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A Guide to Guides: A Look at Musical Instrument Stores

A Guide to Guides: A Look at Musical Instrument Stores
Chris Rich By

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Generally, the musical instrument sector of the economy, when you set aside the part given to rock, is in okay shape when compared with the recording industry. You can't download a trumpet nor can you pirate one.
I like to research stuff and make useful things with All About Jazz's data. Since mid summer, I've been puttering around with the Musical Instrument Store guide. I have a fairly simple bush method. I type a search like "Musical Instrument Stores New York City" and then use the Google Map entry for the best array of data.

From there, I just run through whatever comes up, checking any web site URL for whatever lands in the system until you run out. My selection criteria starts with a web site. Stores that still just have a phone and street address won't do in a day when anyone can get some kind of template up for any business for free.

I want diversity but also want to steer clear of mawkish rock shops as I am trying to serve a jazz community. Still, you'll find a pretty diverse mix from national franchise big box things to unique artisans. One of the best things about the geographic pattern searching has been the kind of armchair web tour of an interesting corner of the retail sector.

By the time you've covered a few areas, (and I've already hit New England, The Mid Atlantic, Chicago and Seattle), a pattern begins to arise. There are a number of business models, rock shops, piano stores, drum shops, really interesting niche plays of every description, pre-rock music stores with band instruments, (these are having something of a comeback or holding their own) and various kinds of artisan/repair shops. Oh, and how can I forget violin shops.

After covering all this search ground and seeing web sites of every description from early style shingles to fully optimized CSS wonders with whistles and bells, I've gleaned a few theories that will now need to collide with reality for further validation.

The most compelling one may be evidence of the death of rock. Kids aren't forming bands so much anymore. Rock bands have become some antique thing for gamers to wander in alongside Grand Theft Auto or whatever.

This suggests that the rock shops and big box plays that figured we'd all do wanna be Neil Young simulations for eternity may be shit out of luck. Rock had such a suffocating impact on "the rest of music" over its 50 year run and its lopsided impact on commerce made life hell for the rest of music.

But, jazz and classical managed to plant themselves into the soil of everyday American community life long before the rise of rock and as the gas seeps out of the rock bubble we find a kind of restoration. Kids still want to be in the school marching bands and orchestras, parents still pay for violin and piano lessons and these kids go on to participate in college music programs either as an elective or a major and this gives the 50's era general purpose music store a new lease on life. Violin shops proliferate. Hell, violin bow shops are pretty busy.

Another interesting phenomenon is how many music shops are becoming community centers for some kind of music in the face of declining art funding. Many have lessons, have in store events and generally weave themselves well into the fabric of their communities.

I particularly love all the interesting on line niche players. One capability AAJ will work to attain is more sophisticated search segmentation as I'm working on a taxonomy of store types so users can pull up piano shops or repair artisans.

Over the weekend I set up a simple but useful outlier of that capability by tagging each online shop with "online" in the header. I use a general criteria of whether a shop has made some effort to process online transactions, allocates web space to same and evinces some reasonable degree of focus. While one could argue anyone with a website is technically an "online" business, many mainly use the web, however skillfully, to have some kind of business shingle in their immediate territory.

There turned out to be quite a few and they reflect the diversity of business models. I need to think a bit more about the role of online sales for pianos as they are a special case. Generally, the musical instrument sector of the economy, when you set aside the part given to rock, is in okay shape when compared with the recording industry. You can't download a trumpet nor can you pirate one.

I intend to cover all of the US and Canada with as much of the rest of the world as I can in the months ahead and users are certainly encouraged to make your own entries of musical instrument stores. I have an array of details I cover and a basic method, but if I spot some odd new one, I can always fill it out.

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