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I just downloaded Music Trades 2023 edition of The Music Industry Census data and wanted to share a summary of the most shocking data I have seen about the school music sector of the music industry in the 4 decades of my involvement. I also wanted to help those of you who care, understand WHY it matters that you become more involved RIGHT NOW in doing something about it- especially if you have a leadership role in an academic institution, community college or any any organization devoted to the growth of school music.

First off, just to be clear while not everything in the music industry is reported as doing poorly, at $8.7 billion in total industry shipments, 2022  represented the second biggest year in the music industry history– 8% higher than the pre COVID levels of 2019– And at the same time it also represents a 50- year low for the school music sector.

If you want to download the report you can go to Music Trades and purchase it, but for this post I am only focused on the school music sector which is comprised of woodwinds, brasswinds and string instruments and corresponding data.

According to the report, with a 10-year retail value cumulative average growth rate of just 1.7%,  2022 saw improvements of course over COVID lows as schools re-opened and music programs resumed.

  • Shipments of brasswinds advanced 7.4% to 202,000 units with a retail value of $266 million.
  • Woodwinds saw shipments advance 12.9% to 288,000 units with a retail value of $345.6 million.
  • String instruments shipments advanced 13.6% to 310,000 units with a retail value of $127.1 million.

Can you imagine having your paycheck over 10 year go up an average of just 1,7%???

Although the school market continued its post-COVID upswing in 2022, unit volumes were still 20% below 2017 levels, and the third lowest level in at least two decades. Product shortages accounted for part of the unit shortfall, but declining enrollments were also a factor. Sales volumes would most likely have been higher if it were not for production challenges in Europe, Asia, and the United Stated. Top manufacturers around the world continued struggling to ramp production up to pre-COVID levels in the face of a shortage of skilled labor and materials. Back orders remain at elevated levels.

Next 10 Years Offer More Bad News

With birth rates at a multi-decade low, and declining public school enrollment levels, the industry faces challenging conditions in the coming decade. Public school enrollment dropped by approximately 1.0 million students, or 2%, between 2018 and 2021, and is slated to drop another 5% in the next ten years. Instrument shipments have long moved in lock step with enrollment levels, suggesting limited opportunities for growth in the years ahead.

What this means is all those graduates from music programs that can’t get symphony jobs and go on to get advanced degrees, may have no one to teach or increased declining enrollment if they don’t find new ways to attract new audiences in their communities.

What Needs to Be Done To Turn This Around?

The health of our segment of the industry for EVERYONE: for educators, performers, universities and future students depends on the health of the manufactures who make the product and the retailers who sell and repair the instruments they make.

In order to accomplish this we need to develop referral programs, adjunct faculty, ad hoc programs, and new collaborations that support the creation of opportunities that will leverage the under-utilized skills of professional musicians who graduate from musical schools and are under employed . We need more community organizing professional musicians to be leaders at the grassroots levels in their communities being paid to be ambassadors for retails stores and manufactures who are skilled enough to promote instrumental music participation at all levels and can sell services and fix instruments in order to stop these horrific downward trends in the data I just shared. These are practical real world jobs that fit extremely well with performance and teaching music education and are natural extensions of both.

And yet everywhere I look I see NO PROGRAMS devoted to supporting the creation of these kinds of opportunities to help manufactures and dealers improve their trajectory. There are so many organizations who could participate in meaningful ways.

Instrument Specific Organizations

All of the woodwind instrument specific organizations run annual events that are sponsored by manufacturers and dealers. The International Clarinet Association, National Flute Association, North American Saxophone Alliance and The International Double Reed Association are all organizations that are largely- if not solely- reliant on the direct support of manufacturers and dealers for their projects and conferences. It would make a lot of sense for all of them to understand that they need to be working NOW to directly help their sponsors and exhibitors to ensure their health in practical results-oriented ways. This is an all year round project that can be measured through the creation of jobs and the community impact they all claim they want to make. Not only would they have tangible long term result to offer those who have financially supporting them through thick and thin, and often bailed them out, but they would have a stronger story to tell to recruit members.

