Once upon a time music, dealers provided plenty of service and support especially during the explosion of MIDI synthesizers in 1984. But in the mid-90s, there was a big shift in the music instrument retail business because musicians began purchasing via catalogs and the Internet. Brick-and-mortar retailers could no longer afford to maintain support and service departments, and many dropped those personnel or went out of business.
Most operating manuals are not written for teaching situations, so now more than ever music educators need tech support. With computer operating systems changing, hardware/software drivers become out-dated making otherwise good equipment operate poorly, if at all. Rapidly advancing technological innovations bring software updates and user headaches.
Matt Hepworth, owner of software service and support company MIDI Assist, explains this dilemma in an interesting way. He says, "Service is fixing something when it breaks. Support is training and operational assistance. If a customer, for example, purchased a GM automobile at the cheapest price, he or she could take it to any local GM dealer and they'd provide free warranty service. While this is correct for cars, a music customer probably misunderstood the difference between service and support. I tell customers that if their gear was broken, I'd be happy to fix it under warranty, just like the GM dealer. However, I doubt any GM dealer would pull a technician off the line and teach the customer how to repair his or her vehicle. That would be support, not service. So the answer to, Where did all the support go?' is a pretty simple one. The music retail business, like many other businesses, has become low-price driven."
Matt is not embarrassed to point fingers, "It's the Wal-Mart approach. Why pay a penny more when you can get it cheaper at Wal-Mart? High-value takes a back seat to the lowest price possible. And because of that, profits have been reduced across the board. Retailers simply cannot afford to provide the support they used to."
But there is a bright light at the end of this tunnel. As Matt sees it, "While the Internet closed the doors of many music stores, it will also become the savior of high-tech musical instrument support."
The Role-Model Support & Service Companies
Among the many companies across the country that are addressing both the service and support needs of music educators and their schools, I found six in particular that serves as role models:
- SoundTree, Korg USA, Inc. in Melville, New York has 14 years of experience offering national services and training. Phone: (800) 963-8733; Fax, 631.390.6689; Web: www.soundtree.com.
- Sweetwater Sound of Fort Wayne, Indiana, in association with Lentine Music, has been in business 33 years and provides national and international technology servicing. Phone: (260) 432-8176; fax: (260) 432-1758; and Web: www.sweetwater.com, www.lentine.com.
- MIDI Assist in Salt Lake City, Utah offers service and support to the greater Rocky Mountain region. Phone: (801) 554-1925; Web: www.midiassist.com.
What Makes These Companies Special
Kelly's Music offers remote technical support, training and consulting services through a variety of online meeting software, including Adobe's ConnectNow and Microsoft Live Meeting, which makes remote technical support and training practical and cost productive. Kelly's Music supports Windows 98 and higher, including Vista and Vista 64-bit, along with any version of Mac OS X. They offer music hardware and software sales, on-site and online training, installation, tech support, consulting and lab design, curriculum development and support, implementation and integration planning, music technology mentoring, installation, and troubleshooting pretty much anything teachers need help with! I like how you can get an answer from a real person, rather than a hard-to-navigate FAQ section. Their technical team really knows their stuff. One educator wrote, "Kelly's is certainly ahead of the curve in real-world expertise, absolutely unbeatable equipment value, software, and hardware. You fully support the beginner, as well as the top, experienced, hard-headed expert and diverse clientele."
Kelly's Music offers a handy buyer's guide that includes information on what a particular group of products do, and how to choose the correct one. It has detailed comparison charts that allow you to compare any number of products within a category. This can be found at kellysmusicandcomputers.com/categories.asp.
Directors who make a Difference
Do you know a fantastic K-12 instrumental music educator who is deserving of recognition in SBO?
and tell us why he or she should be featured in SBO’s annual "Directors Who Make a Difference" report.