting families into instruments that fit their needs and budget. We also have a great instrument rental program that the community has learned that it can depend on. We believe its our job to solve any musical problems that hinder someone's opportunity to advance as a musician...even something as simple as repairs.

What’s the most gratifying thing about what you do?

The most gratifying thing has been the opportunity to mentor both the young and old, those who may just need a different way of tapping into their creativity. The fact that I have been given that opportunity has been completely humbling and heartwarming.

Of what are you most proud?

I humorously look at success through a different lens; my greatest professional success is that I‘ve been able to make my living from the music business alone, whether that’s playing music, teaching music, owning CMC or writing about the music industry. But what I’m personally most proud of is that I’ve encouraged and helped thousands of people learn to reach their true potential. I have created an ecosystem that enables people of all ages to enjoy learning the creative process. It is kind of “old school” thinking, but for me it’s always been about human potential. I think success is being able to know that your life reflects to others the same qualities and values you hope to inspire in them. I see that in my daughter, and nothing makes me more proud than that.

How do you stay fresh and motivated?

It can be tricky, especially when the business you’re in is going through such peculiar gyrations. But my trick for staying fresh is a simple one: I always try to stay involved with something new creatively and take on projects that are different, uncomfortable, challenging and meaningful. I’m always pushing myself to reach new levels. Motivation is a little different. To stay motivated you have to be in tune with your personal mission. I make sure I take personal time and strive to remember that no single event de nes us. Music isn’t a job to me; it’s a way of life. My drumming is part of that, my teaching is part of that, CMC is the backbone of that, and now writing has become the latest part of that.

When Menzie Pittman added a performance venue, @4410, to his store in Haymarket, Virginia, he had no idea of the many ways in which this stage would benefit his business—including strengthening his relationship with the local high school by offering to let their student literary magazine hold fundraisers at Contemporary Music Center. The impromptu collaboration has proved to be beneficial for everyone involved.

What made you decide to build @4410 in your store?

In 2008, I decided to take on the challenge of organizing students into bands. Then in 2012, I decided to take our best group to Nashville to play at Tom Bedell’s Two Old Hippies. However, finding a place for a pre-performance was almost impossible. Seeing the group perform live in Nashville convinced me that, if I built the room, I could bring a better experience to our customers. I began madly researching the idea and went back to my roots and iconic venues of the 1970s like The Cellar Door and Blues Alley.

How has it changed your business to have venues in your store?

The room has changed the way customers perceive the business. Many stores incorporate recital rooms into their design, but I wanted an environment, “a hang,” for young musicians. I wanted an environment where kids knew each other’s names, and the culture helped push each one to be a better player.

How did you get involved in helping out the local school’s literary magazine?

I was asked by the literary arts teacher to speak to her classes on marketing. When I went there, she told me the school paid for the literary magazine by holding monthly open mic nights but it was a hassle to coordinate the event and equipment. I suggested they use @4410 and we’d let them keep the gate. We’re now in our second year and the event is always packed. And, as a result, we also have a new following of fans and customers.

Has it helped to keep the magazine afloat?

Every event we do together with the school pays for one complete issue to be published. The school keeps all the proceeds, and the kids even sell concessions on their night, keeping those profits as well.

Menzie’s Top Four Tips for Successful Sales and Marketing

  1. Think outside the box
  2. Strive to be creative in your promotions.
  3. Find ways to tie in your community.
  4. Always tie your store's brand and story with any promotions.