COMPANIES TO WATCH
|Industry veteran Claudio Formisano has headed up Master Music since 1994.
Italian distributor counters market shifts with focus on school music.
AFTER 24 YEARS, the Italian music world knew Master Music as a link to global music brands in every segment, from guitars to pro audio to percussion. A year ago, however, Master Music read the market and became a different kind of distributor. Established in 1994, Milan-based Master Music started out as a specialist in Latin percussion instruments and accessories but quickly grew into a full-line distributor, taking on prestigious brands from across the music industry and around the world. Over recent years, though, the Italian marketplace changed. Ecommerce transformed how products were bought and sold generally, while a mismatch between distributors and retailers brought the Italian market to a tipping point: With some 81 distributors serving just 900 retailers, it no longer made sense for Master Music to be just another generalized distributor. As President and CEO Claudio Formisano sums up: “The supply was bigger than the demand.” Instead, in 2018, the company carved out its own niche, focusing solely on music products for the educational market. It’s since established itself as a specialist in the segment, bringing a discerning eye to product selection while serving school music and mass market retailers along with representatives from public and private schools.
“Master Music works on a 360-degree basis serving musical instrument stores throughout our national territory, wholesalers of educational instruments, e-commerce stores, and the mass retail channel,” Formisano says. “In the educational instruments world, we have found a dynamic market with outstanding professionalism and highly competent businesspeople.”
As the grandson of Gegè di Giacomo, the noted singer and drummer known for his work with Renato Carosone, Formisano came from a musical family. For his own part, he’s worked in the music products industry since 1975, when he joined the management of a leading musical instrument store in Italy. From 1977 through 1993 he would serve as sales director for the musical instruments division at Ricordi, a prominent publisher—and in 1994, he established Master Music, which he would head up for the next 25 years and counting. Through his decades in business, Formisano learned to avoid what he saw as one of the chief pitfalls of the industry: the tendency to let a love of music override commonsense business considerations. “The biggest mistake that is made in the musical instrument business is letting oneself be taken by the passion that often does not correspond to good management—as the decisions taken are not rational but passionate,” he says. Known as a keen observer of the European market in general, he’s also been outspoken on how divergent interests, policies, and economic conditions among European countries have fueled uncertainty across the continent.
“The entire European community is suffering from the lack of unity, or European unitary policies,” says Formisano, “and this makes the whole of Europe weaker, more insecure, and more subject to speculation, which then reflects negatively on all economies: industry, trade, and crafts. The consumer in this context finds himself lost and scared, and consequently reduces purchases with consequences that can be well imagined.”
Since taking Master Music into music education, though, Formisano and his team have been finding ways to make the segment more user-friendly, starting with a rigorous selection process for the lines they choose to represent. “Master Music products are unique because of the high standards with which both suppliers and products are selected,” he says. “Our exclusive criteria center on the search for quality, and on the guarantee of production processes that respect environmental laws and responsible production.”
To name just one of its finds since specializing in the education segment, Master Music recently began representing Sordinella, a universal soprano recorder mute that’s suitable for every type of soprano recorder used in schools. Made from a carefully formulated non-toxic material, the Sordinella mute is applied to the recorder at the point where the sound is generated, allowing players to decrease the flow rate of the air that produces the sound. In this way, the intensity of the sound is reduced without changing the pitch of the instrument, yielding a delicate tone with a typical reduction of 5-8 decibels. It’s recommended for students practicing at home, subduing the normally piercing notes of the recorder to tones that won’t disturb the neighbors.
As Formisano sees it, it’s Master Music’s role to find and highlight such products, and then use all the tools at its disposal to bring them to retailers and music programs throughout Italy. “Ecommerce, whether B2B or B2C, has radically transformed the way we do business all over the world,” he says. “The only way to stay competitive is to adapt to the newest systems and the way the market operates. Master Music has done that, and this has allowed us to open up countless new opportunities. Our goal is to continue building the educational instrument market, in depth, with specialized products and professional tools. It’s a market with many opportunities for growth.”