[Transcript] Episode 079 – Nick Schlueter
Transcript: Episode 079 – Nick Schlueter
079 – Nick Schlueter on Starting a Dueling Pianos Business
Today I’m talking to the owner of a type of business that we haven’t had on the podcast before. For lack of a better term, I’d call it a dueling pianos talent agency, but I suspect my guest, would say that’s too fancy for a venture he and his business partner started kind of on accident.
In the interview we talk about how they got started, gradually made investments to offer more services, eventually expanded to other cities, and hired other performers along the way.
Here’s my conversation with Nick.
Andrea: Hi Nick. Thank you for being here today. Can you introduce yourself? Give us some background into your musical career.
Nick: Hey Andrea. It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me on. I’m Nick Schlueter. I started playing piano when I was about 14 and had like some wonderful music teachers coming up that really helped me get things together. I went to Webster University for my undergrad and a Bachelor in Composition and then I’ve done a whole hodgepodge of things. I thought I wanted to do film scoring and didn’t really end up enjoying that too much. I ended up in music sales for a long time. I was an independent contracting piano player for lack of a better term for that, and then Dueling Pianos and education have kind of been my thing for the last 10 years or so.
Andrea: Okay. Yeah, it sounds like one of those portfolio careers that we hear more and more about. I think they’ve always existed but there’s a term for them now. We’re going to be talking mostly about your Dueling Piano Business which I’m super excited to hear about because I admit although I’d been to dueling piano bars and experienced that, I never gave much thought as to how the musicians actually ended up there on the stage so I’m to hear kind of the business side of how that all works. So, introduce us to that business. When did it start? Where did the idea come from?
Nick: I also didn’t know how that works and how these people make money, like what are they doing, is it just tips like how is that whole thing happening? So my friend is a piano teacher, my business partner now, Shannon Bengford, is still a piano teacher but was a piano teacher at the time and was teaching a child of the co-owner of a dueling piano bar and he sat down and played and sang a song for the kid’s piano recital, just like a cute thing at the end, and the guy was like “You could tell her I do dueling pianos.”
So he and I were playing piano together at church until we get dragged into that thing, found out you could make a really good amount of money and found out it was a fun career. I was doing club dates and then eventually decided to go into business. So the business is called Dueling Hobbits Productions because my business partner and I are both well below 5’6”. We started that business a bit by accident in 2012.
Andrea: Alright, so kind of born on accident it sounds like out of your co-founder’s talent been recognized by the piano bar owner.
Nick: And so the dueling piano bar is saying if you’re doing that on a local level there’s holes in your schedule. So we were just trying to fill those gaps in our weekends off with money making activities and we had a friend ask us to play at their wedding and we had another friend that knew how to build piano shows so it all kind of worked together.
Andrea: Okay, so play at their wedding as dueling pianists? Okay, you’ve got club owners. Who are your customers for a dueling piano business?
Nick: As a business the customers are weddings, wedding receptions, non-profit events so fundraisers. There’s a cool aspect to that. In a dueling piano bar world you’re collecting tips, right? But it’s kind of fun when you have that for a non-profit event because the people there can pick things. Fundraisers tend to be a little bit low energy so people end up engaged in the show and having fun in being able to dance or just sit and whatever and then you can take the tips and donate it to their cause. So instead of it being like a distraction from the fundraising, it’s like right into that.
Andrea: Okay. Yeah, I imagine that kind of incentivizes the engagement of the audience too because they feel like they’re giving to the cause still even though it’s the entertainers. Awesome.
Nick: That’s super fun to get a hundred dollar tip and then to give it to a charity. The first time I feel like I can give big to a charity is a fun moment.
Andrea: Is there a tax write off for you?
Nick: Yes. So if we take the money in and we write them a check at the end of the evening, it’s common to our possession somehow so it has helped a little. And then the other few things that come up are corporate engagements. I don’t have any better way of doing it or calling it but the way we would refer to it as club engagements. So a bar that normally isn’t a dueling piano bar would want dueling pianos at their place, well like places normally are a concert venue wants to have a fun night so they’ll hire you.
