MAY 18 I THE SOURCE 2011 I BY ZACH PHILLIPS
The iRevolution ...
Three bucks can now buy you a fiddle.
Mind you, it doesn't have actual strings. You can't play it with a bow, and it's only two-dimensional. But Magic Fiddle, an iPad app from Smule, offers a violin-playing experience that Mashable called "pure, unadulterated musical awesome." And it's one of many virtual instruments working its way onto iPads and iPhones.
"Not content to merely recreate the wheel, software and hardware creators are rushing to invent whole new kinds of musical apps and accessories," said Marc Block, director of U.S. marketing communications at Line 6. "As a result, a mobile device can take on the character of a new style of instrument just by launching the right app."
Not that the trend's putting fiddle retailers out of business. Magic Fiddle, like many apps, is little more than a musical game. Still, not all apps are created equal. As Darius Seabaugh, vice president of marketing at RapcoHorizon, noted, "The boundaries of what can be accomplished [with iDevices] have been pushed to levels where quality audio processing can be easily achieved."
What this means at music retail is the continued rise of a lucrative but highly competitive accessory market for those iDevices. It's growing so quickly, in fact, that George Hines recently created a new department, multimedia accessories, at his dealership to account for the deluge of iDevice peripherals flooding the market.
"We believe [iDevice accessories] have an income stream that will experience growth for many years," said Hines, owner of Berwyn, Pa.-based combo chain George's Music.
He added that he's planning for "exponential growth" from the department. "We believe 2011 will see hundreds of new items for musicians to use with their iDevices for home recording."
Capitalizing on Apple
Hines isn't exaggerating. Last January's NAMM show alone saw the release of such standouts as the Akai SynthStation49, IK Multimedia iRig Mic and Alesis iO Dock, to name a few. That's not including the countless recording, pro audio, guitar processing and music education apps touted by exhibitors. In no uncertain terms, we're moving into a brave new world, one where music making will be as much at home on keyboards as on smartphones and computer tablets. (In the case of the SynthStation49, even that line can blur.) And it's all happening on the back of consumer electronics' biggest rock star.
"Not since the Walkman has a product category reached such a broad user base," said Scott Mire, marketing director of Peavey Electronics. "iPhones, iPads and smartphones in general are everywhere, with a customer base that crosses every possible demographic. A byproduct of this customer base is a booming iDevice accessory business."
"The platform's numbers are just great, making for a sizable market to reach," said Kurt Heiden, marketing manager of Numark, Alesis and Akai. "For example, Apple's iPad is a relatively new computing device, and they've already sold 15 million of them. By MI standards, those kinds of numbers are quite large. Looking at a larger picture that includes iPods, you have hundreds of millions of these devices in place and a market that's as large as the entire personal computer market was around 1998."
But at music retail, Apple's influence runs much deeper than a few iRig Mic sales. The iRevolution's also making waves in music lesson programs and the live sound business. And, as Magic Fiddle hints at, it may just be changing the very nature of musical instruments.
"It's like electronic drums, which now account for half of my drum business," Hines said. "It's not a two- or three-year thing. This is here to stay. And [multimedia accessories], as a department, are here to stay. Mobile devices are going to dominate a lot of the really cool, new creative things that are being generated for musicians who enjoy playing their instruments."
That's not to say these accessories are shattering sales records for Hines — yet. While he's excited about the category, he acknowledged that it's too soon to determine how his new department's actually performing. He's not alone. Alan Moon, sales manager at Front End Audio in Columbia, S.C., mentioned Primacoustic and IK Multimedia iPhone and iPad stand holders generating a lot of interest from his customers. But ask him which one's a best-seller at his dealership, and the picture changes.
"They're brand-new, so we really haven't had a chance to see a lot of traction in the market yet," Moon said.
"We're stocking some of the Peavey, Line 6 and [IK Multimedia] amp hardware, but these are still very, very new," said Music Inc. columnist and Dietze Music co-owner Ted Eschliman. "It's all pretty early."
It raises the question: Why are savvy, bottom-line-focused dealers interested in such a virginal market? For starters, early entries in the iDevice peripheral category have performed well. Myrna Sislen, owner of Washington, D.C.'s Middle C Music, a full-line dealership that specializes in music lessons, singled out IK Multimedia's AmpliTube iRig as a rising star in her accessories department.
"This week alone, I've sold three," she said. "Someone bought one today, and it was a middle-aged man from Spain. The other day, it was a younger person."
iDevice accessories also represent what Radial and Primacoustic President Peter Janis called the "profitable side of the iPhone business." "Music dealers are in a particularly good position because iPhones and iPads are very convenient interfaces for studio and live use," he said. "And because many of the accessories are priced below $99, they are impulse buys."
Oh yeah, and customers are prequalified the moment they walk in the store. "Normally, a customer doesn't walk through the door carrying a sign or shirt that says, 'I want to buy a guitar,'" Mire said. "An iDevice user, on the other hand, walks through the door with the device in their hands."
Line 6's Block added that the products usually have a small footprint, allowing for merchandising flexibility. Hines cross-merchandises iDevice accessories at all relevant touch points. The IK Multimedia iKlip, an iPad mic stand adapter, might be displayed alongside orchestra stands and mic stands. Likewise, the iRig got face time at his store counters when it came out.
"It's a discussion piece," Hines said. "'Have you seen this? What do you think about this?'"
The Category Killer?
