- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2020

People across the country are marking time by making music amid the pandemic. Retailers say keyboards and guitars are flying off shelves faster than they can restock them.

“We’re selling more guitars than we know what to do with,” said Tom Sumner, Yamaha Corp. of America’s president and CEO.

Yamaha, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of pianos, has sold five to six months worth of digital keyboards in two months during the pandemic, Mr. Sumner added.

Coronavirus closures and stay-at-home apparently have encouraged cooped-up folks with a little extra discretionary cash to purchase instruments, lessons and gear double time.

Reverb.com, the largest online marketplace for musical equipment, says searches for and purchases of acoustic instruments like guitars and ukuleles have increased exponentially. In fact, searches for ukuleles are up 99%.

And Sweetwater.com, one of the largest online retailers of musical instruments, has seen sales comparable to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, says Chuck Surack, its founder and CEO. He said that the company had to hire 100 new employees in its distribution center just to keep up with the demand.

Sweetwater also opened a new, 480,000-square-foot distribution center just a month before stay-at-home orders came to Indiana, where the company has headquarters, he says.

“Because we had that much space, it allowed us to slowly start to increase our inventory when we saw the first signs of COVID in China,” Mr. Surack said.

Recording equipment and other gear for producing music at home have been highly popular during the pandemic, too.

“Since there are very few live music shows right now, customers are buying more items related to audio recording. Many musicians are working in their home studios, so they’re making upgrades to that gear,” Mr. Surack said.

At Reverb.com, orders for microphones, speakers, cables and audio interfaces have increased, with searches for audio interfaces up 303%.

Mr. Sumner says Yamaha sold out of studio monitors and other home recording gear. “A number of our competitors, we think, are in the same boat, because our retailers are telling us that that’s the case,” he said.

The global market for musical instruments and gear was estimated to be $7.5 billion in 2018, according to Grand View Research, a marketing research and consulting firm based in San Francisco.

Jason Sagebiel is the founder of Sage Music, a school headquartered in New York City. His business occasionally rents out instruments; but he said his suppliers lately have not been able to keep up with demand.

“One of our suppliers opened again yesterday, but they don’t have any materials,” Mr. Sagebiel said.

He says having no instruments to rent is challenging, but getting and setting up gear for online lessons even harder.

Sage Music hosted online lessons before the pandemic, but now provides its students with tutorials on how to set up video and audio interfaces. Still, students and teachers struggle with camera angles and audio quality, Mr. Sagebiel says.

Though many students have left due to economic hardship, Sage Music’s enrollment has remained constant, he says. Before the pandemic, most students lived in New York, but today’s classes bring geographic diversity to the school.

“Now, we’re booking students in Ohio and Kansas and Florida and all over,” Mr. Sagebiel said.

Yamaha is enjoying a similar experience, Mr. Sumner says. When the company’s music schools moved online, he expected a 25% to 50% decline in enrollment. Instead, enrollment has remained constant, he says.

Both Sage Music and Yamaha plan to expand their online presence in the post-pandemic world, both for ease of scheduling and safety.

“A lot of people are just terrified to come back in person, they just don’t want to get sick,” Mr. Sagebiel said.

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