Friday, 11 December 2009

Christmas Deliveries 2009

As we approach Christmas, please bear in mind that stock deliveries to me and post deliveries to you do tend to slow down.

Items on the website with despatch times of 1-2 working days are held in stock and will be despatched on the next available working day. Occasionally we run out of these items and if this happens you will be informed,together with the likely despatch date.

Items on the website with a despatch time of 4 working days or more are ordered specially and it is likely that the last orders will be placed with publishers on 14th and 15th December, to allow delivery before Christmas. Special order items requested after this time may not arrive in time for Christmas.

Orders will be despatched on every working day up to and including the 23rd December, and on normal working days between Christmas and New Year.

But please note that all the music publishers close down completely between Christmas and New Year, so special order items (and any replacement stock items) will not be ordered until Monday 4th January.

If you would like further information on this, do drop me a line:

Have a restful Christmas and Happy New Year.


Friday, 4 December 2009

New Music This Week

One of the problems with 18th century music is the requirement to improvise cadenzas, a skill which is difficult to master - I never did!

So a new publication - example cadenzas for Mozart's oboe concerto - is sure to be of help to young oboists, as this music is a staple of the repertoire. Written by Melinda Maxwell, it gives ideas and suggestions for suitable improvisations.

Another publication new to the website is Ten Supplementary Studies for Young Brass Players by Colin Moore. Useful as sight reading practice in preparation for exams, these graded studies are published with bass and treble clef versions in the same book.

In other news, courier and postal deliveries are starting to be a little erratic in the run-up to Christmas. If you want music for Christmas, please order early as there are only two weeks left before the Christmas shutdown.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Price Changes

I haven't added new music lately as I've been too busy with orders and also working through price changes (increases) for all Brass Wind publications. Most of the books have gone up by 50p. In some cases, I have left the books at the old price where I still have stock in, and I haven't yet finished the updates so if you order now you may get a bargain!

I have reluctantly had to raise postage prices - they have been static for two years now, and having reviewed my figures I have put them up by 50p. I should really have increased them when the postage cost went up in April, but with costs for many things rising fast, I have no choice but to put them up now. Sorry!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

New This Week

This week I have added some mug mats to the gifts section on the website - here's a picture of one of them, but there are three other designs too. At £2.50 each they're a good price too!

I have added a number of pieces for double bass too:

For piano, we have Rock Ballads (with CD), Microrock (for beginners) and Riffs and Grooves.

For organ, we have an arrangement of Gershwin's Three Preludes.

For viola, Kreisler's Preludium and Allegro, and Hindemith's Viola Sonata in a new edition.

For cello, Cirri's Sonata in C Major.

For alto sax, two new publications: Jazz Ballads and Pop Ballads, both with CD.

More next week...

Thursday, 29 October 2009

New Music This Week

At this time of year, music publishers bring out their new publications. Most of them are single books of repertoire - few are a complete new series of books, let alone a new tutor book.

This week I have added a brand new violin tutor series called Violin Playing to the website; it takes students from the very beginning to grade 8 standard, which is most unusual. There are 5 books:

  • Book 1 - preparatory/initial grade

Book 2 - grades 1 to 2

Book 3 - grades 3 and 4

Book 4 - grades 5, 6 and part of 7

Book 5 - grades 7 and 8

There are also two repertoire books to accompany the series; the First and Second Book of Concert Pieces.

Other additions to the website: Marcellos 2 sonatas for viola in G and C, and the new third) edition of Abracadabra Cello.

On the subject of the postal strike, while there are some delays to post to and from VS Music Supplies, they don't seem to be long delays, with post taking a day or two longer than it should in most cases. Let's hope it continues that way.

Friday, 23 October 2009

New This Week

Christmas is now approaching and while I sold my first Christmas music in July (really!), interest in Christmas music picks up from about now. The most popular item which I sell in large numbers each year is New Christmas Praise for brass or wind band, and I have already sent off a full set of this in October.

So this week I added a few new or new to me publications for the Christmas period:

When the new exam syllabuses are published, there are always a few pieces which have not yet been issued or are out of print at the time, so I do keep checking them. This week I have added:

And recently published music includes:

That's all for this week. I hope the postal strike is not affecting you too badly, its business as usual here, despite the strike.

Update: In this article there is a picture of what happens when a driver who doesn't read signs tries to drive down the footpath I use to take my parcels to the post office!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

New this Week

I now have a bit of a breather after the September/early October rush, so have been able to add more new music to the website.

Starting with Christmas, Faber Music has published another collection of pieces for school string ensemble, Stringpops Christmas. Easy arrangements for players up to grade 2, it comes with a CD containing PDF parts and recordings of the accompaniments too, all for £9.99.

Taigh na Teud, the scottish publisher based on the Isle of Skye, has published several new books this autumn. Most of them are music for the Scottish Music Exams grades 1 to 5: for harp, accordion, and fiddle (towards the bottom of the page).
For choir there is Slighe an Airgrid, gaelic songs for choir.

Brass Wind have just published an eagerly awaited book, Winner Scores All. This is all over the new syllabus for brass instruments and there has already been a lot of interest. Currently there is a treble clef instrumental version
with a piano accompaniment available for b flat (trumpet) only.
The bass clef instrumental version for trombone has also just been published. I am sure more versions and piano accompaniments will follow.

