“Flat is the new up,” was emblazoned on T-shirts worn at the National Association of Music Merchants’ tradeshow held recently in Orange County.
“There’s a lot of gloom and doom out there right now, and it’s not that our industry hasn’t been impacted, but it’s still doing well,” said Joe Lamond, president of the Carlsbad-based association, which staged the annual four-day event in Anaheim earlier this month.
While attendance of 85,799 was down 3 percent from last year, Lamond says the number of merchants and manufacturers represented was on par with last year, but individual companies sent fewer people.
He won’t have U.S. musical product’s shipment figures for 2008 until later this summer, but expectations are that they’ll be flat to slightly down from $7 billion in 2007.
However, he says sales of guitars did well, and sales of school band instruments were up 4 percent to 5 percent last year compared with 2007.
“Even though we’re seeing a big deficit in schools’ budgets, schools are still supporting music programs,” he added. “Acoustic piano sales are not good now, and that has a lot to do with housing and the stock market.”
Electric keyboard sales were strong, and indications are that sheet music and song book sales were also up, he says.
“People are actively making more and more music,” he said.
The boomer generation, pardon the pun, can be thanked for that.
“The whole baby boomer market is a growth area for us,” Lamond said.
Music As Hobby
“They’re returning to music as a hobby, not because they have expectations of a record deal or playing at Carnegie Hall, but just relaxing and maybe playing with friends.”
Walk by Old Time Music which specializes in string instruments on University Avenue in North Park almost any evening and one is likely to hear a jam session.
“We have quite a demand for jam sessions from people who have musical instruments in common or styles of music, and they come in here and play any given night of the week,” said store Manager Tom Gwinn.
He didn’t give revenue figures for 2008, but said the store “is holding its own,” and he expects growth of 5 percent to 10 percent in 2009.
Old Time Music offers lessons and has studios, show rooms and three areas devoted to repairing instruments.
Among the string instruments sold, guitars are most in demand. “Guitars are huge,” Gwinn said.
Sandy Page, co-owner of Page Drums Music in Spring Valley, says the company transitioned from being a retailer and manufacturer to building custom, high-end drum kits about six months ago. She also says that sales were down last year from the year before, but she didn’t cite figures.
The pace of orders varies. The company may have a month when it builds only one kit, and then the next month five orders might come in, she added.
A five-piece Page kit averages about $4,000.
“We have a small niche, but we’re still here,” she said.
Franc Uberti, who manages the Music Mart in Solana Beach, says sales dipped in 2008.
“We were down a little bit but we’re doing better than the rest of the retail sector,” Uberti said.
Repairing instruments comprises about 20 percent of his business, he added.
He says he doesn’t see any particular shopping trend aside from would-be musicians “trying to find themselves.”
“They start with an electric guitar or an acoustic guitar,” he said.
Yet those who could afford to buy high-end instruments are opting for less expensive ones these days.
“What’s taking a dive is high-end guitars. Even people who have money are not that quick to spend $3,000 on a guitar, so they spend $300 instead,” he said. “People are cautious now, and they’re concerned about resale values.”
Nonetheless, those “who do well in business feel that they ultimately want to be an artist as well,” Uberti said.
“The very rich want it all, and people who want it all want music in their life,” he said. “They want a very nice guitar, if for nothing else than to be associated with it.”
Professional musicians who make their dough depending on the crowds their bar gigs pull in and how many drinks are sold, play lesser quality instruments, he says.
“People who do it for a living can’t afford a $3,000 guitar,” he said. “They could play it better than someone else, but they’re not at that financial level. However, they take good care of the instruments they have and it works for them.”