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The Lost Apprentice Model

Menzie Pittman • October 2019Small Business Matters • October 4, 2019

Photo via Lukas from Pexels

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”

(“The Wizard of Oz”)

When it comes to understanding the marketplace, everyone has an opinion regarding the way customer sales and customer relationships happen as they do. Small box stores or “mom and pop” businesses point to the web as the culprit of interruption. Granted, no one can deny the impact that the successful, large web retailers have had on smaller local stores. But for a minute, let’s focus on the reality of customer comprehension – that is what has really changed. I am going to call it “the lost apprentice model.”

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

(“Cool Hand Luke”)

The Lost Apprentice Model

To begin, the value system of customers has changed dramatically. In today’s marketplace the customer values “search,” and “price” more reverently than the value of specialized knowledge from music entrepreneurs. Because that is the case, the customers no longer prioritize knowledge as the most important capital. That means that they don’t know what they don’t know.

I had a musician come to me for a small sound system. Easy, right? Thinking himself an astute shopper, he had researched a few quality products, although he knew little about how to operate any of the systems he had researched! This customer’s perception about price was also peculiar because he was willing to pay more for the “status” of brand name even though he wanted to incur the least amount of expense on the purchase.

Those two mindsets are at odds with each other. He asked me if I would beat an online price. Keep in mind this customer knew very little about the functionality of any of his product choices. However, he did identify with quality, and I applaud that.

Where the story takes a left turn for me, and illustrates today’s “smartphone mentality” is the point where he put little value in understanding that we, as a music business/music education center, are available to help him comprehend the functionality of any of his product choices.

A friend of mine refers to this reality as “The Lost Apprentice Model.” What consumers aren’t grasping is the value of the apprentice model. The music store’s best capital is its ability to support those fledgling students who are just learning about any product or craft.

However, we, as service providers, refuse to allow that apprentice model to die. So now, we must circle back, and find ways to educate the customer with the understanding that we offer a variety of personalized services. That’s right, I’m talking about the good, old fashioned apprentice model. So, with a backflip or two, and a bit of standing on my head, I helped this young musician understand that real value lies in our relationships and our specialized knowledge – The Lost Apprentice Model.

“You can’t handle the truth!”

(“A Few Good Men”)

The big question is, “How lost is ‘The Lost Apprentice Model?’” Today, the consumer has an ever-increasingly erroneous value system when it comes to learning anything. More than ever, the consumer values convenience over quality of information and knowledge. It’s a paperback Cliff Notes, digital Shmoop reality. I will bet you didn’t know there was a Shmoop – I didn’t either. But in 1958 Cliff Notes was the only choice short-cut for students. Today a plethora of choices exist that provide shortcuts to the entire learning experience.

Are short-cuts good or otherwise? Not to make a judgment, but let’s think about that query. If you play music, you know there are two types of music: good, and the other type. With quality education, or quality of anything, good remains a constant.

That’s always the case, right? So, when someone tells you that YouTube is a good source of information, they are not completely wrong. Unfortunately, they’re not completely right either.

The same goes with shiny box education. I’m sure there are a few good teachers in those shiny systems. But I don’t have any proof of that. However, I have a ton of proof to the contrary. For example, just the other day, I had a customer come in whose son needed guitar supplies. He told me about his son’s experience in a shiny box system, and I was flummoxed because he also told me he his son was a complete beginner who had never played.

They flattered this young student by immediately placing him in their coveted “house band.” How can you put a kid in a leadership position in a “house band” when he hasn’t even played yet? That’s only marketing – no education in sight. Sadly, that student will become exasperated quickly because he has been led to believe that his placement was based on musical ability.

“Nobody is going to rob us going down the mountain; we have got no money going down the mountain.”

(“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”)

In Closing

Obviously, everything in life cycles. Vinyl is back… and last Christmas my kid asked for a typewriter. Studio engineers are re-embracing institutions like the FAME Recording Studio in Memphis, and RCA Studio A in Nashville. Bands are asking to play live in the studio because they are striving for a live capture of their music. So, the answer to the riddle is this: The Lost Apprentice Model is only lost until someone finds it.

“After all, tomorrow is another day!”

(“Gone with the Wind”)

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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