Moving on to strings, a new publication by Kevin Mayhew is also on the cello exam syllabus. Go with the Flow contains music for cello in a range of styles.
The CDs for the 2010-2015 Trinity Guildhall violin syllabus are just out.
The CDs for the new Trinity guitar syllabus have also just been published and also include the guitar duets.
Staying with guitar, The Real Guitar Book Volume 3 has been published this month by Camden .
Other music -Let's Swing for violin, with CD has just been released by Spartan Press. It does exactly what it says on the tin!
For saxophone, there is Songs for Claire, and new music to the website (not newly published) includes The Light Touch 1 and 2 for trumpet.
Finally, with the prospect of a postal strike looming, I am adding the option for special delivery (UK only) to the website. Special delivery items are treated differently to ordinary post and will not be too affected by a strike. Though they may slow a little, they won't get stuck in a pile in a sorting office, so if you want to pay extra for the reassurance, you may do so.
I'm not happy about the prospect of a strike - for small businesses like me who use Royal Mail to send out our parcels and have some deliveries arrive by ordinary post, a strike will cost money. I may have to pay extra for special delivery for my supplies, so I really have no sympathy with Royal Mail workers, along with all of the public I meet in the post office every day. Let's hope someone somewhere sees sense before they proceed down this suicidal path.

Friday, 2 October 2009

And Yet More New Music

Brass Wind have published more music recently; A Blast from the Past by Adam Gorb contains music for trumpet and piano inspired by renaissance and baroque sounds. For intermediate players.
On a slightly different theme, though still for trumpet, Cecilia McDowell has created music inspired by works of art, hence the title "Framed".
Queens Temple Publications has just released the latest installment in a set of sonatas by Timothy Bowers. His sonata for bass trombone and piano was composed in 2006, and follows the release of his sonata for tenor trombone, which was composed in 2007. More of these works to come.
It's been a very busy week in the online shop, so busy I got up at 5 am yesterday to get ahead! Orders tend to decline at this point in the week, so I can get all my paperwork straight, file away the new books that have come in, do this post and sweep out the office.
This week I received my first order of new packing paper from a new supplier. It's cheaper than the paper I used to buy, but stronger so should stand up to the stresses of travel through the mail better. I will be able to keep my postage prices the same for a while longer - they have been the same for two years (not many retailers have managed this!) but I think it's likely that when the postage charges go up again in April I will have to increase it slightly. Cheaper paper certainly helps keep costs down.
That's it for this week. I hope to have a bit more time next week to add new books to the website, but if you don't see what you want, do ask - I can get almost anything.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

More New Music

We are now in the slightly manic phase of the year, when everyone is buying music books and, bizarrely, people tend to order exactly the same books on the same day. It's weird - you don't sell any copies of some books for 9 months, then you get several orders at the same time. It's a struggle to keep up with demand at this time of year, and I'm pretty tired.

Newly published music includes Green and Pleasant, for trombone or euphonium, available in treble or bass clef and on the new exam syllabus.

Other new music - Six Studies in English Folksong for Tuba, by Vaughan Williams. Bass clef only.

For advanced double bass players, there is Moving On Again, a piece written in 2007. And for more intermediate players, there is Bass in Space.

For those still waiting for Winner Scores All, the latest update from the publisher is that it is due out mid-October. I hope to have more new music next week, if time permits.

Friday, 11 September 2009

New this Week

ABRSM Publishing have issued a new book this week - Spectrum for Violin. It contains new contemporary pieces for violin and comes with a CD.
New to the website is Cool Clarinet, a tutor book series for young beginners. There are a number of books, including duets and trios. Just put Cool Clarinet in the search engine to see the full list.
The books are published by Kevin Mayhew, as is another addition to the website: The Church Organist. This is a handy conversion course for pianists who are taking up the organ for their local church, and it covers all the basics of technique and equipment in the first volume. The second volume contains some standard repertoire and a third volume in in preparation, to cover improvisation.
There are still a number of books listed on the new exam syllabus for various instruments which have not yet been published. I am checking them each week and will add them as soon as they are published.

Friday, 4 September 2009

New this Week

The Associated Board cello exam recordings have been published this week, with the exception of the grade 8 one for some reason. They are all now on the website. Curiously, the retail prices in a few cases are lower than the price list I received a couple of months ago. I have added them at the new price, but some retailers have used the old price list.

This week I have also completed adding new pieces from the Trinity guitar syllabus, as there have been a few changes.

A few oddities this week - I ordered a piece of flute music (Out of the Cool) some time ago for a customer, only to be told it was being reprinted. It finally turned up and I sent it out, only for the customer to ring me and tell me the piano part was incomplete. To cut a long story short, it turned out the whole print run was faulty and will have to be pulped. It will be months before it is ready again.

Then there's the parcel which left Holland on 26th August and still hasn't arrived. And the warehouse person for another publisher who managed to send me the invoice for the correct book yet put the wrong book in the parcel. These kinds of things are really annoying when you have customers waiting. Such is life...

