• Making Music Together at the Barbican

    The Fourth Choir at Wiltons Music Hall

    We visited the Making Music Together Exhibition at London’s Barbican, and talked to Making Music’s Chief Executive Barbara Eifler about the challenges the team faced when putting it together.

    There are many hidden treasures to be found in the Barbican at any given time, and Making Music has recently added another. The organisation represents thousands of leisure time music groups across the UK, and their first exhibition pays homage to these groups. It centres around three themes: the breadth and variety of leisure music groups, the sheer scale of the leisure-time music sector; and that involvement in music is for everyone – there’s a lot that it can bring to people’s lives, whatever their background or previous experience.

    Bursting with content

    Packed with images, audio, testimonials and posters, the exhibition is arranged in a corner of the Music Library, which has been successfully hosting exhibitions for a while. The guest book at the entrance gives you a flavour of what you can expect.  It is full of comments from visitors saying how much they enjoyed the content and how meaningful it all was. Step inside, and you’re immediately struck by just how much has been included in such a small space. An imposing infographic delivers some fascinating insights: there are over 13,000 music groups across the UK, with over 61,000 people giving up their time to run these groups on a voluntary basis.  While these groups all perform music for the joy of it, many of them also raise money for charity. An estimated £1.9 million is raised by Making Music members annually.

    Testimonials bring the exhibition to life

    The testimonials are particularly moving. Anyone who has made music in their spare time or performed as part of an amateur group will appreciate them. They reflect the time and dedication these activities take – but also the joy and fulfilment they bring that makes it all worth it.  Here’s a small sample:

    “Even on a cold, miserable winter night, when the inclination is to stay home, you meet the chorus, start singing, and just soar!”

    “Keeps the 80 year old brain alive”…Making music come alive is so fulfilling. I think of it as exercise for the soul.”

    “I enjoy it that members of a community, regardless of ages or ability can share a hobby together.”

    The testimonials were gathered from Making Music’s 3,500 members, who were happy to contribute, as Barbara Eifler, the organisation’s chief executive, explains: “We put a call out to our members to provide content, and we had such an amazing response – over 400 responses in 2 weeks! They ranged from small quotes to long testimonials about what music means to them.  It was so good that we felt that this is the stuff that deserves to be heard.”

    The challenge of putting everything together

    Putting on an exhibition of any kind can be a huge undertaking, particularly if you’ve never done it before.  Barbara says that while they were initially daunted by the prospect and not sure where to start, they realised that help was already close at hand. “We asked our members! We remembered that our members have all kinds of jobs – we managed to find someone who was a curator, another who ran an art gallery, someone who was doing a post-grad in curating, a retired art teacher…so we formed a committee to work on it, and it was very much a team effort.”

    The exhbition in the Music Library at the Barbican.

    The team was keen to make the exhibition as engaging as possible.  “The challenge we faced was, how do you go about translating the aural into the visual? We wanted to avoid it being too wordy, with too many blocks of text.”  There is definitely a lot to take in but it’s varied.  You can listen to recordings provided by choirs and orchestras, read through hundreds of quotes or look through the dozens of posters advertising the various events that these groups put on.  Although most of these groups are amateur, the standard is incredibly professional, and it’s easy to forget that many of these people have busy day jobs.  A highlight of the exhibition are the portraits of musicians taken in their normal working environment, but holding their instrument. It shows that the music they perform in these groups plays an important role alongside their day job and defines them just as much, if not more.

    Looking to the future

    “We are planning to digitise the exhibition to make it available online for our members that didn’t get to see it”, says Barbara.  “Hopefully we’ll also be able to use the information and insights we’ve gathered as part of any future lobbying and advocacy that we do on behalf of our members.”

    This inspiring exhibition demonstrates what’s possible with commitment, passion and dedication – by both Making Music and its members.  It’s on until Saturday 23 March. And it’s free!

    For more information and opening times visit the Barbican website.

  • Urban Development Industry Takeover All Dayer

    Renee Jackson

    Our Marketing and Comms Assistant, Renée Jackson, who is also an artist, visited and reports on her experience at the Urban Development Industry Takeover All Dayer

    As an artist, is the Urban Development Industry Take over worth a visit?

