‘The YouTube Chronicles’ by Kasia Fejklowicz

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Our good friends at the excellent Music Inc magazine in the USA recently published a comprehensive article about 3 music shops embracing Youtube. The article included our very own Lee Anderton and it is a great read:

WITH THOUSANDS OF SUBSCRIBERS AND MILLIONS OF VIEWS, THREE MI DEALERS CAN BE CONSIDERED MEMBERS OF YOUTUBE’S ROYALTY. BUT THE ROAD TO ANY TYPE OF FAME CAN BE ROCKY — ESPECIALLY THE ROAD TO ACHIEVING SUCCESS ON THE SECOND MOST POPULAR WEBSITE ON THE INTERNET. THE STORY OF CARTER VINTAGE GUITARS, ANDERTONS MUSIC CO. AND KRAFT MUSIC ARE TALES OF TENACITY, DETERMINATION AND THE FIGHT TO BUILD THEIR BUSINESSES ONLINE

With one billion users and 300 hours of video being uploaded every minute, it might seem impossible to stand out on YouTube. Nonetheless, some music retailers have found opportunity on the video-sharing platform that’s flooded with makeup tutorials, cute animal compilations and fan-created covers of Billboard hits.

While many retailers promote through more traditional platforms like Facebook and Twitter for event updates and gear promotions, YouTube requires a more focused intention and execution to work for boutique and full-line dealers. As a result, only 9 percent of small business owners have accounts on the website, according to market research platform FortuneLords.

But music instrument retailers like Carter Vintage Guitars, Andertons Music and Kraft Music have successfully navigated YouTube’s terrain to create rock-solid channels that have collectively generated more than 100 million views … and drive sales. But before they had the resources to buy thousands of dollars worth of video-production equipment, hire full-time content managers and book talent, they all started out in the same place — with zero views, zero subscribers, subpar video equipment and a desire to connect with customers online.

‘Making it in Music City’

Less than two miles from dozens of iconic recording studios, country bars and music venues in Greater Nashville sits an 8,000-square-foot shop filled with more than 1,600 vintage fretted instruments and effects, including Keith Urban’s $90,000 Dumble Overdrive Deluxe amp and Merle Haggard’s $150,000 Martin 00-21 acoustic.

While iconic recording companies have long dominated Nashville’s Music Row, Carter Vintage Guitars is situated on what owners Walter and Christie Carter affectionately call “Guitar Row.” Since the Carters officially opened their doors on June 1, 2013, two other vintage guitar shops have moved in on 8th Avenue South. It’s a new Nashville hot spot for celebrity walk-ins like the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and country and folk singer-songwriter Steve Earle. But at one time, the husband-and-wife team had trouble getting the word out — even though their store’s location seemed like the perfect spot to bring in musicians starving for vintage gear.

Carter Vintage Guitars opened in 2013 with 75 instruments and one part-time repairman. There were long stretches of time on some days when not a single customer walked in. But social media helped change that. Once the Carters started posting on Facebook and uploading videos of local artists, employees and friends playing their favorite instruments on YouTube, Carter became a must-see for pickers in Nashville… and beyond.

“Pretty quickly people heard about us,” Walter recalled. “Word of mouth spread, and it blew up on us,” Christie added.

Since then, the company has racked up 13,000 “likes” on Facebook and 8,000 subscribers on YouTube with a whopping 3.5 million views. In 2017 alone, the Carter Vintage Guitars channel has gained more subscribers than in all of 2016 and nearly one million additional views.

“The channel is much more active, and our sales have already passed where they were mid-point last year,” Christie said. “Those views really translate into dollars.”

As a direct result of the store’s instant success on social media, its inventory has increased by more than 2,000 percent. The staff size has jumped to 20 employees, including two full-time employees who create and manage all web content.

‘Cracking the Code’

When the Carters put together their shop’s business plan, it was simple. For one, they wanted to buy low and sell high. Their second goal was to treat customers right. They didn’t need more because both of them have more than 25 years of experience in the vintage guitar world — Walter working as the in-house Gibson historian and Christie selling high-end guitars.

They didn’t even make room for an advertising budget because they knew they couldn’t afford to advertise through traditional channels.