Andrea: Okay. So you’ve got specific dueling piano bars. We’ve got two or three I think in St. Louis, right?
Nick: As a matter of fact, recently, all of them have gone belly up but that’s kind of an interesting thing too because it creates more of a hunger for that product to be in St. Louis. So clubs like a normal night club that normally wouldn’t have dueling pianos is much more likely to hire your private piano business to come in and provide that.
Andrea: Because of the novelty there and not something like if there isn’t the exclusively dueling pianos bar to go to then they’re going to come to this club for that one-off event.
Nick: Correct. So there’s been clubs that have done a dueling piano event like every two months, so all of the bachelorette parties that would normally come to different dueling piano bars and what we’ve divided out over a long period of time, all come for one night, all the people that really liked dueling piano entertainment come on one night. So it ends up being a great night for them and a lot more financially viable for them.
Andrea: Okay. Interesting how there’s like still that demand that just distributes itself differently when the regular sources are gone. And then, do you have a sense of what percentage of the business comes from these different customers?
Nick: I would say 50% of it is like wedding events, a good 30 to 40% of the remainder is the non-profit and corporate event type of things and 10% or less are the club events.
Andrea: Is that in terms of revenue or like number of events or it is a parallel?
Nick: It’s kind of parallel as a matter of fact. In terms of what we would charge a customer, it can be anything from around a thousand dollars to charge a club to bring in your dueling entertainment, to highfalutin events where you have many different instruments and it’s a little bit more involved and you have to travel for a wedding, it can be $10,000. It’s kind of all over the map with the median price—without trying to give away the farm too much—the median price being around $3,000 per event for weddings and non-profits.
Andrea: Are you bringing equipment for all of those things too or what does that look like?
Nick: Yeah, so the club you can often give them a better deal because you’re not bringing piano shells, which is like a digital piano. Think digital piano in your head. It’s basically like a shell case and a keyboard that you slide into it so it’s easy to move. You don’t have to bring the piano shell. You often don’t have to bring the lighting. You don’t have to bring a PA. It’s very non-fussy about how your PA looks if you do bring it; it’s often on-fussy about the aesthetic in general. It’s often non-fussy about the players or the quality of the players so you can charge the club significantly less.
Andrea: Okay, that makes sense. Now, what are they hoping to get out of this event?
Nick: There is a pent up demand for the dueling piano thing so there is a lot of people that will come out. They’ll pay a ticket price so usually a club can earn their costs at the door at the beginning of the night, and people very much enjoy this for drinking. Sometimes I feel like our entertainment is so bad, on certain nights, we’re forcing them into drinking but that’s a whole another discussion. People very much like to drink at these events. People tend to get there early. If they’d pay for a ticket they’re going to buy some food, they’re going to be there all night drinking, they’re going to get crazy, and the club tends to have a great night.
Andrea: Is that typically how clubs handle it, charging a ticket price that covers the entertainment and then the food and drinks are a bonus for them?
Andrea: Okay. Do you know if that’s kind of standard for most musicians or is that sort of specific to dueling pianos?
Nick: Yes, I do think that that’s typical. When I think of the clubs that we do dueling pianos at, on other nights they’re having ticketed events for their entertainment. It’s great for clubs that can have a variety of acts because it attracts a different audience. So this variety thing is often the way these clubs are making the stuff financially viable. So it’s kind of a scarcity mindset like you’re only getting a dueling piano is every couple of months these guys are going to be here. If you like that, it’s easier for the clubs to get the ticket price out of people.
Andrea: Yeah, that makes sense. Were there any specific pain points that you had noticed that you were trying to address maybe with club owners or with these other customers or was it just like there was demand? Was there any of that factoring into your decision to start a business doing this?
