Musical instruments go mainstream

Interest in musical instruments has remained strong, making it a necessity to move beyond enthusiast publications and target mainstream media.

Interest in musical instruments has remained strong, making it a necessity to move beyond enthusiast publications and target mainstream media.

The fascination with musical instruments extends beyond seasoned players to include anyone with rock-and-roll fantasies and those who aspire to the high-class lifestyle they represent.

This wide appeal may help explain why interest in musical instruments has remained strong, even though many schools have cut back on music programs. In fact, more than half of US households have at least one person who plays an instrument, according to the International Music Products Association (known as NAMM).

Although it's still not an easy pitch, Scott Robertson, NAMM's director of marketing and communications, notes that the mainstream media last year had a greater interest in musical instruments than ever before.

"We've been behind the scenes promoting music and how it makes kids smarter," he says. "But now you see smaller music companies, along with consumer electronics firms, introducing musical instrument brands and generating interest."

Moving beyond the enthusiast press has become almost a necessity, adds Leo Spellman, senior communications director for piano maker Steinway & Sons. "As there are over 10 million piano-owning households in the US and very few music enthusiast publications with significant circulations, most of our PR effort is focused on upscale lifestyle publications, as well as national and local market newspapers."

Spellman adds that outreach efforts include pitching both trend stories on the importance of music in households, as well as getting Steinway pianos featured in interior design photo shoots. "We see the Steinway story as a multi-faceted diamond," he says.

Amping up the lifestyle angle

Nick Baily, publicity director for Shore Fire Media, whose client roster includes musicians Bruce Springsteen, Robert Plant, and Elvis Costello, as well as instrument maker First Act, says: "The biggest trend is that musical instruments are starting to be thought of as lifestyle products. It's crucial that First Act is credible among the die-hards that buy the guitar titles every month, but we think the company should be everywhere. For instance, The Boston Globe ran a full-page story that featured a First Act guitar as a high-end consumer item."

Sal Cataldi, founder and president of New York-based Cataldi Public Relations, stresses the importance of developing distinct strategies for pitching the musician press or mainstream outlets.

"When talking to guitar magazines, you need someone who knows something about guitars or music," he says. "It's like finance - if you know nothing about business, you can't pitch IR. There is a higher bar of knowledge when pitching enthusiast musician magazines."

Jason LaChapelle, marketing communications manager for cymbal and percussion maker Avedis Zildjian Co., notes that PR pros should determine whether the reporter, editor, or reviewer has enough of a musical education to evaluate a new instrument or product properly.

"We like to make sure that the reviewer is a seasoned percussionist," he says. "I generally contact consumer percussion and music titles and pitch our new products to them. If they feel the item warrants a review, they'll assign a reviewer, and I send them the instruments along with information on them. I'm also available for questions."

Most mainstream outlets may have some amateur musicians on staff, but few, if any, are ever assigned to review new instruments. But Robertson notes that because playing an instrument is often a lifelong activity, you can pitch virtually any lifestyle outlet, regardless of the age or demographic it's targeting.

"What makes instruments a good pitch is that there is something for every age group," he says. "We've had a lot of success stressing the importance of music to kids. But we're also seeing a huge boom in people coming back to music. Baby boomers, in particular the 'weekend warriors' who are getting back into bands, make for a great story."

Targeting the tech market

Daniel O'Connell, VP with Griffin Public Relations, adds that the new technology available to musicians is also a story that resonates. O'Connell represents Harman Pro Group, whose line includes consumer-based recording equipment.

"Before, we'd only hit recording titles," he says. "Now we're able to place articles in USA Today and BusinessWeek. Part of it is targeting the young male, but you're also reaching out to the guy who grew up playing guitar in a college band, but now has the PC, a few extra dollars, and is building his own home studio. So you can reach leisure and lifestyle reporters, as well as tech writers."


Pitching... musical instruments

Look to expand media opportunities by positioning instruments as high-end consumer goods and pitching a variety of lifestyle and consumer outlets

The fact that many school systems are cutting back on music programs is an ongoing issue that can lend itself to trend pitches on the importance of music in kids' development

Target interior design and shelter books by offering to provide guitars, pianos, and other musical instruments for home-themed photo layouts

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