    Urban Development (UD) is a music development organisation, based in Kings Cross. They play an integral role in the growth of urban music in the UK, combining business knowledge with an understanding of youth culture. They present quality events that encourage young people to hone their craft, become consumers of live music and be inspired by established artists. UD support emerging artists and professionals through mentoring and work experience as well as delivering innovative education projects.

    For those who don’t know, The Urban Development Industry Takeover All-dayer is a 7-hour, jam-packed day in the heart of London with insightful industry talks, one-to-ones, open mic slots and performances.  Attracting a large crowd of young musicians from rappers to managers, the day presented opportunities to network, learn and receive advice.

    Presenter, Puddi kick-started the day with an entertaining introduction taking us into the first session of the day – ‘How To Steal My Job: A beginners guide to the music industry’ chaired by BBC 1Xtra’s Nadia Jae and featuring Polydor team Rich Castillo, Amika Ezer, Jade Bradshaw, Marco Grey and Chris Cooke. The panel introduced themselves and spoke on their different roles within Polydor, a record label under Universal Music. They talked about their individual journeys through the industry, working through internships, being at the right place at the right time, to radio promoters and A&R managers. As well as their greatest achievements, and new opportunities emerging as the music industry evolves, the panel answered controversial questions about whether the artists on the label are receiving pay in line with the £22 billion net worth of Universal Music.

    As a young artist I can definitely say I took so much knowledge away from the day. It was a great day full of opportunity to meet your next producer or manager. It’s very rare to find such a selection of music industry professionals talking about their experiences and ways to conquer the industry.

    Image showing on stage panel discussion
    A good mix of panels and performances

    Going into the afternoon I stumbled into ‘Sunday Roast Live’ with Joe and Scully ft Big Zuu & Aisha Abdulhameed, powered by Reprezent Radio. With a keen interest in radio I figured I was in for a treat. The panel spoke heavily on misconceptions on performing, form 696 and Big Zuu’s come up. Form 696 is a risk assessment that venues were required to fill out before hosting events. This form required them to specify ethnicity and music style of the artist performing. The form has now been abolished but the panel confirmed that discrimination with certain music genres and people of colour is still very much an issue. Big Zuu, funny and honest talked about his journey, from 200 capacity gigs to headline shows at the O2 arena. Audience members asked his opinion on paying channels for YouTube uploads, he described how you sometimes just have to shoot your shot, which is what he did with Jamal Edwards, (SBTV) landing a freestyle on the popular channel with a view count of 300,000 plus, the rest is history!

    ‘Take Over Showcase sessions’ powered by GUAP and FutureSNDS featured fresh, UK talent such as Drey Cheeks and Weyland Mckenzie.

    ‘Industry Survival Guide’ Powered by Warner Bros Records was one of my favourite talks of the day. On the panel alongside Nathan James Tettley, Oksi Odedina, and Chair Rhian Jones was Alec Boateng, also known as Twin B, on 1Xtra. If you don’t know the face you definitely know the voice! I spent a lot of my teenage years listening to his Breakfast Show on the radio and he opened my eyes and kept me up with a whole catalogue of new music. In this session they spoke about mental health within the music industry, touching on personal experiences and how the pressure of living a normal life to suddenly being in the spotlight has affected some of the artists they work with. Also giving the audience practical tools to survive the industry, Alec advised: ‘Shut out the noise and nurture your own talent. it requires patience and faith in your talent to pull you through’, as well as emphasising the need to look out for one another.

    Obviously, we couldn’t end the day without an open mic filled with a variety of rappers, and soul singers. It was an opportunity to see who we had in the room. Each artist had 1 minute to bring their A-game. Rappers and singers went head-to-head fighting for a space in the next round. With the panel of judges and audience members finally choosing the winner who receives mentoring and a performance slot at The Great Escape festival (IKR Amazing!)

    It was great to be at such an inspiring event

    As a young artist I can definitely say I took so much knowledge away from the day. It was a great day full of opportunity to meet your next producer or manager. It’s very rare to find such a selection of music industry professionals talking about their experiences and ways to conquer the industry. Music is very popular amongst my generation with it being the number one passion for young people in the UK, according to Amplify. I was humbled yet inspired to be amongst so many talented people all interested in advancing their knowledge whilst in the midst trying to figure it all out.

