Monday, November 14, 2011

Music Education + Business = Win Win

Last week we were fortunate enough to be contacted by Marty Albertson the former CEO and current non-executive Chairman of Guitar Center.  We decided to do a little research on him before our call and learned that his is a very cool story.

He started as a clerk and rose through the ranks all the way to CEO.  He weathered through sales of the company, buy-outs of partners, and even led the company from public to private status (and back again?).  He champions a 'slow-growth' strategy that he believes will benefit Guitar Center over the long run. This is all good stuff.

Marty's initial e-mail to us ended with a very interesting sentence that caught me just a tad off-guard.  He said "I have spent a great deal of time over the past several years investing in the music ed world we depend on. I would look forward to seeing your program."

I'm not sure why I was surprised as it makes so much sense.  Head of a company that sells instruments and gear is interested in music education success... so they can sell more instruments and gear! It's crystal clear and seems to be sound business logic as well (no pun intended). We were humbled that Marty contacted us and were pleasantly surprised to learn that he wanted to talk about music education with us 'outsiders'. But you see, as a businessman and passionate music fan, he understands the importance of music education on many levels.

For example, we are all familiar with the benefits of music education; how students of the arts continually outperform non-art peers on the SAT, how cognitive reasoning is elevated, and  and how playing music can instill in students "the good habits of mind that can last a lifetime" among others.  These are noble and just reasons for the existence of foundations like VH1-s Save the Music and The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation (of which Marty is a board member) but they are not the only reasons.

The basic premise that 'more music makers = more music SALES' is... in my humble opinion, no less of a reason to 'save the music' and for music educators to become more business savvy. This can and should be a win-win situation.  

I know that each time a shop makes an instrument sale, there is a potential lesson for a teacher (whether it's here at DSM or online at DLP)  and perhaps another potential member for a local band or orchestra program. And I know too that if the teacher does his job well, he will make a lifelong ambassador and purchaser of music and its related products or services. That's a Win-Win. 

I suppose it was the word 'depend' in Marty's initial e-mail that struck me the most. I wondered to myself if music educators understood this?...Then I chuckled at how silly that sounded. Of course they don't.  Music educators are trained to sight sing, read scores, transpose, and fix the occasionally bent octave key. These are wonderful attributes in the band room, not so useful in the real world.  We are trained to do one thing, and do it well. But in most cases, a music ed. major's 'business hat' is most often only worn when dealing with local shops that provide (hopefully) quality rental instruments to their band and orchestra programs.  

This leads to a disconnect between school music programs and the outside world, including the business world (and in many cases, the music world - but that's another story for another time).  In short, this disconnect is a real and palpable one. If you don't believe me, read the account of our trip to the MENC (now called NAfME) National Conference or see for yourself by attending a NAMM show and making a note of who the majority of music merchandisers are courting. You might also try listening in on any of the national round-table discussions on music education and see how often they address 'the other 80%'. 

So I believe it's time for a change.  Let's try to...

...encourage future music educators to be more entrepreneurial minded by making business training part of their basic required curriculum. with businesses to leverage the current interest in adult music education and start reaching that portion of 'the other 80%'.

...use technology to make music educators more accessible and to reach more people of all ages and all levels of ability interested in learning music.

And finally, let's not be afraid to become more entrepreneurial in spirit and to work with businesses of all kinds for a 'slow-growth' approach to creating more music makers. It can be good for everyone's business - a true win-win.