Friday, 28 August 2009

New Trinity Brass Syllabus

This week I have added a number of items from the new Trinity brass syllabus to the website. The trombone and tuba sections are bigger as a result.

For those who are interested in Winner Scores All (which seems to be attracting a lot of attention already), I spoke to Delia at Brass Wind a couple of days ago and she told me it was just about to go off to the printer, so it won't be much longer.

I anticipate that next week I will be able to add a number of new publications - will keep you posted.

Friday, 21 August 2009

New Trinity String Syllabus

I have almost completed adding all the new pieces listed in the Trinity Syllabus for 2010-2012. I just have a few books I need to check, but most are now on line.

A few books are not yet published:

  • Viola Allsorts

  • Cello Allsorts

  • Go with the Flow - Cello

I will keep an eye on these and add them when they become available. The grade 7 and 8 pieces for violin and viola have changed the most from the previous years.

One of the frustrating things I find with Trinity is that they make mistakes in the syllabus, unlike ABRSM. Sometimes these mistakes are carried over from year to year, and it can make it difficult for teachers and parents to find the music. They often don't put edition numbers in which makes it difficult for retailers to find the pieces, but sometimes when they do, they get the number wrong.

A bigger problem is incorrect titles, here are some I have spotted so far:

  • Solos for the Young Violinist should be Solos for Young Violinists

  • Lost Melodies - Old Masterpieces for Cello is actually called Forgotten Melodies by the publisher so you would never find this on any website!

  • Roche: Vacance should be Vacances, with an S

In these days when people search for music via the internet, accuracy in titles and edition numbers is so important - so if you're reading this at Trinity Guildhall (and I know you drop in from time to time!), please, please could you check all the titles and numbers before your next publications?

I haven't got to the brass and guitar syllabi yet - will do them next week.

On a lighter note, while business is picking up as new school years start, most mornings are still quiet so I can get on with updating the website. What I really don't get is why everything happens at once, after some hours with no phone calls or deliveries!

Yesterday, all was quiet until 12 o'clock, when in the space of 30 minutes I had two customers call with complicated queries which required internet searches, 2 deliveries arrived and one of these arrived at the exact same time I received a call back from a distributor which I really needed to answer! Then there was the wrong music in one of my parcels which I then had to sort out. I was also trying to do the post at the same time as helping customers, processing deliveries and wrapping parcels. I finally sat down to lunch at 2.30!


Friday, 14 August 2009

New this Week

I know it feels a long way off, but some teachers are already thinking about Christmas concerts, so this week I have moreorless finished the Christmas Music Section. I have added a lot of products new to this website and tried to provide music for every solo instrument, and ensembles of all shapes and sizes.

Unfortunately some instruments don't have music for them - solo bassoon for example - as potential sales for a publisher are too small. But I have trawled the publishers' websites to find as much as I can. I have also added lots of music for flexible ensembles, so there is plenty to choose from.

This week Trinity Guildhall violin exam pieces (towards the bottom of the page if you follow this link) for 2010-2015 were finally published - a couple of weeks late. All are now in stock with my distributor except grade 4, which for some unknown reason is not yet available.

So do have a wander through the Christmas music if you have a minute and don't forget the gifts too!

Friday, 7 August 2009

New Music This Week

At this time of year there is always a flurry of new music appearing along with the new syllabuses.

The most popular so far is More Time Pieces for Cello, Vol 1 and Vol 2. These contain a collection of pieces for cello and piano, published by ABRSM.

Staying with the cello theme, a new publication from Spartan Press, Let's Swing - Cello, contains 15 original compositions for cello in blues, jazz and swing styles. A welcome addition to the repertoire which is dominated by 19th century music, it comes with both piano accompaniment and CD backing tracks. A similar volume - Let's Swing for clarinet was published earlier this year.

Camden Music has added to its classical guitar collection with Songs from Erin, by Garry Ryan. Two pieces influenced by irish music.

A new piece for string quartet - Scatter the Mud - (great name!) is a collection of jigs in a ceilidh style, published by Spartan Press.

For flexible woodwind ensemble, Queen's Temple has published Wizard's Waltz, which is suitable for almost any combination of clarinets, flutes, oboes, saxophones and bassoons at grade 2-3 standard. By well-known composer Paul Harris.

I have added a new publisher to the website - Recital Music. A specialist double bass publisher, Recital Music has had a number of pieces added to the 2010 ABRSM double bass syllabus. Being a small business myself, I'm keen to promote other small concerns whenever possible, so it's good to be able to offer this publisher too. I now have most of their music on the website, though there are a few pieces missing which I will keep an eye on during August and add as soon as they are available.

There are a number of brass pieces by Brass Wind on the new ABRSM syllabus which are not yet published: A Blast from the Past (Gorb), Framed (McDowell), The Green and Pleasant Trombone Book, Winner Scores All and Metal Bars. Some of them will appear during August, a couple may slip into September. I will add them to the website as soon as they are available.

