Back to School

MSFQ: More to Start, Fewer to Quit – Back To School

Photo Credit: Gerd Altmann

It’s Back to School Season, and What Better Time to Consider Joe Lamond’s Mantra, MSFQ? NAMM has a big push behind this buzz phrase, and they are right to put their energy there. Music lessons are the heartbeat of any future the music business hopes to have, whether that’s on a porch in the South with your uncle, or in a bunker-style studio in Virginia. Music lessons are the key to sustaining growth in the music industry.

So, Let’s Examine the Idea MSFQ More Closely, Beginning with “More to Start”

Consider for a moment what would happen if the entire music industry completely united and embraced the understanding that a well-organized, deeply creative, music industry ad campaign could change the future of how music is perceived. That movement could possibly alter the future of the music industry. Too difficult, you think? Too expensive, maybe? Ultimately, I wonder what the cost is if we keep sitting on our hands?

Think about what would happen if the top leadership in the music industry got behind the idea of a united push to get more people learning how to play music. What if the big guns got the “big musician guns” on board and behind the idea? What would the impact be if everyone got on board with an organized central message that… music is that important.

Before you kick me to the curb, think about two words, one phrase: “Got Milk?” That ad campaign changed the world of advertising and united everyone across the globe around one simple idea. A world without milk would be an unbearable place. The dairy industry got behind the ad campaign and came up with lots of very clever ads to demonstrate the idea of having no milk, and how awful life would be without it. Using the many talents in the music industry and composing ads using spectacular music, we could easily contrast the “silence” of a world without music.

Unified Messaging Works

There are plenty of great examples of big companies doing great ad campaigns. Yamaha’s commercials are amazing. The video played at the opening of Yamaha’s performance at last year’s NAMM show left the audience spellbound. And NAMM’s music campaigns are also world-class. All the big music industry players push into the message, but the difference in the “Got Milk?” campaign is that it is one unified message.

It is now time for the music industry to realize we can’t get enough new musicians to come on board without unity in our message. We should follow the lead of the dairy industry. I know – I’m crazy, right? Or am I right, and the industry is crazy not to realize that it’s our responsibility to grow our industry together as a united coalition? Big minds can accomplish unique things.

Now Let’s Look at “Fewer to Quit”

This topic is the place where the music industry is really coming up short, and this time it’s the individuals that need to improve. We live in a time of “quick and easy,” and we already know that learning to play music has stigmas attached to it, but you can’t cheat the system on a skill-based endeavor.

Qualified teachers and quality musicianship honestly matter. To dumb-down learning to play music for fast profits or calling ourselves experts when we simply aren’t is doing the music industry a disservice. It’s certainly doing burgeoning musicians a disservice, and that can force students to quit.

I want to stress I am on the same page with those who believe learning music should be fun, but I also think the students would benefit more if we kept history in the discussion. This then puts the focus back on the teachers to know their music history and not just knowing “chops” for the sake of impressing a student or making a buck.

What other subject represents the sound of history as clearly as music? Music is the soundscape of history. You need to look no further than Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” or Dion’s “Abraham Martin and John” to understand my point. We shouldn’t sacrifice craft or quality for expedience or profit. We need to come clean and let this truth be known: fast profit does not trump expertise in the long run.

But here is where the industry is truly losing the MSFQ game. In today’s market we have embraced and accepted an odd distribution system where a non-interactive video takes the place of a mentor and that’s an inequitable currency exchange. When a music student saves a few bucks by having a “this is more convenient and cheaper” mindset, we have lost the true essence and value of real music education. Therefore, students quit lessons because their interest is not held. It’s not just what you teach; it’s how.

It’s time for musicians, educators and manufacturers to push back and voice the idea that knowing the skills of music matters, ear training matters, music history matters, performance quality matters, but more importantly, as a student of music, you matter! It should be our pledge to embrace quality in music education, just as we do with overseeing quality in our music products.

More to Start, Fewer to Quit: It’s a philosophy, a commitment, and an actionable item. That’s what makes the idea so lofty. Like Joe Lamond, I believe it’s an idea whose time is NOW.

Originally posted on MMR, August 30, 2019

Menzie Pittman is the owner and director of education at Contemporary Music Center in Virginia (CMC). Following a performance and teaching career spanning more than 32 years, he founded CMC in 1989 and continues to perform, teach, and oversee daily operations. He has 50 years of musical experience as a drummer and drum instructor. Menzie is a frequent speaker at NAMM’s Idea Center, and a freelance writer for MMR’s “Small Business Matters” column.