But the rise of iDevice accessories has also gone hand in hand with the rise of apps — many of them free or dirt-cheap, a few of them potentially threatening to hardware and software sales. Lately, Steve Hobeck, owner of Heinz Musitronics in Charlottesville, Va., has seen customers come in his store with Real Time Analyzer (RTA) apps on their iPhones. He said the app has the potential to cut into lower-priced RTA sales, but he's not fazed.
"Without question, it's not a threat to us," Hobeck said, speaking to the popularity of apps in general. "If anything, it could be a benefit."
John Grabowski, director of purchasing for Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Sweetwater Sound, added that apps have yet to replace any product sold by his company. In fact, he said he believes low-cost apps expose more people to music making and give music making mainstream exposure.
"The rise of the handheld recorder, which has taken place at almost the same time as the rise of iDevices, is an excellent example of how a dedicated device remains relevant, even in light of something as capable and multipurpose as an iDevice," Grabowski said. "Think about it this way: iDevices are really just portable computers, and the introduction of the computer didn't render music gear obsolete either." (Not to mention most of these devices still lack the processing power of your average laptop.)
Gary Gand, owner of Gand Music & Sound in Northfield, Ill., agreed that apps haven't stolen sales from his dealership yet. That said, he pointed out that low-priced RTAs aren't the only hardware piece with the potential to go app and never go back. He sees a day when small tabletop mixers and personal headphone controllers will be mainly the domain of iDevices.
"You'll need some kind of interface to go with it, but they'll sell the interface at computer stores," Gand said.
"If I've got an amp and I want to do all my processing through some sort of iDevice, then I can see pedals going away," Hobeck said. "I can see [the trend] impacting companies like Line 6, which makes the Pod and has all that built into it. I don't see it really competing so much with the recording devices because the recording devices here have a higher-quality microphone."
Maybe that's why MI suppliers are diving head first into the market, and with a medley of products. The aforementioned Line 6 made its first entry during the summer of 2009 with the MIDI Mobilizer, a MIDI interface for all iPhone, iPad and iPod touch models. Apogee recently introduced Mike, a USB microphone designed specifically for iDevices and Macs. And those are just the obvious suspects in a sea of gear. Other entries are more eccentric. At the last NAMM convention, Musiquip showed primeVibe. This device is designed to season a new stringed instrument by hooking it up to an iPod, which plays music into the instrument to loosen its wood.
Side note: Marc Gallo, founder and CEO of Studio Devil, views apps as one of hardware's best advertising tools. As he put it, "The app serves as a constant reminder to the consumer to make the traditional hardware purchase when they're able to."
The exception to Gallo's point is when the app's an actual instrument (i.e. Magic Fiddle). And not all instrument apps are settling for gaming-device status.
Take MorphWiz. Available for $10, this grid-based instrument for the iPad has garnered media praise for its uniqueness and subtlety. A video on the MorphWiz website shows Jordan Rudess, Dream Theater keyboardist and co-creater of the app, playing a surprisingly moving version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" using a sound resembling a Moog keyboard in outer space.
"Mobile music making products may not have all the features of computer-based tools, but they really do allow you to go anywhere to write, record or perform music," said Line 6's Block.
Within the pro audio industry, a few apps have already gained pro status. Gand praised the StageMix iPad app accompanying Yamaha's M7CL digital mixing console. The app gives users remote control of M7CL functions, specifically the monitor mixes from the performers' positions on stage. And Gand said it's a powerful enticement.
"The M7CL console is a $20,000–$26,000 product," Gand said. "And [the app] allows us, as dealers, to promote a major sale to a church or theater or even a traveling professional group, as opposed to selling them a mic stand mount or a cute little briefcase that they can put their iPad into that we can only make $12 on. It's actually worth going out and turning customers onto the iPad to make a sale like this."
Similarly, Front End Audio's Moon praised the new iPad app for PreSonus' StudioLive series digital mixers, which, like the Yamaha app, offers remote control over the console.
"That's really strong," he said. "I think we'll see some products that actually don't have much of a control surface any longer."
The Teaching Miracle
Middle C Music's Sislen, who runs a lessons program with approximately 400 students, isn't concerned about the plethora of free music learning apps on the market. She even called iDevices "a miracle" as a teaching tool.
"[Teachers] can instantly pull up seven versions of a song to find out exactly what that kid wants to play and then help them to play that tune," Sislen said. "It's an incredible, incredible teaching tool and resource. And they all use it."
Here, IK Multimedia CEO Enrico Iori made a convincing pitch for his own company's iDevice accessories, stressing their low cost to students and families on a budget. "How do you get a 12-year-old to invest in an amp and pedals to encourage his learning and his love of playing the guitar when cash is tight?" Iori asked rhetorically. "Offering low-cost products like iRig and AmpliTube for iPhone, iPod touch or iPad is a great way to get him understanding the concepts of tone and building his first guitar rig without breaking the bank."
Sislen added that iDevices don't conflict with any services or products at her store, including her sizeable print music department — which accounts for roughly 25 percent of her business. And if iDevices do conflict with print music one day, publishers may have a solution to get retailers in on the action. Mel Bay, for one, is currently working on a partnership for dealers to offer its e-books through an affiliate relationship. Company President Bryndon Bay said the service may be available as early as this summer.
And while a 9 1/2-inch iPad screen may be a little small for reading piano music, chances are consumers will start demanding more virtual sheet music as the format evolves — and that day will likely come sooner rather than later. People like their iDevices, and their attention spans aren't getting any longer. As Musiquip Product Manager Erik Lind said, "With these iDevices being one-stop shops for so many functions, so much information, I think we're seeing to some extent a reduction in attention span, patience, etc. towards anything that doesn't fit into the iDevice realm." MI
Caption: John Grabowski