  • What’s on in South East England – music hubs, shops and events

    Photo by Manuel Nägeli

    Each month we will be featuring a different region, with the aim of bringing these services into contact with each other.

    For March 2019, Take it away are featuring activities and shops in the South East.

    Music shops who offer Take it away

    These music shops in the South East all offer Take it away interest-free loans in their stores. Some of them feature in this month’s retailer tips, which are all about music shops who make the most of the space they have to offer additional services such as tuition, events and rehearsal space.

    South East Music Hubs

    Music Hubs are a Government-led initiative, previously referred to as schools or music services. They are partnerships between state schools, companies, charities and practitioners. Hubs receive funding from the Department of Education via Arts Council England. It is the responsibility of every Hub to distribute funding amongst organisations to ensure that these targets are met:
    • Ensure that every child aged 5 to 18 has the opportunity to learn a musical instrument (other than voice) through whole-class ensemble teaching programs or weekly tuition on the same instrument
    • Ensure that clear progression routes are available and affordable to all young people
    • Develop a singing strategy to ensure that every pupil sings regularly, and that choirs and other vocal ensembles are available in the area

    Below you’ll find a list of the music hubs in the South East. Each hub provides different services and receives different levels of funding, dependent on needs and services. For example, some services provide one to one tuition, some offer classroom sessions or some offer Orchestra or performance opportunities. 


    If you are interested in joining an amateur orchestra, here is a list of active orchestras, bands and ensembles across the South East. Many of them welcome new members of any standard with no audition needed.

  • How music retailers use their space to maximise sales

    Photo: Sutton Music Centre

    So, you’ve sold the piano/saxophone/violin/guitar. Exit one happy customer to continue their musical journey.  But how do you keep them coming back?  This can be a challenge, but using their shop space to offer additional services keeps business ticking over for many music retailers.

    If your shop has the space for it, offering music tuition on your premises is an obvious way to continue the relationship with your customer and it’s something that you can recommend as soon as they’ve bought their instrument.  If they are taking out a Take it away loan, they can even add the cost of a block of lessons to the loan amount.

    Plenty of music retailers are already doing this. Sutton Music Centre has offered music tuition in guitar, drums, piano and bass since they relocated the business to its current premises nine years ago. They also offer group lessons, where two or more pupils learn together, which they feel is a great format- as director Mark Allis explains, “it’s a different way of doing things. Pupils can learn how to play with other musicians, they can also learn from other pupils’ experiences, and we’ve had really positive feedback”.

    Practice rooms can be useful

    Some retailers take advantage of the space they have in other ways. Hayes Music, based in Southampton and Romsey, offer practice rooms to allow prospective buyers to try out and compare instruments privately. They are used particularly for brass and woodwind players: “Some customers can be embarrassed to play them in public,” owner Richard Boler explains. “It’s not the same as trying out a guitar, that you can quietly strum on the shop floor! The rooms are often full, so we’re planning to convert a fourth room to meet demand”.  They’ve also been considering offering music tuition as some customers have been asking about it.

    Widening your audience

    It’s worth considering how you can diversify your audience. It’s never too early to introduce children to music, and Brittens Music has been offering “Colourstrings” music classes since September 2016, which is a method of teaching based on the work of Kodaly, Dalcroze and Orff and tailored for babies, toddlers and children under 5.  As Mark Greenleaf of Brittens explains, “We already have a successful music school, and the owners wanted to introduce something that gives children a good foundation, to make their start at music school easier”.  With 58 children attending each week, the scheme is going from strength to strength.

    Building relationships with partners and suppliers

    You could take advantage of your existing relationships with partners and suppliers to hold special events, which can be a great way to attract potential new customers into your store.  Ackerman Music in Brighton has hosted workshops, masterclasses and book launches in the past. They mainly work with publishers to put these on, as general manager Lynne explains:

    “Generally, they are very supportive.  They’ll pay for the speaker’s expenses, so we just need to arrange and put on the event. I see it as good PR for the store more than anything. Some have been more successful than others, but it’s important to give things a go. You can’t just sit back and do nothing, you’ve got to try different things!”