“I spent a lot of time on Facebook putting the word out that Carter Vintage had opened,” Christie said. Anytime a celebrity would wander in to test gear, or if a live show were coming up, she’d post the photo or event information on Facebook.

One month after opening on a slow Sunday in July 2013, Josh Alexander, who often visited the shop to learn more about vintage guitars, recorded Nashville singer-songwriter W.T. Davidson — also a good friend of the Carters — playing a 1941 Gibson Super 400 Premier. That same day, Walter created the Carter Vintage Guitars YouTube channel and posted the company’s first video. It’s been viewed over 800 times.

“When [Alexander] got too busy to do all those things, I started doing them,” Walter said. “I was just hitting record on the camera and doing the most basic editing. I knew how to crossfade and how to end it. That was about it,” he said laughing.

Building the channel wasn’t easy. Walter didn’t have the experience or the money to hire extra help or to purchase expensive equipment to boost video quality. He solely relied on a Nikon D5100 DSLR camera to pick up the audio and to capture the presenter.

“We started out with a monopod because we had so little money,” Walter noted. “I could get a monopod for $15 while a tripod cost $75.”

For the next two years, Walter kept himself busy with booking and recording musicians (with no shortage of aspiring talent in Nashville), as well as celebrity guests and even staff members and friends. Once business picked up in 2015, Walter and Christie brought on Zach Broyles, a social media manager. One year later, they hired an in-house videographer and photographer, Jon Roncolato. With a fulltime marketing team onboard paired with strong sales, Carter Vintage Guitars could afford to upgrade its video-production equipment.

Before each shoot, Broyles and Roncolato set up lighting and use two Nikon D750 DSLR cameras and a Zoom H6 to capture audio. To record acoustic instruments, they use a Shure SM81 condenser microphone. For electric guitars and amplifiers, they use a Cascade Fat Head microphone as well as Shure’s SM57 mic. When it comes to editing, Broyles said he spends up to ten hours a week on Apple’s Final Cut Pro.

“We try to keep the post as natural as we can, and that’s pretty much our rig,” Christie said.

To date, Carter Vintage Guitars has uploaded 543 videos and has no intention of stopping. Social media has been critical to Carter Vintage Guitars’ success. Not only because it’s the 21st century’s version of guerilla marketing, but because the store was able to invest in gear rather than in traditional advertising avenues.

“For us, it worked to have a homey, organic, natural kind of video,” Walter said. “For a store that might not have this sort of atmosphere, that kind of video may not work. It may need to be a more formal presentation of an instrument, but I would certainly advise anybody in any business to take advantage of YouTube and social media in any way they can.”

‘The Captain discovers the power of YouTube’ 

‘YouTube was and still is the only real opportunity to build a really deep relationship with somebody that you’re never actually going to meet face to face.’ – Lee Anderton, Andertons Music

Of course, Carter Vintage Guitars isn’t the first MI retailer that saw YouTube’s marketing potential.

Lee Anderton, co-owner and “captain” of Andertons Music in Guildford, England, credits Pro Guitar Shop as the first retailer to adapt YouTube as a way to demonstrate products. The Portland, Oregon, retailer was an inspiration to him and sparked him to launch his own channel, titled “Andertons TV.”

“I saw [Pro Guitar Shop’s channel], and I thought, ‘That’s brilliant; the technology is so much more interesting than taking out a static print advert,’” Anderton said. “It’s a great way to show to a customer how a product sounds without the customer having to come to the store.”

To learn more about the social network and how other folks were using it, Anderton spent hours watching videos on YouTube. That’s when he stumbled across Rob Chapman, frontman and guitarist for Dorje, who was posting videos showing guitar techniques and lessons.

“Looking back, [Rob Chapman’s channel] was a tiny channel in today’s terms, but back then it was massive,” Anderton said. “[Chapman] had 10,000 subscribers and that was enormous in 2007. So, I just phoned him and asked, ‘Do you want to do some work for Andertons?’ The rest, as they say, is history.”

Since 2007, Anderton and Chapman have worked together to create videos and grow a following that’s close to the entire population of Fort Worth, Texas (roughly 830,000 people, y’all).