Finally, to Christmas. Believe it or not, I sold my first Christmas music in July! As Scottish schools go back soon, I am seeing demand for Christmas music start to rise, so will start creating my Christmas music section today. It will take a while, so please bear with me.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Decorating day

At this time of year business is quiet, so I have time to do jobs in preparation for the new school year, when I get very busy. I have mentioned in previous posts the publication of the new syllabuses for the exam boards generates work on the website, and generally I try to spend time improving what I offer on the site.

But for the last few months I have been promising myself that I would decorate my office. So a couple of days ago I started by tidying and reorganising some of my stock. In the process I found a few things which I had either lost, or didn't know I had - a clarinet pull-through, for example (I needed this for an order as my new stock hadn't arrived), ten cello spike rubbers and some badges.

So today was the day I moved all the stock out to get on with the painting. I have just sat down after starting at 9.30, with some of the stock back in but quite a bit of cleaning and tidying still to do. Hard work and I have a slightly pulled shoulder muscle, but worth it - the office is a much nicer colour (deep pink, very restful) and I will feel ready to get on with the new season in a tidier office!

Friday, 24 July 2009

More Brass Ensemble Music

This week I have added a large number of pieces for brass ensembles, from duets to full brass bands.

Music from the "Winners" series by Brass Wind Publications are always firm favourites, whether for brass duet or flexible 4 part ensembles. Lots of well-known tunes in easy and flexible arrangements, suitable for school groups.

I have also added a number of Christmas arrangements for brass - we are now half way through the year and Christmas starts in August for most shops! I will put special Christmas music section up later in the year, but for now I still have too much to do for the new syllabuses.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The New ABRSM Syllabus

The new ABRSM syllabus is not published until August, but we retailers do get a sneak preview of all the books required for the new set pieces so we can plan ahead. I'm not allowed to tell you what's in the syllabus, so a few general comments will have to do.

There are new set pieces for cello, double bass, trumpet, trombone and bass trombone. In most cases, a few new pieces replace others which have dropped off the syllabus. But it seems the bass trombone syllabus has been given a big makeover.

This was overdue - the pieces listed were a bit dull, difficult to get, often expensive (especially since the crash of sterling last year) and sometimes out of print. The new syllabus includes a lot of newer publications which will be cheaper, more accessible, and include different styles of music for bass trombone - I'm sure it will be welcomed by trombone teachers.

Some of the books listed are not yet published, for some I need to check prices by phone before I can list them so it will be another month before they are all online. One or two are already out of print!
ABRSM has also rebranded itself, with a new website and new logo (at the top of this post) so it's all change there.

While some schools are already on their summer break, others will finish this week, so I hope everyone has a great holiday if they're going away. I also hope the kids will keep practicing...

Saturday, 4 July 2009

More Website Updates

Over the last few days I have added pieces from Trinity Guildhall's jazz syllabus for clarinet, flute and saxophone, so there is a lot more jazz music available to order now.

At this time of year orders tend to drop off a bit, so that gives me more time to work on the website. I'm spending about 3 hours a day on it at present, 6 days a week. It's a work in constant progress, and a job that will never be finished!

I do rely on customers asking for obscure pieces - I like obscure music as I often end up being the only retailer selling it! Good for me and good for my customers. This week's new, hard to find piece is Adagio fur eine Spieluhr (Adagio for a Musical Clock) by Beethoven, for flute or oboe. It is imported from Eastern Europe only on demand, so there's a long wait, but it is very hard to find elsewhere.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Recorder Music

I have spent some time increasing the recorder section with the pieces required for the Trinity recorder exams. The ABRSM list will follow.

On the subject of the ABRSM exams, the new strings, brass and woodwind syllabus from 2010 will be published in August. I have received a list of all the pieces required (though not the syllabus itself) for all instruments so I will be adding the music over the next month.

Hope you're enjoying the fine weather, I certainly am! It's a bit of a struggle to sit at my computer some times...

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Organ and Guitar

This week I went to an organ and piano concert by Wayne Marshall and Jennifer Micalleff in Manchester. I've never heard organ and piano play together before, and it was really eye-opening. Some of the music was written for organ and piano, some for two pianos but arranged differently by Wayne Marshall. We also heard variation on Carmen for two pianos, an unpublished work by an American arranger whose name escapes me now. An unusual but very enjoyable evening.

With great timing, the same day I finished a big upgrade to the organ section of the website - most of the ABRSM exam pieces are now on the site.

I have also just completed the classical guitar section with the ABRSM exam pieces. Trinity also uses some of the same pieces, but I will add more Trinity music in a little while.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Harpsichord Music

This week I have added a lot of harpsichord music to the website, covering the vast majority of the pieces required for ABRSM exams grade 4-8. I will be working on this more over coming months. I had never heard a harpsichord played live until I was at University (studying music of course) and was blown away by the beauty of the instrument. I'm also a big fan of baroque music in general, so I find harpsichord music particularly satisfying.

Last week was half term week, so business was quiet and I took the opportunity to get a few days away, over a long weekend. I really enjoy running my own business but the downside to it is that I rarely get away - the last time was between Christmas and New Year. Being an internet retailer means that you work pretty much 7 days a week one way or another. Most orders come in overnight although there are other smaller peaks in the day, so I keep an eye on the website every evening. I really needed a break, having made an uncharacteristic mistake last week which emphasised my tiredness.