Nick: Yeah, there are definitely pain points that needed to be addressed in the sales process for certain things, I mean, certainly it’s like there are some people that have always wanted dueling pianos at their wedding and didn’t want anything else. There was a lot of like just fill out the paperwork instead of really any sense of salespersonship, but you know, some people really needed convincing. They needed to make sure that for a wedding that everybody was going to be entertained, for some people that it wasn’t going to be too vulgar, the tendency of doing pianos tend to be a little vicious, some people wanted to make sure you’re going to [00:10:38], which is a hysterical thing that you had to fill out with the customer, certainly logistics of setup. With dueling pianos, because you’re a pianist you could fulfill the ceremony and the cocktail hour thing pretty easily. You’re kind of a shoo-in for that so a discounted rate on the whole package was often a consideration. There are all kinds of things that would show up. For non-profits, knowing that you’re going to help them with the fundraising aspect, most of non-profit people do not want to get up and emcee an event so they want somebody that’s loud and obnoxious to help get the party started so that’s not on them. That’s your part of collecting funds for them, that you’re an organic part of what they’re doing instead of drawing focus away from what they’re trying to accomplish raising funds. These are the kinds of things that would show up, salesmanship and all this.
Andrea: So it wasn’t just that there was demand there that you’re taking advantage of when you started like there were things you could address by running a more comprehensive business as opposed to just like one-off performers?
Nick: Yeah. And this is something that we figured out over time. It’s like people kept coming to you with the same concerns over and over again, it’s like you realize “Oh, wait, wait, I need to really let people know that I have the answer for that.” So eventually it was like it was a wedding person. It was a form letter thing that they would get immediately, right? That was like here’s the stuff, and then that definitely lowers the amount of selling you try to do or explaining that you try to do on the backend because you really don’t have that many communications with people to get them into that mindset. So what you said is, in short, kind of correct. Yeah, it really helped.
Andrea: And then, how long was it? Was it just you and your co-founder and when did you start bringing the others on?
Nick: I’m not really a detailed guy so these numbers are terribly foggy. I would say like if we’ve been at this for 8 years, the first three years we were just trying to fill holes in our calendar when we weren’t working at the local clubs because we were really busy with that. It was like two or three weekends a month. First the Friday and Saturday, there wasn’t a lot of activity to do much of anything and we didn’t have a wide base of players. Eventually, when we started doing travelling dueling pianos which is a thing, so at one point the club we were playing at shut down to move locations. So I called Shannon because we didn’t have a lot of work going on. He had three kids at the time and now he’s got four little ones. He needed to make some money so I called him and I said “Look, I’m going to do some cold calling. I’m sure somebody needs a player. Everybody needs players all the time. Where in the world do you want to play?” And he was like “My wife and I honeymooned in Oregon. I would love to play out there.” I called the one piano bar in Portland, Oregon. Within five days, they have booked us for several different weekends because we just happen to strike a gold mine and they really needed help.
So, that travelling thing helped us to start to network with other dueling piano players which got us thinking because a lot of those folks were doing private gigs. We were like “We could do private gigs. There are not a lot of people doing that here, if any.” So we kind of took that more seriously and started to market it more, started to network with people, started to go after our referrals. And that thing from 2014-2015-ish to now started to grow. We started to hire players maybe three years ago.
Andrea: Okay. Have you hired people who were already dueling piano players or where have you started because I imagine that’s a pretty specific skillset, not only the piano skills but also just, like you said, you needed someone who can kind of getting the party started and have a personality to go with their performance, so yeah, how do you get started with that?
Nick: So yes, we hired some people that were more experienced that we knew from the “circuit”. There are a lot of people locally in Missouri, Illinois that are really good that they’re in demand all over the country. You could call on those people. Shannon and I really wanted to train people from the ground up. We found that dueling piano was a huge benefit to our career and we wanted to share it. So we did train some people from the ground up. I was teaching at a college at the time so I kind of cherry picked the best and brightest and people that I thought would enjoy this is a career. It would be in line with what they were trying to accomplish, that they were more of an entertainer type like there are certain archetypes in this world of dueling pianos and not everybody is the party person. Some of them are definitely the party person. Some of them are like really great vocalists and that’s kind of their thing. Some of them are just kind of like not to pick on me and my business partners archetypes but are a little bit more specialist, yeah, special specialists like learn a lot of songs, are the kind of people that are going to have 2,000 songs ready to go. So no matter what people are asking for they’re kind of filling in the gaps while the person that sounds really great and the person that’s kind of leading the party are working together. And then, when you’re training people, you’re trying to find those different archetypes that your organization doesn’t have. It was tough. That was tough but really fun, really satisfying.