‘Content vs Quality’

Just as Carter Vintage Guitars used a simple digital camcorder to record its first videos, so did Anderton. Over the course of a decade, Andertons Music has invested nearly $30,000 in video and audio equipment. Its set includes three Canon EOS 700D’s, one Canon EOS C100 Mark II, universal audio interfaces, thousands of dollars worth of microphones and lighting equipment.

Although Andertons produces high-quality, professional content, Anderton still believes that production value doesn’t determine whether somebody watches a channel or not.

“You can have all the top of the range equipment for video capture, but if the content is crap then the video is still crap,” Anderton said. “You can have an iPhone and shoot amazing content, and that’s still better.”

Ben Kraft, owner and president of Kraft Music in Franklin, Wisconsin, agrees with Anderton to an extent. “If somebody had a great idea, you can shoot it with an iPhone and get tremendous views, but I don’t know if it would be sustainable,” he said. “When we started [in 2009], videos consisted of cats and dogs running down streets and people taking 13-second videos of their puppy, but now everything is highly produced,” he added.

Even though Kraft argues that MI retailers who want to build a successful empire on YouTube in 2017 must heavily invest in equipment, he still encourages retailers to go for it.

“You have to start somewhere; that’s the biggest thing,” Kraft said. “Thinking back to how it started, where we are today and our ideas for tomorrow, it’s way beyond anything we thought it would be eight years ago.”

‘Finding what works’

Carter Vintage Guitars, Andertons Music and Kraft Music have seen the direct success of their channels and are fully committed to growing their video communities. This is a marketing strategy that has worked for them but might not make sense for others.

Although Backstage Music has 300,000 views, the Mississippi-based dealer chooses to focus on its Facebook presence rather than its YouTube channel.

“Facebook, for us, is more localized; YouTube is more national,” said Allen McBroom, co-owner of Backstage Music. “If I put something on Facebook, it’s a lot more likely that it will generate feet walking in the door.”

According to McBroom, people don’t turn to YouTube to buy musical instruments; they tune in for entertainment and to get information. Once they find a guitar or amplifier they like, they’ll type the product name into Google and find out where to buy it.

Kraft agreed with McBroom on the idea that consumers use YouTube to learn about products, but offered a different perspective.

“People like to watch videos,” he said.  Kraft Music views YouTube as a platform to not only communicate with customers but for its customers to know that there are people behind the sales, in a much different setting than in-store interactions.

“We’re active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but it’s not a huge focus for us,” Kraft said. “We never quite found our niche in how we add value or why people would want to follow us; video was so much more natural to us.”

While video came naturally to Kraft Music, Anderton warned fellow MI retailers that video marketing isn’t always so easy. “It gets crazy expensive quite quickly,” he said.

Currently, Andertons Music employs two full-time employees to create and edit content, nine part-time presenters, and plans on hiring “somebody whose sole role will be to ensure that the content gets the maximum exposure,” he elaborated.

Anderton also noted that YouTube shouldn’t be used in isolation as the sole marketing tactic.

“YouTube may well be the most obvious marketing activity of Andertons, but behind the scenes, there are dozens of people that are making sure the product looks great and that the email marketing is great,” he said. “People are replying to Facebook posts and making sure the content is added to the site in a way that Google will give a high ranking.”

To improve the entire online shopping experience, 25 out of 100 staff members at Andertons Music, purely handle the ecommerce side of the business.

“Andertons is a great example of what you can do over time,” he said. “Ten years ago, there was one person working, and there was one person making videos. It didn’t generate us a lot of money, but just like an acorn, it grew a little bit.”

‘Creating a video community’

For Carter Vintage Guitars, Andertons Music and Kraft Music, their YouTube channels are their brand’s bread and butter. Although they don’t see any money rolling in from YouTube, they do see their online and in-store sales growing as well as their customer network.

“YouTube was and still is the only real opportunity to build a deep relationship with somebody that you’re never actually going to meet face to face,” Anderton said. “That’s why I’ve enjoyed using videos as a form of getting our brand out there.”

For all three retailers, it’s not about the views or the sales numbers. It’s about creating a strong video community that connects dealers with customers and forms a memorable, lasting impression.

“The main thing we’ve built up over YouTube is trust, honesty and integrity,” Anderton concluded. “When people see us, they see presenters who represent the values of the store, and they appreciate the honesty and the fun that we have around the products that we sell, and they trust us to buy from us.”

www.musicincmag.com