    Photo: Ackerman Music, Hove

    If you don’t have a separate room for this, or there’s not much space in your store, it’s worth improvising:“ We just hold the events on the shop floor – which is choca, so we do need to shift things around a bit”, Lynne says.  They’ve even taken part in community events, which is something to think about if your store really is too small.  Sutton Music has also held an event in their local shopping centre and found that it’s a good way to publicise themselves and create interest. “One guy who approached us said that he’d lived in Sutton for 50 years and never knew there was a music shop there!”

    The high street of the future – your shop can be part of it

    With many big brands like M&S, Mothercare, either closing stores or downsizing their high street operations, it’s easy to think that the future looks bleak for the high street. But not if your business takes advantage of emerging trends. According to a study by from Which?, the high street is becoming a social hub, where people go to catch up rather than shop.  Innovation consultancy Elixirr has written extensively about this, noting that “the rapid growth of in-store experiences as a means of attracting consumers through the door is a trend that isn’t likely to slow down any time soon”.

    Some music shops are already thinking ahead in this way. Harringay and Camden based Music and Beans describes itself as a “hybrid music school café”. Absolute Music is a two-floor superstore in Bournemouth has an in-store café – allowing customers to really make a day of their visit.

    Support could be on its way if you need it.  The government recently announced a £675 million Future High Streets Fund which will support local areas to prepare long-term strategies for their high streets and town centres, including funding a new High Streets Taskforce to provide expertise and hands-on support to local areas.

    As all these retailers show, with a little commitment, planning and hard work, your shop could become more than just a place to sell instruments, but a music services hub for your local community.

    Why not start with Learn to Play Day?

    On Saturday 23 and 24 March, music retailers up and down the country will be taking part in Learn to Play Day.  If you already hold music lessons at your store or have contacts with local music instrument tutors, this could be a great way to attract new customers.  Learn To Play Day is the flagship event of the UK’s Music for All Charity and provides budding musicians or old hands with the opportunity to have an introductory music lesson with a professional tutor, completely for free. If you’re interested in taking part, contact Music for All for more information.

  • Hickies Music Store at Winter NAMM 2019

    National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), established in 1901, is the not-for-profit association that “strengthens the $17 billion global music, sound and event technology products industry” and whose association and trade shows (including the annual Winter edition in Anaheim, California) serve professionals wanting to seek out the newest innovations in music, recording technology, sound, stage and lighting products.

    It’s a big financial commitment for any store to travel there from the UK, we know many of you have considered it, and wondered of the value and so we spoke to Store Manager, Duncan Andrews, at Hickies Reading to hear his experiences of attending.

    I am the Store Manager at Hickies in Reading, and following a successful 2018 in terms of sales, we have plans for a makeover to enhance our friendly neighbourhood music store vibe. We decided to head to NAMM to start looking for new stock, new deals and merchandising inspiration.

    Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always dreamed of going to the Winter NAMM Show in California, it’s the biggest music gear event in the world. This year, Hickies Music Store and partners managed to make that dream a reality for me as I headed across the Atlantic for the weekend of 24-27 January.

    The first day of the show is a lot to take in as a first-time visitor. You find yourself in the beautiful LA sunshine, blown away by the sheer size of everything, especially The Anaheim Convention Centre which is the dedicated venue for the show.

    Doors open at 10am and first impressions are that this place is huge, the venue is so big in fact, that I got lost trying to find the entrance and exit! I met up with friends and we spent the first couple of hours looking around all the stands. I play guitar so I was excited about seeing new custom-built, abstract-designed guitars at the Gibson Custom Shop as well as the PRS Private Stock. It was incredible seeing what some brands are doing with different wood tops and colours.

    Spectacle is a huge part of the weekend, there were some really cool booths – the Rickenbacker stand where their guitars and basses famously hang in the air lived up to my expectations.

    If you are a musician, music retailer or just a music fan, I would highly advise checking out the NAMM Show and making it a goal to get out there. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, both as a musician and as a retail manager, and I hope to continue to work in this exciting community for a long time!