My car has been away for a couple of weeks as it was hit by a lorry - I wasn't in it at the time but watched the accident unfold. How a driver can fail to see a bright red car parked in the road is a mystery! There was obvious damage to one wing, but I noticed the back wheels seemed to be out of alignment with the front ones. When I pointed it out to the mechanic who came to collect my car, he clearly didn't believe me, an attitude common with male mechanics when speaking to a woman. He said "You know the back wheels stick out further than the front ones", like I was an idiot. So yesterday when they rang to tell me my car was ready, I asked about the wheels. "The back axle was bent, we had to replace it" was the answer. It's nice to be right!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

New to the Website

This week I have added more Trinity Guildhall publications to the website:

As always when adding new products, I don't keep them in stock straight away, but order on demand until I can assess stock levels required. Order time is 3-4 working days.

More books are due to be published in July: new violin exam pieces, guitar exam pieces, which I will add when they become available.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

End of Year Sums

This week I have been concentrating on getting my accounts finished for 2008-9 so I can get everything off to my accountant.

While I bought an existing business, I spent huge amounts of time creating the website and improving what I can offer, so it is nice to see it paid off, with turnover doubling over the year.

So thanks to all of you who bought music last year, and special thanks to those of you who took the trouble to give me feedback on the service I provide.

Please remember that I do rely on you to add things to my list of available music - I can get pretty much anything within about a week, so do let me know if there is something you can't find and I will do my best for you.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Am I the Devil Incarnate?

Today I met a sales rep from one of the main music distribution groups.  He, along with others in the industry, is uncomfortable with internet retailers and clearly thinks that they are doing damage to music shops.

Now, I used to work in Human Resources and so I am used to being portrayed as the spawn of Satan - the HR department is usually the most despised in any company.  But the conversation set me thinking.  Is there any truth in this view?

So why are music shops closing down?  There are a few reasons in my view:
  • rents - in common with other retailers, the massive increase in rent over recent years has impacted on some music shops, often the ones set up more recently
  • over-reliance on selling instruments - the big profit margins on instruments and electronic equipment has led some to stock up on this instead of sheet music, but in a recession people simply don't buy instruments as frequently, leading to cashflow problems
  • poor selection and supply of sheet music (customer service) - people do buy sheet music regularly, especially parents with kids learning instruments, and this repeat business should be the bread and butter of a music shop - too often it is neglected
I don't include the internet as in this list as I don't think it is a direct cause.  I have always felt that a high street music shop with an existing brand and customers had a major advantage over someone like me, trying to build a business into UK wide internet retailer.  Yet I find, time and time again, that I keep more music in stock than most music shops with all the stock space they have.  On top of that, I have access to much more music which I don't keep in stock but order on demand.

This is a key issue in the debate of internet v high street retailers.  In the high street, you have to choose what to stock.  On the internet, you can post everything available - given the thousands of pieces of music out there, this is an advantage for the online retailer.  But it should be said that any music shop can do what I have done - create a website and add to it all the things they can't keep in stock.

There is also the change in shopping habits of the consumer.  Many of my new customers are parents whose child is just starting to learn an instrument.  These people turn naturally to the internet, they don't bother going shopping in the high street.  Others don't have the time or want to spend the money driving to a music shop which might not have the book anyway.  Like it or not, many people these days want to shop from home - I do, and I'm not alone.  When you can spend 15 minutes online and buy what you want, to have it turn up a few days later, why waste half a day at the weekend trying to find it in the high street?

A lot of retailers forget that there are many people in the UK who live in rural areas and who simply do not have access to a music shop.  Where are these people to go?  The internet is a saviour for those who live on Scottish islands, remote areas of Wales or the southwest of England where there are few large centres of population capable of supporting a music shop.

The sales rep said to me today that internet shopping makes it harder to market new music as people cannot see it and so decide whether to buy it.  My answers to that are:
  1. most books are bought by parents as ordered by teachers, so it is teachers who have to be persuaded - there are ways to do this (too long for this post!)
  2. publishers have to make PDF extracts of the music available to retailers for their websites so people can peruse them - this is starting but very slowly
Having said all that, I do think this is a genuine problem.  I have tried a "new" page with little success, and I need to give more thought to how to achieve this.  

So what is the threat to music shops from internet retailers?
  • loss of business due to heavy discounting (this applies mainly to instruments and accessories) as internet retailers have lower overheads
  • loss of business as people change their shopping habits towards more online purchases
While I think that the heavy discounting may reduce a little in the recession, unfortunately the lower overheads issue will remain.  It would be nice to think that landlords may get a little more realistic about rents, but...  As for the trend towards online shopping, nothing is going to change that and music shops have to adapt.

The key in all of this is customer service - every business has to build its customer base by providing what the customer wants and in such a way that the customer is incentivised to come back and spend more money.    Whether you're in the high street or online, this doesn't change.

Any business has to seek to be as efficient as it can be, and music shops are no exception.  The general consensus in the music business seems to be that the weaker players are being shaken out - those that survive will be the better ones.    Many music shops have expanded into areas such as music lessons and other ancillary services - we all have to find our own niche and there are plenty of opportunities to do just that, including using the internet.

