Where’s my music shop, and why should I care?

Barbara Eifler, Making Music Chief Executive reflects on the Music Industries Association's (MIA) Forum.

More and more of us are buying music, instruments and the stuff that goes with them online (guilty as charged). Often that’s less about price, more about convenience (reeds at midnight, anyone?).

So is a music shop on your high street still relevant? Can it survive financially? How could it be working with its community? And if 80% of the population really aspire to play an instrument, why isn’t the industry more diverse?

These were some of the questions asked at the Music Industries Association’s (MIA) recent Forum.

The inclusivity question is central. There is a gap between the (white, old male-dominated) music industry and the creators, 50% of whom are women, 30-40% of whom are from BAME backgrounds, and 80% of which are under 28. When people don’t recognise themselves in the leaders (or shopkeepers) of an industry, the message they take away is ‘you’re not welcome here’. And 83% of millennials, apparently, want to buy from companies they believe are inclusive.

Then there are the general high street woes: business rate increases, online sales. And customers now do their research before making a sales decision – the weight of opinion in those reviews can really make a difference.

But the mood of the MIA Forum was bullish, and positive. There are ways shops can improve their chances: retail growth now is in connected online/offline businesses so having a website, making sure it’s listed in all the right places and having someone deal well with online comments are key. Deciding on and sticking to your strengths (eg only brass instruments), and creating experiences are also crucial, which may mean space for lessons or performances, or being more welcoming to customers wanting to try things out.

As hobby musicians, though, why should we care about all this? 

I personally go to the local music shop because…

  • When I was looking for a piano teacher for one of my children locally, that seemed the obvious place to ask (it was)
  • I’m looking for advice about an instrument, a repair or another music related query
  • I want to look at sheet music or ask for suggestions of music
  • I’m hoping for inspiration for a music-related present
  • I want to talk to someone who understands and knows music

In other words, for me the shop is the hub-for-all-things-music locally. Local teachers, professionals, organisations, music groups – they’re not visible, how do I find them? 

But a shop? I know where to go! If it does more than just sell (well!), I think its future is secure. 

For us as musicians, and as music groups, it’s a case of use it or lose it. Be sure to drop in occasionally and to include it in your regular leaflet or poster round, and why not team up and create a Make Music Day event or get planning for next year's Learn to Play Day.

To find your nearest music shop, have a look at the Music Industry Association member directory or see your local listings services