    The Rickenbacker stand, Winter NAMM 2019 by Duncan Andrews

    Amongst our goals for the weekend were to let our customers on social media see new gear making a debut at the show, interview manufacturers and artists, and most importantly, product testing.

    Friday was a very important day for us; we had back-to-back meetings set up throughout the day with companies such as Godin, Ibanez, Korg and Fishman. We select manufacturers after we look into what consumers and popular musicians are using gear-wise, and look at how to provide more of those products for our customers in-store.

    We had our first meeting with PRS Guitars. PRS are focusing a lot on their SE range this year, which is great news for us as that’s what we primarily stock in our stores. With some new exotic wood ranges and an SE version of Mr (Les) Paul’s guitar, we have a lot of exciting new products on their way to Reading high street.

    We also had success with Fishman – we are now one of their official dealers, stocking pickups and amplifiers. There is also potential for a dealership opening up with Ibanez guitars in the near future!

    The Saturday and Sunday at NAMM are quite a contrast to the weekdays, as the weekend is open to the public. You notice how alive the music industry really is when crowds of people rush in to try out all the new gear, see their favourite musicians play and, of course, grab some freebies! If you pay close enough attention, you might even see Stevie Wonder as we did – along with Phil X (Bon Jovi) and Rob Chapman of Chapman Guitars.

    It’s hard to get much work done on the weekend with so many people around wanting to chat about work and gear – it did open my mind to the idea that the industry won’t die out as long as interest in music gear is going strong.

    When manufacturers, retailers and artists come together at events like this to discover technology and new techniques, the sense of community we have all created just grows and grows.

    We like the idea of community at Hickies, customers enjoy the experience of coming into our stores and socialising with other musicians as well as trying out new gear to buy, and as a result, sales are now happily increasing.

    If you are a musician, music retailer or just a music fan, I would highly advise checking out the NAMM Show and making it a goal to get out there. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, both as a musician and as a retail manager, and I hope to continue to work in this exciting community for a long time!

    More info
  • How your customers can use their Take it away loan

    You may have been offering Take it away loans for a while now, but are you aware of everything they can be used for?

    If you sell other items and services alongside your musical instruments – such as accessories, tuition and audio equipment – these can all be covered by a Take it away loan, so it’s a great way to help your customers get started on their musical journey in a single transaction.

    Here are a few examples of what can be added to the loan:

    Lessons to get started

    Becoming an accomplished musician takes hours of practice, and any novice will need a lot of guidance and encouragement along the way.  If your music store offers it, why not book a block of lessons for your customer and add the cost to their Take it away loan? So, as well as helping them buy an instrument, the loan can help them to start learning straight away.

    Accessories and extras

    Many instruments come with additional extras such as cases. And there’s often so much other equipment to consider. An amplifier is essential for an electric guitar, as well as a stand, leads, strings, maybe effects pedals…the list goes on.  For some instruments, you may offer a bundle that comes with everything needed to get started. The cost of all these things can be added to the loan.

    Recording equipment for that bedroom studio

    If your customers are aspiring music creators, you might want to sell them the equipment and software they need to help them express themselves in the comfort of their own home.  Just like buying an instrument, this can be a minefield.  From condensing microphones to keyboard controllers, you can add these extras to a Take it away loan.

    Everything for the stage

    Your customers may want to show their skills to the world at some point – so they’ll need a microphone and stand if they’re planning to perform with a band, maybe a PA and speakers too if they’re entertaining solo. We know that there are many ways to entertain, and that many budding musicians are also aspiring DJs.  If you sell the equipment, you could encourage your Take it away loan customers to get a turntable to practice on!  Other items to consider include a mixer, headphones, and a DJ interface software package such as Serato…the list can be long!

    Hopefully, this has given you a good overview of what the scheme covers.  Our aim has always been to remove some of the hurdles that many people face when learning music, and we recognise that a customer’s interest can take many forms.  A Take it away loan can help you upsell your products so that your customers can buy all the equipment they really want right now, rather than having to wait until they can afford a better version.

    Whatever they choose, Take it away will be happy to help your customers get started on their musical journey.  Since it launched in 2007, the scheme has helped around 90,000 people to buy musical instruments, making learning and playing music more affordable and open to everyone.