Music shop sector trends

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the musical instrument retailing sector

Interest in playing musical instruments remains high in the UK. The type of instruments played is, to a certain extent, fashion-led. In the late 1990s and start of the 2000s, the whole 'superstar DJ' concept was at its height and this led to many people buying mixing decks and related equipment to try to emulate them. During the 2000s there was a shift in the type of music being released as guitar bands achieved rapid popularity and critical acclaim. This popularity has continued to grow in the last few years, leading to an upturn in guitar sales. The popularity of different instruments waxes and wanes so you'll need to keep an eye on the latest trends. In 2016, for example, the ten most popular instruments were found to be (in order):

  • electric guitar
  • keyboard
  • piano
  • guitar
  • drums
  • violin
  • saxophone
  • flute
  • cello
  • clarinet

The Music Industries Association (MIA) works very hard to promote the industry and in recent years has launched many successful campaigns. It recently lobbied the government to ensure that musical instrument playing remains a part of the National Curriculum. Other initiatives have included the 'Weekend Warriors' programme aimed at lapsed rock musicians and the 'Get Alive!' campaign. Their 'Trusted Music Store' initiative was set up to highlight, promote and support some of the best musical instrument shops in the UK. Visit the MIA website for further information.

Although many musical instruments are very traditional, technology has had an effect on the industry. Computer software and games like Guitar Hero enable musicians to make music without owning a traditional instrument (although some in the industry question the real value of this sort of software). Meanwhile, the growth of the internet has seen many music retailers move online as a way of reaching a wider market and boosting their sales. Although not ideally suited to selling instruments - many players want to try before they buy, and some instruments are not ideal for sending through the post - online retailing works very well for cheaper instruments including starter models, and for accessories like sheet music and strings.

A thriving live music scene is good for business but unfortunately the mid 2010s saw a decline in grassroots music venues, particularly in London, where 35% have closed. In 2015 the Mayor commissioned a Music Venues Taskforce to report on the reasons for the decline and to formulate a rescue plan. This identified many reasons for the decline including:

  • the fall in popularity of bands in favour of solo artists
  • competition from high quality productions at places like the O2 arena
  • rising ticket prices at a time when property prices are high and the economy has not fully recovered from the financial crisis (made worse by the uncertainty following the vote in June 2016 to leave the EU)
  • the added expense imposed due to licensing, policing and health and safety issues
  • international competition
  • a lack of investment
  • business rates

A 2017 report by Live Music Census found that smaller live music venues faced the greatest challenges affecting their long-term viability, including strict licensing laws, property development and complaints about noise levels. Live performances are popular with musicians as they earn more from them than from recording. Despite this, their income has been stagnating and many say that it is difficult to earn a reasonable amount, with many complaining about having to perform unpaid without any commensurate benefit to their career.

Keeping up to date with the musical instruments retailing sector

Joining a trade association is an excellent way of staying up to date with developments in your industry. The music industry is well represented by the MIA, which produces industry statistics as well as many useful publications. You can find out more about the MIA and get contact details on their website.

Subscribing to a trade journal is another good way of staying in touch. Music Week includes news and features of interest to those working in the music industry. You can find out more on the Music Week website.

Trade shows

You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a trade show or exhibition for the industry. The MIA has details of upcoming shows, exhibitions and events on their website.

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