I have a few niche areas: the instruments that other retailers cover poorly, e.g. bassoon, baritone, tenor horn, etc.; certain products that most others don't carry; low postage rates due to the fact I recycle packaging; and a pride in fast, high quality customer service.  Does that make me the devil?  Or have I just filled the gaps that I can see in the sheet music business?

Any music shop can create a website and increase their turnover by selling online as well as in the high street.  It does, however, require a different approach: I value the flexibility that trading online gives me, no 9 to 5 for me, but that means that I also write blog posts at 8pm, monitor my site in the evening when most transactions go through, and when prices change, spend my evenings trawling my site to update them.  I can't shut up shop at 5pm every day.

Maybe this is symptomatic of the real threat - moving away from the traditional way of doing things into a new world with a new technology.  I don't know - you decide.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Preparing for the next exams

Spring is gathering pace, this week the may flowers came out -they're all over the damp fields at the moment.  Lots of rain and wind this week so I'm afraid my post went to the post office by car a couple of times, sorry.

The last set of music exams is now well behind us, so the thoughts of teachers and students are turning to the next ones.  This week the most popular item has been CDs of the exam pieces, for various instruments.  Some of them can be purchased with the sheet music (violin, clarinet, flute, piano) while others can be bought separately (cello, guitar, viola, oboe, saxophone, also piano).  

The CD is really useful - allows you to decide what you want to play before buying any music, and also helps you perfect your playing.  For instruments which are accompanied by piano, practice tracks are included to playalong to.

One book which is going up the "charts" is Big Chillers for Trumpet, which is having a surge in popularity.  I ran out this week and have ordered some more.  It contains Mack the Knife, One Note samba, As time goes by, Lullaby of birdland, A nightingale sang in Berkley Square, Night and day, Chattanooga Choo Choo, Ain't Misbehavin' and Revelation.  Great tunes, also available for horn (both) and tuba (euphonium uses the trumpet one).

Friday, 1 May 2009

Music in May

I have added more titles to the website this week, in cornet, trumpet, flute and french horn.

On the negative side, I have had to increase prices of some strings for violin, viola, cello and double bass. This is the third time this year that I have had to adjust these prices - it's all down to the drop in the value of sterling, as strings are imported in either euros or dollars. This time the price increase is in the region of 10%.

The fall of our currency over the last year has added significant costs to all retailers. It's not just the price of the stock, but also the delivery charge. A proportion of my stock comes from Germany - prices for music are set at a particular point in time, but as they are charged in euros, they now cost more in sterling than they did a year ago. I can't sell them for more, though - well I suppose I could, but wouldn't have many customers buying them, would I? Most retailers stick to the RRP for books, so we can't pass on the true cost, instead we take a hit.

As for delivery charges, as you might expect delivery from Germany is not cheap. In December 2007 it was under £8, now it's over £11. Again, a cost which cannot be passed on.

Added to that some items have become more expensive for other reasons too - clarinet and sax reeds have gone up by 50% in the last year - some of that is due to supply reasons rather than just the economy. I don't deal in instruments, but those retailers who do have got the same problem there - huge inflation in prices.

All in all it's a difficult time for retailers - if your local music shop ceased trading recently, this is one of the reasons why.

Yesterday we had the news that Kemble pianos would cease production in the UK later this year - a sad day for a long standing business. Unfortunately most instruments now are made in the far east, and that looks likely to continue for some time to come - it is quite simply more economic for companies not to produce or be based in this country.

Having said all that, let's be more upbeat - music is a great hobby and relatively cheap compared with other entertainment. More and more people are playing instruments and making music together, long may it continue!

I will be closed for the bank holiday (thought you can order online 24/7 as usual) - have a great weekend and enjoy the good weather!

Friday, 24 April 2009


My walks to the post office are now increasingly dry and sunny.  A few days ago I discovered these little buddies on my path, sitting in a sunny and sheltered spot.  They were only a couple of days old and weren't sure what to make of me.  Their mothers had gone off into the fields either side of the path, but returned sharpish when the lambs started bleating, wondering what to do.  I gently shepherded them up the path to the gate where they came in, they went off with their mothers and I carried on my way.  A few days earlier I found a herd of cattle sitting on the path - such are the hazards of taking my parcels to the post office on foot!

So, back to work - this week I have been increasing the music listed on the website for several instruments:
I have also added cello tailguts (at a really low price too) in response to a customer request - please do ask if you need something and can't find it.  I have a long list of things I would like to add to the website, but only so many hours in the day - if it exists there is a good chance I can get it, so feel free to ask!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

New on the website...

I have now taken care of most of the price changes on the website, so now I have added new products to the gifts and greeting cards sections.

Here are pictures of some of the new products - ringbinder, post-it style sticky notes, and keyring.

I have also been adding new products in a number of areas:

In June/July the exam boards will be publishing the new syllabus for a number of instruments, along with several new publications and these will be added then.

As usual during school holidays, business has slowed down a bit (hence why I have been able to add so much to the website) but I am gearing up for the start of the new school term next week!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Easter Holidays

I hope everyone enjoys the nice long holiday over the Easter weekend.