Andrea: I bet. And then do you have to be really careful with scheduling that you’re pairing people together with complementary skills?
Nick: Oh my gosh. Always crazy. Eventually, I got a system that worked. I had two veteran players and then I would go out with one or two of the newbies and specifically, one newbie that was super entertaining and one that had a great voice, like I would bring them both and I would just make a little less money because I was making money from the other event so it would work out. And then, they would get some stage time because the tough thing is with this, the expectation is that you know at least 200 songs and that you’re entertaining immediately, that you can do sing-along immediately, but that’s not right, having this poor, young individual come out and do that at a private event when the stakes are really high off the bat. So we started to have more club gigs or like we would sell a less expensive thing with the client understanding that we had some newer people but I would be there for a non-profit event, for corporate events, so we could train people.
Andrea: Yeah, it’s such an open-ended kind of performance event and when you won’t have the music sitting in front of you or a book that you can open necessarily, yeah, I can imagine that would be really daunting to go into as a new performer.
Nick: There’s less variability to it than one might imagine, like there’s probably a hundred songs that you could do any night every night and they would work pretty well. So you try to like give the new person like that stuff, like really help them to have something where they feel like “Oh no, I’m not completely defenseless. I’m empowered,” and the big chubby, burly guy across me knows a bunch of songs so if I don’t know something it will be okay. That’s helpful but yeah, it’s daunting. It’s frightening to do the first one frankly.
Andrea: As long as they know Piano Man they can get through at least one, right?
Nick: That’s right. Thank you Billy Joel. Thank you sir. Thank you Elton John for Bennie and the Jets. Thank you.
Andrea: So what’s your team like today? How many people do you have performing?
Nick: We have lost some team mates to other endeavors lately. Chris Swan who you’ve had on this podcast has moved to New York City and is doing his thing there. So I don’t know how much more dueling he’s interested in doing. He’s such a brilliant entrepreneur and musician. He’s got a lot going on. Our buddy Rob has moved to Nashville, Tennessee. He comes up and helps our poor old selves once in a while but he’s kind of moved on to other things. A lot of my newbies are starting to come around though, so it’s kind of good that we planted the seeds for that so we have some of them coming around to fruition and are more valuable part of the team now. Shannon and I are thinking about doing some more events, just he and I, I mean, he and I haven’t played together because he’s essentially doing the same thing that I’m doing in St. Louis that he’s doing in Portland and he has a team of people too. We really like doing shows together. And there’s people that still really just want whatever bizarre conflagration that Shannon and I do together they specifically want that.
Andrea: You’re a special duo.
Nick: Yes, very special. So that’s fun. I think we’re going to start doing a little bit more of that but you know, there’s been a turnover, right? People move on and kind of do different stuff so it’s been nice to have the young ones kind of come in and fill the gap.
Andrea: And then, how does marketing work? You talked about cold calling that first place in Oregon. Typically, how does marketing work?
Nick: I was going to ask you that because I feel like Shannon and I were competent piano players. We had to work on and I especially had to work on the vocal thing. Ooh, that was tough. We’re good educators. We’re good little sales guys. We hired people out for website and I built the CRM, God help us that was a nightmare but it was a good experience. Marketing was never our thing. We were not great at that. So a lot of it was word-of-mouth, thank God. Believe it or not, we had one family–I think I’m not exaggerating to you–I think it was seven weddings in the family we did over a course of three years or something. It was so cool there’s a lot of repeated events. There’s a lot of word-of-mouth, a lot of people that liked dueling pianos are going to talk to other people so thank God for the word-of-mouth thing. We hired somebody to do some on-site SEO work. That was incredible so we started to get a lot of stuff direct. We were involved in lead sites like Freelancer.com for musicians, right? So GigMasters, Gigsalad, these cute little companies have a dueling piano oriented thing because that’s kind of an interest for them. So we generated some from that, but I would say word-of-mouth is by far the best thing for us.
