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All the World’s a Stage: The Digital Stage Piano Market

Christian Wissmuller • April 2019Roundtable • April 8, 2019

Stage digital pianos differ from home digital consoles or portable digital keyboards – as you’d likely expect. Aside from differences in construction and appearance, these instruments need to provide the features that gigging players depend upon on-stage: additional editing functionality, real-time control, connectivity options, multiple zones, and an expanded library of sounds, among other things.

We recently touched base with six of the brands that define this market segment to learn about what developments are driving sales of stage pianos, what savvy MI retailers are doing to connect with customers and move units, and what’s on the horizon in the coming months.

For your brand, what are some current “hot” sellers in the stage digital piano realm?

Mike Martin: The hottest seller is the recently introduced Privia PX-S1000. Coming off its introduction at the Winter NAMM Show, pre-orders for this product have been stellar. This product is set to become our number-one product in the category thanks to its new sounds, style, and incredibly slim size.

James Sajeva: Korg has a number of entries in this segment and each really brings something different to the table. Among our hottest are Grandstage, SV-1, and D1. Grandstage incorporates our best action, along with sounds and engines from our Kronos Workstation, in a product with a very live-ready layout. Our long-running SV-1 Stage Vintage continues to perform very well also, thanks to its standout design, excellent sounds, and clear “left to right” sound editing layout. Finally, our newest entry, the D1, has been quickly increasing momentum since its launch mid-last year, and features the sounds and action from our Japanese-made LP-380 home digital in a super-slim body with a very straightforward interface.

 

 

Nate Tschetter: We just launched the new CP73 and CP88 stage pianos at Winter NAMM and they’re hitting the stores in March, 2019. We’ve totally revamped the sound, touch and design of our stage pianos with this new line; they drew a lot of crowds at NAMM and the feedback was extraordinary. We expect the new CPs to jump out as major competitors when they land on shelves.

Duane McDonald: The RD-2000 is Roland’s most popular stage piano and is one of the top-performing products for our company.

Alan Palmer: Our ES8 remains a favorite among pros and home hobbyists alike. It has an excellent key action, a self-contained sound system that’s self-sufficient for a small gig, like a restaurant – or smaller choir rehearsal – yet it’s only around 45 pounds, so it’s easy for one person to move. The MP11SE also remains a solid seller. With its wooden key hammer action, the same Grand Feel key action that has been used in our top of the line console digital pianos, there is really nothing else like it in the stage piano realm.

Antonio Ferranti: Dexibell’s current best-seller is the VIVO S7 Stage Piano, winner of numerous industry awards for stage piano of the year for its best-in-class tone, touch, and technology. At NAMM 2019, Dexibell announced the release of our VIVO S7 Pro Stage Piano (88-keys) as well as our VIVO S3 Pro Stage Piano (73-keys). Our new stage pianos include numerous premium hardware and software upgrades designed for the performing musician.

 

 

 

Are these types of consoles selling more, less, or level when compared to spring of 2018?

JS: Year over year, we are seeing an uptick in both unit sales and total dollars within the category. For us, it’s going in a very good direction.

AF: More – much more. Since our launch in North America, Dexibell sales have increased exponentially and consistently. In the first six weeks of 2019, Dexibell had already outsold the first quarter of 2018. So, as awareness of our best-in-class, handmade in Italy digital pianos, organs, and keyboards increases, our sales increase as well.

DM: Sales of Roland’s stage pianos have been consistently solid and we see demand increasing in this category.

AP: Sales have been steady for us and, in particular, the MP models are steady sellers year in, year out.

NT: Hard to say because Yamaha, a major manufacturer, is in the midst of a product transition, which always affects the market behavior of that product’s category. At the same time, given the considerable buzz at NAMM and lots of positive comments – people were literally lining up to get in to play a CP73 or CP88! – we expect that when the dust settles, not only Yamaha but the market in general will see renewed interest in this category, and that will bend the curve upward for stage pianos.

MM: We’re definitely seeing an increase overall compared to a year ago. Products like our PX-160 have been doing well thanks to some special offers we’ve had for our dealers this year. Our upper-end stage pianos like the PX-5S and PX-560 are still strong and steady sellers.

For dealers who are perhaps a little fuzzy on the distinction, what makes stage digital pianos different from home or studio digital pianos?

NT: Always a good question. Stage pianos tend to have features that solve the problems of people playing gigs: for example, aluminum construction for durability, balanced outputs for better noise resistance and direct hands-on control. They also tend not to have built-in speakers (although we do have a stage piano that does, the CP300) or things like built-in rhythms and metronomes. With stage pianos, the expectation is that it will be connected to some sort of speaker system, whether studio monitors in a recording situation or a PA in a live situation.

DM: The biggest distinction, aside from appearance, is that the stage piano often serves as the control hub for a live keyboard rig or studio control room. As such, it features things like multiple zones and external control options. It also has to cover many styles and musical genres and will typically offer many sounds beyond a few piano variations.

