Siri vs. Clippy and the Hard Truth About Music Education!


If I asked to you name a company that has more subscribers than Netflix, collects more cloud computing revenue than Google, and has recently been the most valuable company in the world, could you do it? Go ahead and take a guess. I’ll wait (insert timely pause).

Buuuuuuuzzzzzz! Wrong answer!

(Well, I am assuming you had the wrong answer, because I did). 

Facebook, you say? Nope! Feeling pretty smug with your answer of Apple? Well, wipe that smug look off your face because they're not it! Amazon? Turn that smiley face upside down because you’re wrong!

It’s Microsoft. Did I just say Microsoft? Word! (mic drop)

Online columnist Dave Pell writes, "In short, it has become the start-up story of the year. Only, the company started up in the year 1975. Yes, they seemed to miss the early promise of the internet, they wildly misjudged the potential of the iPhone and couldn't create a half-decent competitor, and the social networking movement passed them by. I'm not even mentioning Clippy. But these days, the evil empire turned unlikely underdog is back on top. And did I mention they also do Windows?”

The perception is that Microsoft is dated and on the downside but the reality, and the data, states that it has never been healthier. In an article from Bloomberg News, authors Austin Carr and Dina Bass paint a surprising picture of a dynamic company on the rise.

As an avid Apple user and fanboy, this pains me. How is this possible? I thought for sure the newer and shinier FAANG companies (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, & Google) had long surpassed and were far superior investments and organizations. But the true data would suggest otherwise.

Despite the old adage, perception is not in fact reality. Reality is reality. This is just as true in music as it is in business.

If I asked you what the trends are in music education, you would likely say that participation is down and that music in schools are struggling. And you would be wrong. In a recent report released by Music Trades Magazine, a well respected industry trade magazine, last year was a successful year in almost every measurable way. 

In 2018:

  • Overall school music sales accounted for $763,000,000 in revenue, up from $737,000,000 in 2017

  • Brass instruments accounts for $297,000,000 in sales, a year over year increase of $1,000,000

  • Woodwind instruments account for $333,600,000 in sales up from $308,830,000 in 2017

  • String instruments accounted for $132,300,000; a slight uptick from 2017’s number of $131,920,000

  • Educational percussion sold $60,000,000, up from $58,000,000 in 2016

  • Sticks, mallets, hand percussion, and drum heads generated an additional $162,500,000, up from $133,000,000 in 2017

  • Print music (educational and non) sold $475,000.000. That’s nearly a half a billion dollars!

The fact is as plain as the abacus in front of your face, music is not contracting, it is growing. Is it growing fast enough? No. Is it growing large enough? No. BUT IT IS GROWING!

“The music industry has been singing the blues of doom and gloom for the past 25 years, but the data just doesn’t support that conclusion.”

-Paul Majeski, Music Trades Magazine

Some other observations based on the data

  • EVERY area (except print music) has experienced year over year growth for the past five years.

  • Over $420,000,000 worth of brass, woodwind, and string instruments were sold last year compared to $357,700.00 just five years earlier.

  • That’s a growth of 18% percent in five years!

  • Annual sales of individual instruments has increased to 981,000 instruments sold from 917,000, a 14% increase from five years ago.


Other indicators music education is on the rise? In the past decade we have seen more:

  • Community bands

  • Professional music educator associations/organizations

  • Drum corps

  • Bachelor's degrees granted in music

  • Professional development clinics and online courses

  • Technology, making us more efficient

And if you ask me, it’s not just more, it’s better. 

I think teachers today are better than twenty-five years ago. I think ensembles in general play better than they did twenty-five years ago. I think that looking at the entirety of the profession, the quality and quantity of performances are significantly better than they were a quarter of a century ago when I started teaching.

The list of indicators goes on and on, but they all seem to point in the same direction, upward! 

Look, I’m not saying that everything is perfect, because it's not. I’m not saying that some schools and programs aren’t struggling, because they are. I’m not saying that programs aren’t understaffed and underfunded, because they are. And I'm not saying that we don’t have a long way to go, because we do. 

What I am saying is that our perception can and will become our students', parents’, and colleagues’ reality, so let’s base that perception in truth and fact. Music education is growing and getting better with each and every day, and that is because of the people who teach it.

When you feel threatened or scared, keep in mind that music has been around not just since the beginning of schools, but since the beginning humanity. And while we have work to do, remember that music is alive and well because music makes us feel alive and well.

Hope you enjoyed the stats and data! Have a great week.

- Scott

p.s. Thanks to my friends at Music Trades Magazine for helping me with the number crunching!