Andrea: Did you do anything like you said you had a CRM so were you doing things to kind of manage those relationships or keep in touch with people?
Nick: We weren’t great at that. I tried to create some kind of a newsletter where people were in touch. That was very hard to keep going because I didn’t really feel like I was giving them anything. It was very hard for me to figure out how to do any general marketing thing to keep in touch with folks. I would send thank you emails every once in a while, just like reach out to somebody, and that was enough to keep us out of trouble. Oh man, marketing was the toughest for us for sure.
Andrea: Yeah, well I imagine that when you do go and do those events that probably talk to club owners and things like that as you’re there and that kind of one-to-one, just relationship building, probably, it leaves a lasting impression and they’re going to call you back for the next event or the seventh family wedding or whatever it is.
Nick: That’s so true. We would bring request slips for private events. And at the bottom it was like “Do you want to have a dueling piano event? Fill out your information,” and that worked a lot. Almost every gig well done would yield three to five good leads inevitably, so it was like, well, thank God this is easy on us.
Andrea: Well that’s a really smart way to handle that too, yeah. You got people who are already excited because they just heard you do this amazing event and they got something coming up in six months and put an easy way to capture their interest right then. It’s awesome.
Nick: Thank goodness, yup. It’s really helpful.
Andrea: Let’s talk about the finances. What did it take in terms of investment to get started? You’ve talked about like having a website and imagine there were some equipment purchases. Do you remember what that startup cost was?
Nick: So I tried to kind of break it out and we didn’t do everything up front, I mean, this is almost a business started by accident. It was kind of like “Oh, I guess we need a website,” “Oh, people want videos and pictures of us? Oh, yeah.” So we got piano shells. That’s a pretty big expense. We got a very good deal so I’m not going to throw anybody under the bus but we have like custom piano shells built. They were super cheap. There are actually companies that build shells that you can go to them. You don’t have to know some brilliant woodcrafter. Each shell is $2,000 to $3,000 is pretty fair. We bought some nice stuff. I don’t regret it at all. At some point we bought a cargo van because we were tired of renting things that can later 8 to 10 grand maybe. Maybe if you can get a really good deal maybe you can get an Astro van or something for 5 grand to make it happen but I think we spent around 10.
And then the website, we hired somebody really good and that was about 5 grand for all the onsite SEO and ongoing SEO work. Thank God for my dueling piano partner. He leveraged that by teaching the SEO dude’s kids piano over a couple of years. So that was amazing and we didn’t have to pay a lot of the stuff up front. We got some great deals. We didn’t do all of that stuff up front. We’re talking 20 to 30 grand all in. And you can tell from the price point of the gig, it’s like if you don’t have to do that all up front. If you’re having any kind of regular stream of work you’ll do fine. For a while we didn’t buy the PA. We would hire and our friend would come in and run PA and lights. I honestly don’t know why we didn’t just keep doing that because it’s so easy and it was so good but I’m sure it was a cost savings over time.
Andrea: But it does bring up a good point though that sometimes you can do something on your own and it doesn’t mean it necessarily worked but even if you can make money from it, like you might just prefer to have someone else handle that aspect.
Nick: Financially, owning a vehicle and not having to do like for a while we had a storage unit. So we’d go to our storage unit and we’d load a rental van, we’d go to the event and play. It’s three o’clock in the morning. We’re the only people that are allowed in the storage facility because I don’t know how we worked out that relationship. We must have looked honest and innocent and we would load in at three o’clock, I mean, like it was just too crazy. So the cargo van paid for itself, not only financially for rentals, but it did pay in brutalizing one’s sleeping schedule. Yeah, I definitely have found the hard way that certain things are worth paying for.
Andrea: I can see how you could scale like you said when you played at the bar you didn’t need the piano shells because they had them already and so you could come and grow your business through that and not have to take on all these expenses immediately.
Nick: Yeah. Often times, something was there that you could rent. We definitely did that for a while. It helped.
Andrea: And then, how did you share the financial responsibilities and every words with your co-owner? Were you paying yourselves or taking cuts at the end of the year or how did you handle all that?