AP: The main differences are the cabinet design, features and portability. Stage digital pianos are designed to be more mobile than the typical home console pianos. They do not have furniture style cabinets, and usually have more sounds, real time control, and connectivity options than digital pianos intended for home use. Kawai offers two types of portable stage pianos in our lineup, the ES series and the MP series. The ES8 and ES110 models have excellent weighted hammer key actions, built-in speakers and optional matching stands which makes them suitable for both stage and home use. They have simplified user interfaces that are aimed at players who mainly play the internal sounds and do not need a wide range of features or extensive connectivity and real time control options. The MP11SE and MP7SE models do not have built-in speakers and are geared toward the more serious professional player with excellent weighted hammer key actions, a good selection of high quality piano and other sounds, expanded real time control capabilities and flexible audio and MIDI connectivity. In addition to great internal sounds both the MP11SE and MP7SE are powerful 4-zone MIDI controllers for DAW and VI instrument users so they are well suited for both stage and studio use.

MM: Our new products like the Privia PX-S1000 and PXS3000 blur the lines between products that are fit for home and home studio and those that are fit for the stage. The incredible design of PX-S series make them a very elegant addition to the home, but their portability and performance features make them ideal for the stage. They’re the slimmest form factor in the world for a digital piano and they weigh under 25 pounds, so they’re ideal for the gigging musician.

AF: Stage pianos are designed for the musician who is working with live stage or studio amplification, and who needs quick access to real-time controls over their sound. You’ll often see that stage pianos have additional onboard buttons, knobs, mixers, and dials so that a musician can make edits or changes to their sound on the fly, which is especially useful for quickly changing from soloing to blending in with the mix of a band or ensemble, as well as getting the sound right for a working venue, be it a coffeehouse, a church, a recording studio, an outdoor venue, or a stadium – anywhere you find your stage.

JS: By our definition, it’s an instrument that combines a pro action and a solid sound palate with a way of selecting and often visualizing those sounds “at the speed of live.” The vast majority of the functions are accessible on the front panel, or in some cases totally on-panel, with no screens/menus. It’s all to provide the instantaneousness many players want in a live setting. We also lay out many of our interfaces to correlate with how sounds would be set up. Case in point, the SV-1 panel begins on the left with the PRE section – EQ, preamp controls, and so on – and ends off on the right side with things like master effects for the finishing touches. Each parameter knob also lights up to show its position. It’s as if you can “see” the sound going through its signal path as you pan across the panel. On Grandstage there are, uniquely, two dedicated sound select knobs and accompanying OLED screens, so that you can literally see a split as it correlates to the keyboard, with nothing more than a quick glance. With both models, favorites buttons are right in the middle so that they are accessible to either available hand.

Who are the primary end-users for these types of digital pianos and what have you observed successful retailers doing to connect with those consumers?

AP: The key end-users for our stage pianos are typically piano-focused players who place a high priority on a digital piano with the most authentic piano touch and tone which is a strength of our entire digital piano lineup. Successful online retailers utilize social media and their websites to demonstrate our digital instruments with videos and great reviews etc. which customers can use to research their purchases. Successful brick and mortar retailers, in addition to providing good content through social media and their websites to create interest in our products and their stores, also stock the stage pianos so customers who want to play before they buy or customers who want to buy today and not wait for online shipping have those options.

AF: The end-users for digital stage pianos are working musicians. In any given month a working musician will find themselves performing at numerous and diverse live entertainment gigs: weddings, church, night clubs, restaurants, and the list goes on. What’s more, they will be working with a variety of ensembles and in various performance venues. They need a versatile instrument that gives them professional quality tone, and real-time controls over their performance – and with do-it-yourself portability that empowers the musician and keyboardist to say yes to as many opportunities as possible. As keyboardists, most of us are our own musician, manager, roadie, and sound engineer – and we need gear that is as powerful as it is portable.

DM: Because they combine high-quality piano sounds and actions with a wide variety of additional sounds and control features, stage pianos are very popular within the worship community. Successful dealers are creating accessory bundles specifically for houses of worship and using targeted marketing campaigns to reach them.

 

 

 

JS: The most effective method that dialed-in dealers use is simply to position these products as great pro gigging solutions, however possible. In-store, have these products in the synth area, as opposed to with or near home digitals or portables. Showing them on solid, portable one or two-tier stands and connected to a dedicated keyboard amps also helps clearly communicates their purpose, and creates the opportunity for add-on sales as well. Online, supporting the live positioning with bundles or add-on suggestions that speak to the live players works well – things like stands, hard-shell cases and gig bags, expression pedals, and so on.

NT: We think there are two kinds of customers for CP73 and CP88, and retailers benefit  from keeping them both in mind. The CP73 is for the gigging keyboardist because it has 73-key, weighted and balanced (all the keys are the same weight) action. This makes it compact and lightweight when moving from gig to gig and gives the player an action suited to playing a variety of instruments, from electric piano to acoustic piano to strings and other keyboard instruments. The CP88 is for the discerning pianist and features an 88-key, natural wood, triple sensor (for faster repeated notes), graded (lower keys have a heavier weight than the higher keys) action with synthetic ebony and ivory key tops. This gives a very realistic acoustic piano-focused experience when playing.

