The Art of Music Retail

Jaimie Blackman • September 2019The Last Word • August 30, 2019

Photo by 200 Degrees

Andy Warhol, a leading figure in pop art, was fascinated with, and excelled at, business. He believed that business was the highest form of art. All art embodies the intangible nature of life.

Readers of this column understand very well what the intangible qualities of music are: rhythm, melody, harmony, tone color, dynamics, and structure. These intangible qualities capture the quality of human feelings – the key drivers of the music experience.

The intangibles of your business are your people. Behind every number on your balance sheet are people. Behind every business pain-point are people. Behind the successful execution of every strategic goal are people. Your unique competitive edge is based on the talent of your people and relationships. Often the stresses of life are people-related.

Like music intangibles, business intangibles are reflected in your workers, customers, and informal partnerships like vendor relationships. The big idea is the recognition that music’s intangible qualities can be used as the bridge to help you better communicate the business intangibles you want to grow.

To prove this point, I created a keynote artist talk for business owners. This past June, I was invited to present my talk titled “Engage your clients by changing your song” for a group of 1,000 financial professionals. Using my guitar as the music bridge to communicate business concepts, I was able to create a powerful connection to the audience as evidenced by the applause.

So, what’s the challenge? People. Employees have the solutions you’re looking for and they know it. Some employees will hold employers as an emotional hostage. Employees will use this as a tactic to protect themselves from criticism and to avoid change that will expose their shortfalls. A sure-fire clue is when you ask a direct question and you get back an indirect answer. Communication comes to a full coda!

Metaphors allow business owners to communicate by showing instead of telling. In a metaphor, one subject is implied to be another, so as to draw a comparison between their similarities.

As an example, here are some conversation starters. Remember: the idea is to kick start a conversation about change, without putting workers on the defensive. The Music | Bridge themes are your personal notes to improvise on.

  • Are our customers growing tired of our Melody? Music | Business Bridge: MELODY as Customers. The primary focus of a song is the melody. All intangible qualities serve the melody. The primary focus of your business is your customers. No customers, no business. Put a group of people together, and often the drama begins. Power, money, status – you name it. This negative narrative is a distraction and has nothing to do with improving customer experience. Change the song, and re-tune.
  • Can our talent, (workers), orchestrate a different Harmonic texture? Music | Business Bridge: HARMONY as Workers. Your talent. Your mission is to support the needs of your customers. Dissonance can be a way to create innovative resolutions. Creating engaged workers who are all singing the same song.
  • Can we freshen up our messaging by changing our Tone Color? Music | Business Bridge: TONE COLOR as branding. Tone color conveys meaning. A melody first played by piano will convey a very different feeling when played by ten violins. Start with updating your visual identity.
  • Are we putting enough emphasis on our Structure, the company internal process, by sharing our knowledge or do we need to make some changes? Music | Business Bridge: STRUCTURE as Sharing. Musical structure enables musicians to more easily share music. In business, the sharing of knowledge is facilitated through enabling technology like a customer relationship manager (CRM) where key information on customers, and worker process, are memorialized. Focusing on structure is essential for owner work/life balance. If all the knowledge is locked up in the owner’s head, what is the business selling when the owner wants to exit?

As the owner I’m really stressed out. What can I do to restore my work/life balance? Music | Business Bridge: RHYTHM as Wellness. Stress is caused when the tempo of life – physical, spiritual, and financial health – exceeds our comfort level. Without ownership and worker wellness, the organization comes to a grinding coda. Be aware of your rhythm and make adjustments as required.

Now that you have a conversational framework to discuss your intangibles, how do you measure your progress? Intangibles are not more difficult to measure than your tangibles. It does require a different process which includes surveys and questionnaires. In my MMR March 2019 column, I offered practical tips for measuring Intangibles. If you skipped the issue, now’s a good time to review it.

Why is this so important, and why am I so obsessed with intangibles? Because intangible qualities are the only item that is genuinely unique about your MI business. The same guitar, audio system, or violin can be purchased for about the same price anywhere. Music metaphors can help owners and key managers to communicate something that is less understood, like business intangibles, with something that is more understood, like music intangibles. It’s a way to ignite new ideas and provide a venue for team-building – key to mastering the art of music retail.

Jaimie Blackman – a former music educator & retailer– is a financial advisor and succession planner. Blackman helps music retailers accelerate business value now through team building, coaching & mentoring. Blackman is a frequent speaker at NAMM’s Idea Center. Visit jaimieblackman.com to preview his value- creation tools and to subscribe to Unlocking the Wealth newsletter and webinars. Follow Jaimie on twitter @jaimieblackman.


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