“ That whole sector is now treating instruments almost like cigars , wine , art — it ’ s very similar , right ?”
Joel remembers seeing the more recent craze with vintage instruments as collectors ’ items , and notes that it wasn ’ t something that was happening in his earlier days in the music business . Many musicians now have instruments that they play , taking them to gigs and out on the road , and others that don ’ t leave the house if they are played at all .
“ There ’ s so many things that are happening there that it ’ s not fair to say retailers are lagging ,” Joel says , concluding his point . “ I think some of the better ones and smaller ones are doing incredible work . They ’ re probably spending less than their local advertising budgets because they ’ ve optimized with digital .”
Joel says he grew up in retail , and has been working in music retail practically forever . He remembers the early days of his worlds colliding , with digital marketing becoming a valuable tool in the music retail sector . A key word that came up a lot was “ omnichannel .”
“ You have all of these players , you have musicians that are being endorsed , you have the manufacturers of the instruments – pedals , gear , what have you – and then you have the retailer and then you have a customer in the middle and if they ’ re building a really good ecosystem about it , it works really well ,” he explains . “ The truth of the matter is , is clearly when you ’ re the manufacturer , you have the ability to do assets in a different way than if you ’ re a small mom and pop in a small city somewhere in Manitoba , or what have you . But those assets are really powerful , and can be used , changed , added to , to make your experience that much better .”
Joel goes on to say that a local retailer can use these assets to promote a way to bring people in , to take lessons , or to pick up new gear , or an artist might come through on a tour and do some promotion in a store or venue .
“ So , the opportunities to me seem boundless and connected ,” he says . “ I think it would be unrealistic to expect the small mom and pop retailer to have the same type of ability to create assets and marketing as a manufacturer . But again , it inverts . Sometimes you have these massive stores and chains that are dealing with these independent pedal producers that do one or two pedals , and it ’ s really bespoke and niche . And they need those stores to carry that product to give it a chance — they ’ re doing it on consignment and that may not be the best way to make this work .”
Joel uses the expression “ the squeaky wheel gets the oil ” to illustrate the omnichannel perspective in effect , saying the bigger players can better monopolize the co-op marketing money , and that doesn ’ t necessarily trickle down to the smaller , independent stores . This is where a key piece of advice for these retailers comes in .
“ What the independent store does have is access to really interesting art , creativity , community , and culture , much like a library ,” he says . “ The local store can really highlight the players , the people who are there . If you look at Norman ’ s Rare Guitars , the biggest videos aren ’ t Post Malone being there , or Richie Sambora or Joe Bonamassa — it ’ s Jayden , the 12-year-old kid who picked up a ‘ 64 Strat .”
When something like this happens , and there are phone-equipped spectators nearby to see it , which there pretty much always are , retailers can use the potential of a viral video to highlight their community , as Joel says . The family gets excited , and the kids excited to share around the videos at school , and sometimes it gets picked up by the local news outlets , so where digital traffic is concerned , these spontaneous moments can be of great benefit to the stores .
“ There are ways in which you can use this stuff to bend it closer to your will ,” says Joel . “ And so , I feel like a comparison of those two is almost like an unfair , unreasonable comparison to try to make . What I would prefer is that if everybody obviously saw it as an ecosystem , that would be the true benefit .”
Joel uses a term , “ the great compression ,” for the digital transformation of e-commerce during the pandemic . What Joel saw happen during the pandemic is that people thought we needed to be digitally transformed and exist more in an online setting , yet he disagrees with this notion .
“ I mean , I started my digital marketing agency in 2000 , 22 years ago ,” he says . “ Actually , if I ’ m being fair , I started off in the search engine business in the late ‘ 90s . So , I would say 25-plus years , we have been seeing a speed of which consumer adoption and change has happened .”
At the beginning of the pandemic , Joel says , the fear that a new Great Depression was upon us was a very real thing . What happened instead , was the “ great compression ,” during which he believes two things fundamentally happened . One is amplification — and Joel notes that amplification is his industry verses ours mean different things — but what he means by amplification is that every business that wasn ’ t digitally enabled , it was very auditory to them that they weren ’ t .
“ If [ companies ] were suddenly rushing to open up Zoom accounts for their employees and teams , that ’ s a really good indicator that they had not been listening to everything that happened ,” he says . “ What you saw was small local retailers who typically would say , ‘ I don ’ t really need ecommerce , it ’ s a small little community , saying , ‘ Goddamn , I really need ecommerce ,’ because what happened was , they couldn ’ t let people in the store .”
Taking phone calls and emails could be confusing and difficult to do for small shops ,
so many opted to move their business to platforms like Shopify , and realized their businesses do not have to be massive corporations like Amazon to be digitally enabled , Joel says .
The second fundamental change , which Joel says was the bigger one , was distribution . Before the pandemic , age played a big factor in companies deciding if digital marketing was important or not , based on the age of their clientele . Yet during the pandemic , all of a sudden , everyone was connected online and spending much of their days operating in a virtual setting , like youth learning online , which Joel says was a nightmare in some ways .
“ If you were a small retailer , or medium-sized retailer , or a large retailer , suddenly your assertable market just went up multiples , now that everybody is connected , from little kids to the elderly ; you ’ ve got the entire population ,” he says . “ And again , in a firstworld problems scenario there , we can talk about Indigenous regions that don ’ t have connectivity or the digital divide , but that ’ s another story . But in terms of searchable markets , that happened . And then we saw more impressively , what we would refer to in our industry as 30 / 30 , that by 2030 , we assumed that 30 % of all commerce would be digital . We were at about sub 15 % prior to the pandemic , and then obviously , during the pandemic , we saw it hit numbers like 70 % for obvious reasons , and now it ’ s gone back down into the 30 % -ish world .”
He ’ s not saying the pandemic was a positive , but Joel does mention that there was a silver lining , in that it brought opportunities for businesses and retailers during that time to grow and expand their demographics and their customer base , and be engaged in the digital and mobile worlds .
“ So that ’ s a long way of explaining it — amplification and distribution ,” he says .
A second part to this article will be published in the next issue of Canadian Music Trade .
Manus Hopkins is the Assistant Editor of Canadian Music Trade .
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