Nick: My business partner is a terribly linear, very smart, very hardworking little hobbit, right? He’s very frugal and he’s a bootstrapper so thank god for Shannon Bengford. He was great to have as a business partner. Every gig payout was a formula. This player is going to get 42%. This player is going to get 36%. The profit will be this per cent. Our costs are about this so we’re going to take this per cost, and everything was split up. Eventually, we had like a profit share from that. Eventually that profit share grew. Now we’ve been able to actually take some money home like we’d pay our initial investment back pretty quickly within the business but like we have so much money just like sitting in that business because we wanted to be like really sure we weren’t ever financially in a hard spot. So we’re just starting to see like some significant rewards. The bootstrapping, the numbers guy or gal, oh my goodness, if you can partner with somebody like that, fantastic, so good.
Andrea: It definitely takes all skillsets.
Nick: Yeah, you can say that again. That’s true.
Andrea: How has Covid impacted your business?
Nick: It’s been a little weird, right? So I do quite a bit of teaching. I really like doing cocktail piano playing. A lot of that stuff, I mean, for the first couple of months nothing was happening at all. Nothing. Zero. A lot of people wanted to take piano lessons which was super fun but for the first couple of months it was tough. And now, slowly, things are coming back in different forms. The cocktail piano thing has been going on since summer. I found out later that there are some clubs in certain states that were open since May in some form masked form or another. I can imagine that would be logistically complex to have to travel to that club and do all that stuff. I’m so glad I wasn’t involved in that. Some small clubs are starting to do some stuff now. Some people are doing some smaller events. It was tough, I mean, we’re going to have a record year last year and it was crazy that just like one person after another and then you have to call people and you’ve got deposits and should we keep the deposit or should we just cash out everybody because who knows where this ends. It’s been crazy.
Andrea: Yeah. Do you see a path to recovery for the dueling piano business that you’re looking forward to?
Nick: Because there has been like little glimmers of stuff going on the whole time and people are really starting to put stuff on the calendar a little bit more firmly now in August with the vaccinations, with the whole enchilada, yeah, I think it’s going to be cool, I think specifically the club thing. People are going to want to come out and drink. We’re going to have to motivate people to come out in public again. That type of event, I think, is going to kind of carry us through 2021. I think there’ll be a pent up demand for people wanting to actually do their wedding party. But right now, we’re still in the kind of ‘slow go’ instead of the ‘no go’ zone. We’re still in the slow go zone.
Andrea: I was talking to someone in the wedding events space and they’re saying like normally their busy seasons are May, June, July, August, September and they’ve got a much busier year in 2022 because the demand is just pent up like it’s not that people aren’t getting married. They’re just going to be filling all the months, so it might actually mean less seasonality or less fluctuation between the seasonality of weddings in the next couple of years. It will be interesting.
Nick: Yeah, it definitely would be very interesting. We’re kind of putting our little logistical caps on hoping that we kind of streamlined some of our processes getting things together, getting in contact with players and all of that stuff so that as things come back together it’s easier to put that together. It’s going to be pretty unpredictable.
Andrea: So as we wrap up, what is next for you? What are some goals for 2021 for your business?
Nick: It’s a little bit laissez faire like, well, we’ll just see what’s going to happen. I think learning about marketing for me, doing as much as I could like some extra training from some of the less experienced players. The downtime was great for my piano technique, I’ll tell you that. Great, so much practicing, so stuff like that, stuff that you can do outside of demand. Just try to be as prepared as you can be for when the things that you can’t control.
Andrea: Yeah, sounds like you’re making the most of an uncertain time. Is there a book that’s had a strong influence on you as an entrepreneur?
Nick: Oh, yes. Have you read the Convenience Revolution?
Andrea: I have not. I’ve heard of it but I don’t know a lot, so tell us.
