Monday, September 8, 2008

Best Buy = Students

We recently learned that Best Buy the
International retailer of consumer electronics and entertainment software is announcing a massive new initiative that sets aside store space for an array of musical instruments and gear in dozens of its stores nationwide. The Billboard Magazine story (dated June 2008) goes on to say that their selection will include 'everything from accessories — picks, sheet music and cases — to high-end basses, guitars, keyboards and DJ equipment. Instruments will be housed in separate rooms and the company also plans to offer group music lessons'.

I know this may come as a shock, but I say 'bring it on'! It's just one more testament to the fact that music and music retailing is a multi-billion dollar industry. It's no wonder why a major player who provides other forms of 'entertainment' like video game software, TV's and computers is willing to gamble on the appeal and power of music. The success of Guitar Hero has made this industry stand up and take notice of this potential (even though one may have little to do with the other). So this idea is not surprising to me at all, in fact, the trend had already begun at Costco and Wal-Mart some years ago.

What struck me most about this article was Best Buy's 'Oh, by the way... we're giving music lessons in stores too' attitude, added pretty much as an afterthought. This is where they will fall short or completely miss the boat. Not because it cannot be done well, but because it cannot be done well to any successful degree in a setting such as a Best Buy with decisions being made by people who have little if any experience in music or music education. They underestimate the talent and skill needed to teach (let alone teach music). It is not the same skill set as say, assembling a flat-screen tv or troubleshooting a cell phone.

And, likewise, this is where music educators and the profession as a whole all too often fall short. We have for far too long hung our hat on academia despite years if not decades of dwindling support. At the same time, large corporations have begun to notice the popularity and massive revenue potential that music holds. Why is there such a disconnect for music educators in this area? Why have we not tapped in to the same huge market that Best Buy sees?

I wish Best Buy great success in selling millions of instruments to young adults, mid-lifers and seniors the world over. I hope they plan to add band and orchestra instruments to the mix as well. Then they can turn all of those people loose to seek professional music education online or in their own communities. And if music educators are smart, they will work together to take advantage of this situation and begin the process of adding a major component to their profession. One that is financially robust, is in touch with the corporate world, and resides outside of academia in the private sector. Bring it on!


Anonymous said...

Interesting. Music lessons at Best Buy could go in several directions. It could be financially successful but could be the musical and educational equivalent of Cocoa Puffs. Intelligent consumers may think, "Why the heck would I want to send my kid to Best Buy for music lessons?" and the whole thing could fall apart. On the other hand, they may use their corporate capital to recruit excellent music teachers and create something more powerful than most musicians could create on their own. I highly doubt it'll go in that latter direction, however. said...

Well said Steve, I imagine your instincts are correct. No amount of 'corporate capital' will allow Best Buy to find the teachers that make in-store lessons worthwhile to either their students or themselves as a business venture. The same question that 'intelligent consumers' might ask can be asked by teachers 'why would I want to teach music in a Best Buy?'.

What Bets Buy could (and should) do is use their resources (both financial and technological) to promote new ideas in music education. The more they promote music education, the more instruments they will sell.