Ironically, many of these organizations are focusing on diversity and equality initiatives and yet they cannot see that they themselves are not viewing their funders, sponsors, exhibitors needs in the same light as those of their members, making them seem hypocritical. One time sales conferences and opportunities at additional cost to pay for advertising don’t equal long term year round organizational initiatives in substance or outcomes. Music education and performance wouldn’t exist without music manufacturing and instrument repair. Let’s get real simple here, will everyone that goes to music school school in the future only study voice?  If it were not for the manufacturers who make beautiful instruments they need to sell to stay in business, and the retailers who sell them for them, there would be no one performing or teaching on them. This is a possibility in the future. This is the direction we are heading.

At the most basic level, there is a failure within these instrument specific organizations to recognize they need to be a part of turning this situation around and they need to fully embrace why.  By not doing so they are significantly compromising the long term health of the members and the health of the manufacturers and retailers that support them.  If these organizations truly love the instrument they represent, then their integrity should be to do what is best for the sake of preserving the instrument they love, the people who love it, and, the people who make it and sell it, first above all else and equally.

Educational Programs

While there are instrument repair programs in the field, there are few programs devoted to training for sales positions for retails stores or manufacturing positions. I personally have been working on this issue for decades. First at DePaul University where I built a Music Business Program trying to advance opportunities like these for musicians and now again through Lisa’s Clarinet Shop.

I have seen this problem coming for a long time. It has only been since the pandemic that musicians seem interested in earning money in new ways to stay in the industry. I am ready to do this! Are you? Let’s help them grow and help turn around the industry! I would love to partner up with other like minded organizations, educators, musicians who are ready to do something to help.

In our industry, The National Association of Musical Merchants offers sales training and other industry educational offerings to its members, but over the years there has been little to no focus from higher education, community colleges or even career coaches on the most basic forms of industry health- sales and repair training. These opportunities produce viable opportunities for graduates that are now desperately needed in the field and tangible results and metrics that prove value to the education delivered and are vital to industry success.

Career Coaches

In recent years, a plethora of educators and performers have sprung up in the market offering career and business skills coaching, with limited experience as entrepreneurs, in most cases.  If only they would start acting as job boards, trainers for franchises or job recruiters and offer tangible practice outcomes. If they would work with manufactures and retailers to help create opportunities in sales and repair to help them expand in communities where they are under represented and could be better served, this would be of value.

While its great to have a career coach to talk to, musicians would be better served having paid opportunities or building new skills that will pay and having a coach on the side to talk to instead of relying on these  coaches that have limited business building experience beyond traditional education and performance opportunities which in 10 years will be even less if we don’t help manufacturers build a stronger market through the growth of instrument sales, and quality repair. The trouble is none of these coaches have any industry experience to draw on so they are only able to sell what they know how to do which in this situation won’t help turn the industry around.

What We Are Doing To Help

At Lisa’s Clarinet Shop we are doing our part to try and address these industry challenges. We offer both a paid Ambassador Program for clarinet sales, (meaning if we hire you, we pay to train you and teach you what it means to serve people through sales- its actually amazingly fun!), as well as an online woodwind repair training program to help grow more clarinet, saxophone and flute repair technicians to support instrument manufacturers and retailers. This model is one that can be scaled into other instrumental areas but since we are a professional clarinet shop, it is what we have chosen to focus on.  If your school would like to pilot a program with us to study the impact we can help you create with your students, we can help.

With regards to repair, to date we have trained over 129 individuals many of whom now are in new markets doing repair as educators, new independent technicians or working for stores or in some cases for us. We can help your students find income and improve your student outcomes for music graduates through sales and repair training programs for woodwind musicians in clarinet, saxophone and flute.

And finally, through our sister company, Sales Maven, we offer a training program we have perfected and offer to dealers and manufacturers to help them develop their own Ambassador programs that we can either help manage or simply help them recruit and train. We have worked with several retailers and a few manufacturers to help them start to build Ambassador Programs and hope to work with more.

Summary

What this data supports is the serious need for pivoting, collaboration, innovation and great leadership in our sector because our sector is at serious risk if we don’t start to deliver real work skills and build stronger music communities to help manufacturers sell more products locally everywhere. We need to cross pollinate professional musical development with real world jobs in retail, sales, instrument repair and manufacturing position inside of our sector to turn our sector around. For more information on how you, your school, or your organization can get more involved and be a part of changing this trajectory, reach out to Lisa@lisasclarinetshop.com