Looking for a product that’s available from a variety of brands, lets your customers explore new sounds and takes up zero space on your showroom floor? Plugins have oft been thought as better left unstocked due to their virtual nature. But, with more and more musicians continuing to turn to their laptops to make music, plugins are now, according to Xchange platform’s Ray Williams, a natural progression for these types of musicians.
“Let’s look at the customer who makes music [today],” said Williams, who serves as Xchange’s president. “In 2022, you can’t make a record without software. Every musician will need to use software to be heard by the world. [Not] every musician [will] need a guitar or a clarinet or a drum kit. So, it is imperative for [retailers] to offer software to their existing customers so that they remain their existing customers.”
Paul Tapper, CEO of Nugen Audio, echoed a similar sentiment.
“At this point, working ‘in the box’ is the norm for many aspiring musicians and producers,” Tapper said. “Someone might acquire hundreds of plugins before they even think about seriously expanding their physical collection of instruments and hardware.”
With programs like IMSTA’s Xchange and Hal Leonard’s Vault, retailers can stock plugins and software from a wide range of developers and integrate them easily into their store’s website and, if they chose to, onto a computer in their brick-and-mortar showroom for customers to try out while in store.
Kevin Jarrell, owner of Indiana Music Garage in Kokomo, Indiana, said he recently signed up for Xchange because it seemed like “a straightforward way to offer software.”
“I wanted to offer plugins and software as a way to expand our product lines for customers without increasing sales floor use,” Jarrell said. “Being that they are virtual products makes it a no-brainer to me that we could attract sales from new and existing customers with minimal upfront investment.”
What to Stock
When looking to start stocking plugins, Roger Robindoré, Apogee’s director of product evangelism, suggested beginning with the go-tos.
“Every customer needs a collection of workhorse plugins — EQ, compression and saturation — in both modern and vintage designs,” Robindoré said.
Nugen Audio’s Tapper agreed starting with the basics is a retailer’s best approach.
“It makes sense to focus on versatile, ‘bread and butter’ plugins rather than niche or specialized effects — everyone needs EQs and limiters,” Tapper said, adding that creating bundles that depend on the customer and their skill level is also a strong first offering. “Looking at Nugen’s bundles for example, a retailer mostly selling to high-end music producers working in established studios could start out with our Producer bundle. If customers are more likely to be bedroom producers, then something like Focus Elements would be a good starting point.”
The Xchange platform offers nearly every top plugin brand under the sun, and Xchange’s Williams said the most famous plugins typically sell the best, so don’t be shy to stock deep.
“The top brands are the ones to get started with as these will deliver quick cash flow,” Williams said. “You can then gradually expand your assortment as you’re able. The best approach is to do no curation. Since the software is provided virtually, without any stocking requirements, we suggest the Amazon approach — sell it all.”
IK Multimedia’s Dan Boatman said there are multiple routes retailers can take to market plugins, depending on your business goals, .
“If you’re looking to grow your software business directly, it’s worth reaching out to plugin developers directly to see if they’re open to an exclusive deal,” he said. “Many developers are very promotional and can be willing to let you offer a unique deal in exchange for a marketing commitment. Especially with smaller developers, it’s a great win-win.”
For dealers more focused on increasing existing sales, Boatman suggested offering an audio interface, keyboard controller or other product with a relevant plugin bundled in.
“For instance, [try] bundling a USB microphone with a nice vocal plugin for a bit more than the microphone alone,” he said. “That’s going to have a strong appeal, and the unique combination is going to stand out from everyone else selling the same base product.”
Boatman said he’s also seen dealers offer plugins as an add-on at check out.
“This is easier to execute if your system is set up or your staff is trained to suggest cables or bags when a customer purchases an item,” Boatman explained. “Also, you can easily offer a relevant plugin at a slight discount if bought at the same time. This is particularly good with more entry-level plugins, where the customer is inclined to give it a try just to take advantage of the deal, but might come back to buy the step-up version later if they really like it.”
Since the pandemic, Boatman said IK Multimedia has seen a high demand for plugins that clean up audio for broadcast or streaming.
“That’s one category that’s been very strong for us since the start of the pandemic, with no signs of slowing,” he said. “We see a very broad interest in these from musicians of all stripes who are creating content for social media.”
Apogee’s Robindoré said he’s seeing an increasing amount of plugins designed to offer expert processes to novice users “with carefully conceived presets and AI-like functionality.”
Thanks to these expanded offerings, Ray Williams said Xchange has seen the plugin market trending in general in recent years, making now the perfect time for retailers to consider bolstering their selection.
“The years 2020 and 2021 were banner years for new resellers jumping on the software train,” Williams said. “We saw this accelerate in 2021 and, although it is early, 2022 is trending for even more resellers around the world entering. This is a boon for plugin manufacturers and the MI industry. It is very profitable to be selling software plugins.” MI