Orders placed in the online shop will be processed and posted Monday 6th to Thursday 9th April, and then from Tuesday 14th.  VS Music Supplies will be closed Friday 10th to Monday 13th April inclusive.

I do hope you all enjoy your break, and don't eat too much chocolate.  I am an addict and will certainly be indulging in an easter egg!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Exam Time

Many students are taking music exams in March and this has some effect on sales at this time of year.

In the run-up to exams, I experience a surge in demand for some of the most popular exam pieces, mostly because students have been playing from (illegal) photocopies for months and they are not allowed to take these into the exams! So I get lots of queries from people asking how quickly I can get the music out to them, because their child has the exam next week.

The use of photocopies is a topic of regular discussion among publishers, and a sore point. I've never played from a photocopy myself, but maybe that's just because I'm old and photopiers were new-fangled technology when I was young!

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the issue, what I don't understand is why, when the child is entered for the exam, the teacher and parents don't ensure that they have the music ready. Why wait until one or two weeks before the exam and then be in a rush? They have to buy it anyway, so why not do it in good time?

Then for those who have already bought the music, there is the old problem of losing the piano part. It is sensible to keep both parts together, for safety but you know what kids are like - they take out the instrumental part and forget where they put the rest of it. So I have had some people buy second copies of music they have already purchased as their offspring has lost it/left it on a bus/fed it to the dog. An expensive business.

Anyway, I wish all the students in exams at this time the very best of luck!

Friday, 6 March 2009

One Year On...

One year ago the bulk of the work on the website was finished and VS Music Supplies began to pick up new customers all over the world. So I thought that it might be good to see where our customers come from.

Starting with the UK, this map shows the approximate distribution of customers, colour coded to show the relative number in each area:

Red = highest number, reflects VS's Rochdale/Oldham origins
Orange = next highest - the Greater London area
Green = middling numbers, mostly heavily populated areas
Turquoise = smaller number of customers, often in rural areas and widely spread

It is approximate, based on postcode areas, so if you don't see a circle directly round where you live, I apologise but I haven't forgotten you!

This map does not show other areas in the seas around the British mainland, but there is a large number of customers in Northern Ireland, then a good sprinkling in Jersey, Guernsey and Eire.

Further afield, the largest number of overseas customers is in the United States, followed closely by Singapore.

The remaining overseas customers (in alphabetical order) are in Australia, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Malta, Hong Kong, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden.

So thank you to all of you for buying your musical supplies from VS over the last year and I look forward to seeing you again soon.

UPDATE: as of 10th March, I am adding Orkney to my list - hope to see more islands near Scotland soon!
UPDATE: added Isle of Skye on 21st April

Friday, 27 February 2009

This Week at VS Music Supplies

My daily walk to the post office no longer requires me to muffle up in scarf, gloves and hat, so spring seems to be on the way now.

At this time of year I tend to sell more specimen sight-reading tests as students prepare for exams.  These books are really useful, providing practice tests before the real ting in the exam.  They cover all instruments and for most (but not all), they cover more than one grade - usually 1-5 in one book and 6-8 in another book, so you don't have to buy new ones each time.   Just put "Specimen Sight-Reading Tests" into the search engine.

It's also been a big week for Music Theory in Practice, the best theory workbook on the market.  Recently revised and reprinted, it is now very user-friendly.

And finally, Regency Oboe Reeds have been a big seller this week.

As an internet retailer, I am dependent on Royal Mail for my parcels to get to their destination. In October, I had one disappear because, according to Royal Mail, "the address does not exist".  The people who lived in the house disagreed with this for obvious reasons.  If the address is not on the Royal Mail database, it does not officially exist and if you are unfortunate enough to have a postie who is new to the area, chances are your post will not get there.  This does happen regularly with new houses, as there can be a considerable timelag in getting the address registered.  I sent a second parcel, it got there and in January the first parcel was returned.

This week I had another parcel returned, with a note saying it didn't exist.  I checked the postcode and found that everything about the address was right - name, house number, postcode and first part of the street name.  Unfortunately the second part of the street name said "road" instead of "fold" and so the jobsworth postman did not deliver it.  I was livid.

My own postman asked about it next day, wondering why it had been sent back and when I told him he expressed a pithy view about the postman in question, not really suitable for this blog!  He said that he delivers worse-addressed post every day than that one.  I can believe it.

One of the advantages of living in a semi-rural area is that the postmen are really conscientious and seem to use their brains (and compassion) rather more than their urban colleagues.  Our postman never sends parcels back to the sorting office but always finds somewhere to leave them to save us the trip, a badly addressed letter is more than likely to find the right person even if the house number/street is wrong and they are always pleasant.

So I have now sent the returned parcel again, and paid for it twice.  Let's hope it gets there this time.

One of the problems here is that if the regular postman or courier is off on holiday, the replacement doesn't know where the address is, where to leave deliveries if the person isn't in or who is who.  I had a parcel delayed this week due to a public holiday in Germany, checked it was on its way this morning only to see the courier (substitute driver) sail past in his van without stopping.  Aargh!

Let's hope I have fewer postal frustrations next week...

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Life back to normal

All the snow is now gone, and everything is back to normal now.  

