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Anyone who reads MMR’s “Small Business Matters” already knows that I believe a special and unique character trait about the music industry is that our industry produces the best storytellers. After all, we are songwriters, creators, and expressionists.

Who better to tell a captivating story than a musician?

Truthfully, some of the most entertaining storytellers I’ve ever met were in music retail.

Growing up in the Washington Metropolitan area, better known as the DMV, I had the amazing opportunity of being exposed to the only music retailer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Chuck Levin. He was one of the very best and certainly one of the most entertaining storytellers around. He kept you entertained while you shopped, and if he called you into his office, you knew you were anointed as a musician. I cut my teeth on Chuck as well as a few other great regional retailers. And like most musicians in the DMV, we have grown up knowing that we are good and honest storytellers. It is our way of interacting with our customers and fellow musicians.

“The New Way” May Not Always Be Better

In today’s market we have graduated to big boxes, chains, and franchises, and a philosophy where ethics have become inconvenient. Enter the customer, and of course, the rest of the story.

Imagine being a parent and having a daughter who shows an interest in learning to play piano. We all know in today’s world the first thing all parents do is their research. We all go on line scanning reviews, and we also talk to neighbors to determine whether anyone has a good recommendation for music instruction. If you fail the recommendation test, you won’t last long in any faction of the music business. You must prove your worth every day and every time. There is never an exception to this rule… EVER !

So, to continue our story: the phone rings, our staff considers the customer’s request, reviews with him all possible considerations, and then after doing his due diligence, the customer decides if we and our educators are a good fit for his child. The appointment is set, the child is excited, and we look forward to the day when the student begins lessons.

Houston, We Have a Problem

The lesson day arrives, but oddly the student is a no show. As a good business, we also do our own due diligence and at the 10-minute mark, we call the student’s family. The father answers and is surprised by our news because the family’s nanny left over thirty minutes ago and should be at our music store by now. The father obviously becomes very concerned and informs us that he will call back once he has figured out why his daughter and the nanny have missed the appointment.

So Here’s Your First Plot Twist

A new competitor has decided to open in town, and the nanny, who is young and from a foreign country, has driven the student to the wrong business. The father calls us back, obviously relieved that his daughter is fine, and he informs us that he will make sure to have the nanny drive his daughter to the right location the next week.

As he hangs up, he makes mention that he found it odd that the other store had not redirected the nanny to where they were supposed to go. Clearly, the student was not on the schedule at the other place, and that business knew that. The father was completely put off by the dishonesty.

Fast Forward to Week Number Two: Rinse, Wash, Repeat

Week two. The nanny strikes again. It might be hard to believe, but copy and paste everything you just read, word for word. However, this time the father is completely livid, and so he makes the decision to have the grandfather drive the student on week three. He adamantly verbalizes that he is disgusted by the lack of integrity from our competitor trying to coerce his family into their system, and he intends to let people know it.

Week three arrives, Granddad does his part, and finally the music student is where the parent intends her to be. But there is an unintended consequence and plot twist again; all anybody wants to talk about is what has been going on. As the grandfather sits in our lobby, we share laughter about the absurdity of what has been happening , and he is a very charming storyteller. Now this tale has become a local story that has gone viral, so it is repeated often.

A Good Story has Intrigue, Drama, and Generally Resolves at the End, and a Good Storyteller Engages his Audience

The true fall out from this story is that it will linger for a long time because so many people are now sharing it. In a small town the ramifications of dishonesty echo like Carnegie Hall. I love telling stories, and anyone who walks in either of our stores knows that. In our towns we chat. The best asset any independent music store has is its charm. You only have a few weapons against a box or a franchise, and your best weapon is integrity.

The moral of the story: Never sacrifice integrity for a quick dollar because once you do, you can never get it back. We all know because Rod Stewart told us long ago, “Every Picture Tells a Story, Don’t It?”

Menzie Pittman is the owner and director of education at Contemporary Music Center in Virginia (CMC). Following a performance and teaching career spanning more than 32 years, he founded CMC in 1989 and continues to perform, teach, and oversee daily operations. He has 50 years of musical experience as a drummer and drum instructor. Menzie is a frequent speaker at NAMM’s Idea Center, and a freelance writer for MMR’s “Small Business Matters” column.



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