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Show Report: Embracing the Content Creator Mentality at RPMDA 2017

by Victoria Wasylak • in
  • Show Report
• Created: June 14, 2017

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It’s always tough to top a major anniversary celebration, but the 2017 Retail Print Music Dealer’s Association gathering did its very best, assembling 49 dealer companies and 36 commercial companies to discuss the present and future of the print music industry.

Held in Atlanta, Georgia, the 41st annual event drew 169 registrations for the four-day event on April 26-29. Gear Fisher, president of Alfred Music, started the festivities by addressing the uncomfortable reality of the industry: print is not used in the same way that it used to be. The spin he provided on the situation, however, shines a new perspective of the 21st century digital conundrum.

“From my view, we’re a content creator,” he said. “The delivery mechanism, without a doubt, is changing.”

To comment on the current state of the print industry, Fisher likened the situation to the new music lessons he sought for his daughter. When it was time for instrument demo night in his community, Amazon wasn’t there, but his local dealer was.

While Fisher noted that retailers cannot control money, he emphasized that can control engagement, which often leads to future sales. Unlike past years, where customers simply bought from the nearest retailer by default, the Internet has stripped dealers of that “local advantage,” but they can get it back with community involvement and engagement. He cited statistics that demonstrate a 1-2% decline in retail every year.

“I believe print and interactive will coexist in a balanced approach to helping people learn, teach, and play music,” he added.

In one of the convention’s many breakout sessions, Amy Larkin, who works in purchasing for West Music, demonstrated ways to get non-print staff excited about selling print music. She noted that combo salespeople and small commission salespeople often have little knowledge or interest in selling print music. While books often make a great add-on or accessory with sales, some employees need an extra push to see why print music is important in the digital age.

Because much print music is available for free (albeit illegally) online, many musicians assume that they can look it up through sites like Ultimate Guitar. In reality, many of these tabs have errors from the person who transcribed and uploaded it, meaning that the player will either have to keep playing it incorrectly, or completely re-learn the song. The time that having the proper music saves people makes them more likely to invest in print music. The fact that much of the tabs online are hard to decipher doesn’t help, either.

In addition, Larkin suggested asking about a customer’s musical tastes when working with them in a store – not only will this help to make a bond with the customer and point you in the right direction for which sheet music to suggest, it also shows you what instrument they might be interested in learning next (a whole new line of sales altogether).

Dr. Sigrun Jantzen of G. Henle Verlag presented a breakout session on the history and importance of urtext sheet music, a staple of many print retailers. Urtext, roughly translated to ‘original text’ in English, refers to a piece of music the exact way that a composer meant it to be played and printed. Musicologists draw from primary documents like sketches and engraver’s copies to analyze and transcribe a piece of music – often from a composer like Bach or Chopin – and write it without additions to the pages. Often, these are seen as “pure” editions of compositions.

Dr. Jantzen broke down the complex and cultural history of urtext editions for print retailers to understand why musicians might want urtext in particular.

Activities over the course of the four-day convention included a tour of J.W. Pepper, an opening cocktail party for both newcomers and old friends, and a preliminary trip to the aquarium. Ron Manus, chief business development officer of Alfred Music, was awarded the prestigious Dorothy Award at the convention’s final banquet.

The 2018 RPMDA Convention will take place in Minneapolis at the Radisson Mall of America Hotel from April 25-28.

Voices from the Showroom Floor

 “I think the attendance is quite good, and I know that it is a struggle to keep up with this small convention, and everybody thinks about how to keep it alive and how to make it more worthwhile for the people to come and benefit of coming. I think it will change, but I think it’s very important that it will keep on going, that publishers and dealers can exchange and talk about the business. Print is essential. It will not go away for many, many years, so there’s a need to talk.”

“I don’t see anything really that really can replace print. That’s why we think it will kind of stay there for a long time to be books, it will be printed material, which gives you the best use of music. Certainly the technology will add on, will come and supplement things. As you already see, we have a new piano method. It teaches the basics that the children need to learn, but these days you also have to have other things which help the students to stay interested. So we add videos and audio, and on the Internet, we have additional resources to give pupils to fill out. The more interaction you can give children these days, to not only have the lessons, but also have fun doing things related to the lessons, is important today, because certainly many distractions from learning an instrument. You need somehow to keep their interest and their enjoyment, so it’s important to have many more things than the past for these children.”

Bernhard Mueller, Schott Music

“I think the thing about our convention every single year is that the board is really committed to making sure we move with the times, all the time. Every single convention is different than the last. We analyze exactly what our dealers and the publishers need, and we make sure that we have sessions or something that will help them with that, because in the world of print, things are changing so fast – it’s just like any other industry, so we really need to be on top of that and make sure that we have something for everybody, from buyers, to the people who are publishing the books. We also have a really exciting tour this year at J.W. Pepper. We always have some kind of tour so people can go and see an example of how a business is being run, so that’s another one of the cool things about this year.”

“We have to think of what we do as we are selling content, so the delivery system is what changes, and what that is, exactly, is a mystery to everybody. We pay attention to it every year. That’s what so great about a convention like this, is how else are you going to sit down and see what everybody is doing and what is the next step? It’s like a mystery to everybody. Print is definitely not going away, it’s doing very well. People will want the print music book, but also the ease of having it in their iPad one day, and they might want apps that help train them to use this stuff. We as publishers and as dealers will have to get into that whole world – it’s not just about selling a book anymore.”

Christie Smith, Alfred Music

“There’s a lot of change in the industry in terms of students that are coming up now are really well-acquainted with technology in a way that they never have been before. I know that we as a publisher have really tried to cater to that. We’re moving away from having CDs included with our books and moving towards MP3 downloads, I know that we have used part-by-part resources, accompaniment downloads, as well as recordings of our pieces. We have started doing score students for students themselves have been watching these videos and pieces that they’ve been playing, and really getting involved in music that way. I think the big trend that we’re seeing in the music industry at this point is that students really want to use technology and we have to cater to that.”

Rachel L’Heureux, Carl Fischer

“This year, I’m always encouraged because it’s still very much a family gathering, but I’m just really encouraged at the amount of new and first-time attendees that we have here. I believe there’s about 29 first-time attendees, which is encouraging because that tells me that RPMDA’s mission, which is to help promote print music and help retailers that want to be more successful with print get a handle on it – it tells me that the stores are still very interested in print and interested in having their employees trained to make the most out of print as they can. That alone, even though it’s the first day into it, tells me that this convention is going to be a successful, because we’ve already got some many new people that are here, and it gives us the opportunity to share a lot with them.“

“There’s a lot of confusion about the industry. There’s still some people out there that love the physical presence of a magazine or a book, and for print, it’s a little bit different when it comes to music books. There’s a certain size that comes along with it, a visual aspect of it, which when you put it on a piano bench, or music stand because the print is a little bit bigger than what you can get currently at on an iPad. But with the iPad Pros, which are now 9” by 12”, there’s still just different advantages of how you use print. I would say the biggest challenge isn’t necessarily about the digital side, it’s about some of the change about how people are learning to play. We’re watching the direction of YouTube because that’s kind of helped a generation learn to play a musical instrument without ever having to go into a music store – and that’s one of our biggest concerns. As long as we can continue to partner with music retailers and service the customers that are walking through their door, and get them to be able to go from point A to point B in their musical career together in a partnership, the industry will survive and thrive.”

David Jahnke, Hal Leonard



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