Last week the county council repaired the path I use to get to the post office every day - it's much easier and safer, it's just a pity they did it after I spent several days slipping and sliding on the icy mud!

Popular items over the last week or so: clarinet ligatures, clarinet mouthpiece caps and batons.  I am pretty much out of all of them and awaiting new stock now.

Some books sell in large numbers all at the same time - Easy Winners is one of these, and it is going through just such a phase this week.  It is listed on the brass exam syllabus but is also available for other instruments.  It's a collection of 75 famous tunes from many different types of music: TV, folk songs, pop songs, film themes and tunes from classical music.  There is also a new collection, called Great Winners, which has 48 new theme tunes, including Wallace and Gromit, the Maple Leaf Rag and the Great Escape March.  This is available only for brass at present.  

Both of these books are great value, and for most instruments a CD containing backing tracks is also available, so you can play along!  Just put "Great Winners" or "Easy Winners" in the search engine on the website (see left for link).

Monday, 2 February 2009

There are some days....

... when I'm even more glad than normal that I work from home.  I sat with my cup of coffee this morning watching the flakes falling and thinking how pretty it looks.  I can think that because I no longer have to defrost my car, skid slowly along the road out of the village and spend a few hours sitting in traffic before getting to the office and finding lots of people didn't bother getting out of bed.

If you have seen my Being Green policy you will know that I take my parcels to the post largely on foot.  On days like today it is in fact the safest way, avoiding the compacted snow on the roads and the speed kings who seem to think that driving along a snow/ice covered roads at 40 mph is a good thing.  

So this is the view on my way to the post office this morning.  It was quite dark with looming clouds and occasional snow flurries.

On the way back I took this picture 
of a snow covered East Lancashire.  We are set for heavy snow tonight, so more to come.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Snow, French Music and Cello Rosin

This week we had more snow, the biggest flakes I have seen falling in many years.  It stuck around for a few days before melting away.  All the fields and trees were covered - it was very pretty while it lasted.

Last night I went to a concert at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, to hear the Halle Orchestra play French Music - Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Debussy's La Mer, and other works by Saint-Saens and Ravel.  It was very relaxing and enjoyable, except for the noise made by all the people who feel the need to cough during the performance.  I sometimes think they should hand out cough sweets before the concert starts!

On the subject of French music, at this time of the year I update all (yes, all 5,000) prices on my website.  Most changes are small, between 25p and £1.  This year, however, there are some major changes for the French catalogue as these are priced in Euros.  The fall in the value of the pound against the euro has meant that over the last year the sterling prices have drifted further and further away from the euro value.  So all the imported French music is now being repriced to reflect its real value against the euro - this means some very big changes, as much as +£7 for the more expensive items.  Sorry about this, but this is one of the problems businesses who import now have in the current economic climate.  

Finally, this week's big selling items have been cello rosin and Hinke Elementary Method for the oboe.  Don't ask me why, it's a mystery to me why suddenly everyone wants them all at the same time!

Friday, 16 January 2009

Top Searches This Week

Each week I check out what people have been looking for on the web, and which instruments or pieces people most often visit.

This week's winner is... the viola.

The viola isn't the kind of instrument to attract much attention, but it should be.  Its mellow tone, and position midway between violin and cello are unique and it certainly should be more popular. Like other "cinderella" instruments, few music shops stock a good range of pieces for the instrument.  I love "cinderella" instruments and make an effort to find lots of music for them.  One of my main goals is to ensure that students can find the music they need for exams up to grade 8, and so I stock everything I can find from those lists.

This week, viola scales have been popular, as has "L'alto Classique", particularly with overseas customers.  Add a sprinkling of Viola Time books, the odd concerto and sonata - all in all it has been a good week for the viola.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

On the Radio!

I had a busy international week this week, shipping orders everywhere including Hong Kong, Singapore, Italy and the US.  It's great to be able to help people play great music all the way around the world.

Anyway, I was settling down for a relaxing weekend, gardening aborted due to frozen ground, so thought I would watch bobsleigh races, tennis and make another batch of marmalade.  Then I got a phone call from the BBC.

Earlier in the week, I had suggested to Radio 4 that they cover a hidden side of all the redundancy stories in the news - the HR people who have to make all those employees redundant.  In my former life I was a HR director and making people redundant is the worst part of that job.  So, having made the suggestion, the Radio 4 programme Broadcasting House thought I should do a live interview on the programme.  Serves me right for sticking my head above the parapet!

So this morning I found myself alone in a BBC studio in Blackburn talking on national radio about my experiences.  The presenter, Paddy O'Connell, asked me what I do now and I told him, saying that I now have no employees to deal with and that's the way I like it.

You can hear the programme here

It's now over a year since I left my well paid job for this business and I don't regret it one bit.  I talk to some lovely people, and get real satisfaction from helping people find the music they want.  I don't make mega bucks and probably never will, but I don't have to sack people anymore.  A much better way of life.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A New Year

I hope you had a great break over the Christmas/New Year period and wish you all the best for the new year.

We have a light covering of snow here at present, so my walk to the post office yesterday was rather lovely - the only creature that had been up this path before me was a fox!