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DANSR’s Michael Skinner Celebrates 15 Years

Victoria Wasylak • AnniversaryApril 2019 • April 4, 2019

You could call DANSR the gateway to good wind instrument playing. Between the four business partners, the Illinois-based company has ties to Jones Double Reeds, Denis Wick, and Vandoren, working with each brand on their mouthpieces and navigating the trends and what consumers need – even to the point of helping launch Vandoren’s JUNO beginner reeds for clarinet and saxophone in 2013.

“I’ve longed for Vandoren-made, entry-level reeds for a very long time,” shared DANSR president Michael Skinner. “It was a big deal when we were able to deliver it!”

The launch perfectly represents DANSR’s role with the brands, offering their services as the “eyes and ears” of the market segment, and it’s that very kind of attention that pushed the company through tough economic times circa 2008. Founded in 2004, DANSR gears up for their 15th anniversary this year, also preparing for the launch of their new counter cubes, rotating POP displays that can feature reeds on a limited amount of counter space.

President and partner Michael Skinner recently reflected on the company’s milestones with MMR – read on to learn more about how DANSR weathered the recession of 2008, mouthpiece trends, and the company’s plans for the upcoming year.

Starting with the basics – can you tell me a brief history of DANSR? What were some major milestones for the company?

Bill Gray, Greg Grieme, and I founded DANSR in 2004 as a result of the D’Addario purchase of Rico reeds. We added Denis Wick products in 2006 and purchased Jones Double Reeds in 2011 and at that point added our fourth partner, Gary Winder. As far as other milestones, we’re blessed to work with incredible companies who manufacture some of the best products on the market. We try every day to bring their message of quality and integrity to the dealers and consumers who rely on these products to make a living.

What kind of musical background do you, yourself, have?

I have a bachelor’s degree in music education from Berklee College of Music and a master’s in composition from the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida. I have taught all levels of music and played professionally in New York for 10 years. In those 10 years, I’ve played pretty much every style of music in pretty much every context.

What kind of work, feedback, and research do you do in a typical day?

In my 15th year, I’m really overseeing the young and very talented staff we have in place. My focus is on the marketing and new product area while Gary Winder, our executive vice president of sales and marketing, oversees the sales area for the company. Every day is different in this business, as most people will tell you. One day you’re researching and testing prototypes and the next day you’re designing communication materials for that product’s roll-out. It changes based on the needs of our customers and they cycle of the year.

As the “eyes and ears” of your partners in the market, how specifically do you craft feedback for both Vandoren and Denis Wick? Does your relationship with Denis Wick differ from your relationship with Vandoren?

Communication is a very important item with any company. Both Gary and I speak frequently with Bernard Van Doren, the president of Vandoren, and Emmanuel Tonnelier, the general manager on all things Vandoren. It could be discussions of new products for the market to any type of conversation on production techniques, time lines, marketing concepts – all of the above. Gary has monthly meetings with the Denis Wick staff that cover pretty much the same areas. Our meetings with Jones Double Reeds are weekly. We have accomplished a great deal in retooling Jones. I have to say, we’ve done some revolutionary things with production. Jake Swartz, our general manager, has totally changed the definition of “manufactured oboe or bassoon reed.” It’s both amazing and gratifying to see what we’re doing with Jones.

What trends have you noticed in the reed/mouthpiece/ligature markets recently? What are your expectations for 2019?

That’s kind of a difficult question and reeds have a lot to do with where you live. We’ve seen a desire for darker sounding mouthpieces in certain parts of the country, while in other regions musicians are asking for something with a little more edge. That’s why the Vandoren mouthpiece line is so large. We’re filling the needs of as many musicians as we can. Our job will be to continue to innovate with products we see as important to service the needs of the market.

In your press release about your anniversary, you mention “weathering the storm” of the 2008 recession. What did you folks do as a company to get by during that time? What was that like?

As with every company in the music industry, 2008 was a big challenge. In difficult times like 2008, it is important to have the very best partners in the business. With them, you can work on a strategy to weather the storm, which is what we did. We are also fortunate to be in the education industry which, unlike the combo business, is a little more insulated from the severe circumstances we experienced in 2008. Still, it was challenging. I’m proud to say we made it through without laying off anyone on our staff.

Thus far, what has been the most challenging part of your time at DANSR? What about the most rewarding?

2008 was certainly the most challenging. I am blessed to be part a very strong partner group. In that partner group, we have a former banker, a former music store owner, a highly experienced big corporation thinker, and a musician/teacher. The combined experience between the four of us provides a great sounding board for ideas and a way to develop strategy after seeing whatever issue we’re confronting from all directions. We’ve had many rewarding experiences with Vandoren and Denis Wick as partners. For me, I think the launch of JUNO reeds in 2013 was the biggest.

The VandoJam is still going strong – what can you tell our readers about the significance of that annual NAMM event?

The VandoJam started in Paris almost 20 years ago. It still takes place monthly at the famous Sunset Club in Paris. When we started DANSR, we loved the idea of doing a jam on the same evening every month in New York, which is what we did. When the NAMM Show was in Austin, we started the VandoJam at NAMM at a small club and it was a huge success. We had many musicians, but more importantly we had a lot of dealers at the jam enjoying the music. It was such a great hang that we knew we had to continue. For many of us old musicians, jam sessions were where we learned the music and connected with fellow musicians. It’s no different now at the VandoJam. It’s a place at the NAMM Show where every year you can hear the best jazz of the show plus indulge yourself in one of the best dealer reunions of the week.

Do you have any other plans or news for 2019 you’d like to share with our readers?

Probably the biggest thing for us in 2019 is the launch of our new counter cubes. These POP devices are compact and can sit on a counter without hogging too much space. It can be outfitted with JUNO reeds or traditional reeds. Our three cards fit nicely on the display which makes quick impulse busy very easy. We realize that counter space is at a premium in stores, but this cube can be highly profitable for its footprint.

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