 

 

MM: This is a broad segment because so many people have aspirations to be doing more with their music. The needs are actually similar from beginners to professionals. Instruments need to inspire customers to play but also provide the flexibility to meet the demands of live performance. The touch of our new smart scaled hammer action and our new piano sounds engage the customers who play them; also having the connectivity and flexibility for stage gives them the confidence to pursue their musical dreams.

Any significant trends with respect to stage digital pianos that you’ve been noticing?

MM: Portability is what our customers have been demanding. Our Privia PX-S digital pianos finally give keyboard players the flexibility that guitarists have always enjoyed, to simply pick up their instrument and play it anywhere. Add the fact these can run on batteries you can grab the piano and be playing music with your friends in an instant. Connectivity with apps is also a category trend and that is why we’ve included a free app called “Chordana Play for Piano,” which helps beginners to learn to play and allows professionals to customize their piano experience.

 

AF: The trend is [towards] portability and versatility. So much is expected of today’s keyboard player. We must be our own keyboardist, manager, roadie, technician, and sound engineer. We keyboardists make our living by saying “yes” to as many gigs as possible. That means we find ourselves both soloing and blending in with the mix of a band or ensemble, as well as getting the sound right for diverse working venues, be it a coffeehouse, a church, a recording studio, an outdoor venue, or a stadium – we find our stage everywhere. So with this in mind, we have to have a digital stage keyboard or rig that is powerful, and highly portable. Part of Dexibell’s popularity has been the power and versatility of our technology and high-definition sound, which replaces the need for additional software and hardware, combined with the lightness and portability of our keyboards. This is the spirit behind our revolutionary VIVO S1 Stage Piano (68-keys with optional AA-battery power in an aluminum chassis) and backpack carrying case. The full power of Dexibell VIVO Stage Pianos in under 20 lbs. Even more-so our VIVO SX7 Sound Module – all the power of Dexibell stage pianos in a compact module that weighs less than five pounds. From our workshop and factory in Italy, we have launched a new renaissance of keyboard tone, touch, technology, and design.

DM: There has been a definite trend toward incorporating software, such as Apple MainStage, into live keyboard rigs. A stage piano such as the RD-2000 offers the ability to do that simply, using a single USB cable. This allows the artist to customize their sound using software instruments together with the onboard sounds, that also serve as a safety net should they experience any computer-related problems in a live situation.

AP: Stage pianos are increasingly being used as controllers for DAW and VI software, so providing excellent connectivity and controller functionality is becoming more important. At the lower price points, light weight and compact cabinet design is increasingly a priority for customers.

NT: Ease of use and intuitive user interface are key. With the CP73/88, the direct hands-on control really brings a lot of creative interactivity and invites the user to explore the sound. I think dealers will appreciate how easy CP is to use. With everything brought out to the front panel, it becomes easier to take customers through the instrument and getting their creative juices flowing.

Expectations for this market segment in the coming months?

AP: Growth. Through social media and platforms like You Tube people are increasingly exposed to music ranging from a person playing music in his home to professional artist videos, not to mention online lessons etc. which is creating renewed interest in playing music if only casually for fun. Many of these emerging users want portability but also want a high-quality instrument (not a toy) and a stage piano is often the perfect instrument for them.

JS: We see this segment as poised for continued growth in both the near and long term. Digital Stage Pianos are fantastic instruments for so many live, studio, and in-home applications; everything from intimate solo performances to pro-level tours; not to mention a lot of ideality for students and teachers. And with price points and ranging from around $300 up through $4,500, the category offers considerable options to a very wide group of players.

NT: This market favors “newness,” and any time a cool new product hits shelves it gives a shot in the arm to both the brand and the product category more generally. Based on the enthusiasm that has greeted the CP73 and CP88 thus far, in coming months we anticipate a surge of renewed interest in Yamaha stage pianos that will bring similar interest in stage pianos generally along with it.

MM: We’re expecting a great year on top of what is a very solid category. The new Privia PX-S series and the 15th anniversary of our first Privia already gives us reason to celebrate.

DM: As we enter into the prime live touring season, I expect you will continue to see stage pianos at the heart of keyboard rigs for many popular artists. Dealers that sell to backline companies will want to make sure they are well stocked on popular models like the RD-2000 to support these tours.

AF: Sales expectations for Dexibell in the near term are continued exponential growth. With the recent release of our flagship digital stage piano, the VIVO S9 Pro Stage Piano with its motorized drawbar faders, world-class piano and organ sound engines, hybrid wooden keys with aftertouch, backlit led controls for enhanced performance visuals, Bluetooth technology, and handmade craftsmanship – as well as the upcoming release of our VIVO S7 Pro and VIVO S3 Pro stage pianos – which join our VIVO S1 Portable Stage Piano and VIVO SX7 Sound Module, the future is very bright for Dexibell.

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