Nick: The Convenience Revolution, so it’s talking about how great some of these online companies are. Amazon is so great because it has made the language of friction really familiar to us, right, like we want to eliminate friction for anybody, that’s a big deal. He tells the whole background of 7-Eleven and how it was actually increasing the hours a store was open, increasing the hours a convenience store was open, like the term convenience store came from this. Increase those hours and put grocery items at a place that was normally just selling ice. So those hours were longer and there was stuff that you could buy for a little bit more expensive but it was readily available. So part of me loved learning that. I think it gave me some new terms to think about and part of me is just like does it like companies like that and kind of hopes there’s a little bit of a counter culture notion to that. I like to do business more like that. I would hate for piano lessons to become a convenience revolution casualty. I don’t think it works like that for everything but it’s interesting and I learned a lot.
Andrea: Okay. It sounds very thought provoking in ways that you may want to adopt some things and also want [00:32:58] from some things. Interesting. Alright, well thank you so much for being here and showing us a little bit of the behind the scenes of dueling piano business. Where can listeners get in touch with you?
Nick: I have a website. It’s Nickschlueter.com. If you want to find out more about the dueling piano thing, duelinghobbits.com is out there, so you can reach me in either place.
Andrea: Alright Nick, thank you so much.
Nick: Thank you.
[00:33:31] [End of interview]
Wasn’t Nick a fun guest? He may not consider marketing to be his strong suit, but he’s definitely got a knack for the sales side of things and he shared some great sales insights that I wanted to talk about more.
I think having the song request slips at events with interest forms at the bottom is a super smart move. It captures people when they’re feeling most excited about the possibility of having dueling pianos at their next event and gives Nick very qualified leads that he can follow up with while their enthusiasm is high.
A music studio could easily adopt something like this by putting an interest form at the bottom of a recital program to collect names and phone numbers of people interested in lessons.
If your recital experience is anything like mine, you are familiar with people catching you after an event when your head is in a million different places and they want to talk about enrolling their child in lessons. If I don’t have my phone on me, I’m trying to track down a pen to scrawl their contact info on a napkin covered in cake crumbs, or I have to resort to asking them to email me and then I just have to wait and hope that they actually follow up.
This interest form idea alleviates a lot of those problems and gives the studio owner the power to follow up, rather than waiting on prospect.
Towards the end of the conversation, Nick mentioned something about the path to recovery for the dueling pianos industry as we come out of COVID that I thought was really insightful.
He observed that people might be reluctant or slow to return to clubs again and club owners may need to motivate people to take that first step.
I think this awareness on Nick’s part of what his customers – the club owners – are thinking or worrying about is really valuable.
Pre-COVID, a club owner might have been concerned with finding quality entertainers that are going to show up on time, draw in new customers, get everyone excited and, ultimately, get people to spend money on food and drinks.
Post-COVID, a club owner is probably concerned with reacclimating people to the club environment, and eating out in general. People might need prodding to come out initially and having a special dueling pianos event to promote a specific night might be just the incentive a customer needs to skip carryout and dine-in instead.
Even though Nick is working with the same customers, their pain points have shifted and the language he uses when reaching out to these customers can shift as well.
I’m totally hypothesizing here to give an example of how the language might change, but let’s say a pre-COVID sales pitch might have included talk about how dueling pianos bring new people into clubs. Post-COVID, the pitch might talk about featuring dueling pianos as a way of inviting the regulars back.
This can apply to private teachers and studio owners as well. In the same way that club owners’ concerns have changed, we may notice that our students’ and families’ concerns have changed over the past year. On top of that, we may have adopted some permanent changes in our studios as a result of COVID, like exclusively teaching online or keeping a hybrid approach/
With these changes, we may be facing similar “sales”-like conversations to bring studio families back into lessons or to get them on board with a permanent change in lesson format.
Recognizing that these families are probably not in the same place they were a year ago and that their needs and concerns may be different today can help us change our language to speak to their current reality and re-engage them where they’re at today.
I also think emphasizing what will be the SAME – whether it’s an engaging performance at a club or a commitment to great music lessons – can assure customers that although things might look different, our commitment is the same.
I had so much fun getting to know Nick and learning more about the dueling piano business.
If there’s another music-related business you’d like to learn more about, send those ideas my way. I always love receiving your podcast suggestions.
As always, the show notes for this episode can be found at musicstudiostartup.com/episode079.
That’s all for today. Thanks for listening! I’ll be back next week.