June 16, 2015
An Interview with Steven Greenall, Creator of the pBone
Renier Fee, Director of Marketing for Music & Arts, met Steven Greenall at the Conn-Selmer Institute in Mishawaka, Indiana, earlier this year. Their conversation took so many interesting turns that he thought it a worthwhile interview for The Vault.
1. Welcome to The Vault Mr. Greenall! For those that don’t know you, can you recap your resume? What instruments do you play?
Firstly, thank you for including me in the Interview series. Music’s been in my blood since the tender age of just nine, when I found myself raising my hand as the music teacher held up a long shiny object and asked: “Does anyone want to play this trombone?” At the time I never realized or even expected that I would end up introducing a totally new trombone or helping develop a generation of instruments manufactured from plastic. Neither did I think that I would play a part in encouraging a new generation of musicians. After seven years running the International Trombone Association, I formed a company in 2007 to create the world’s first plastic trombone, the pBone. I still own and play on a Bach 42G, Rath Bass Trombone and a purple pBone.
2. Instruments were already made from many materials, woods like granadilla and rosewood, metals like gold and silver, even consisting of rubber or plastics such as ebonite and polypropylene resin. Plastic clarinets were developed in 1948 by the Selmer company. Why do you think it wasn’t until 2010 that the world’s first all-plastic instrument, the pBone trombone, was created, by your company, Warwick Music Group?
It’s all about innovation, the spark of an idea and the realization that with modern technologies it’s possible to do things differently and in some instances, even better. The aspiration at Warwick Music Group has always been to make instruments accessible, durable, and needing little or no maintenance. As performing musicians and teachers, we would never compromise on sound quality, tone and pitch of our instruments – but we also know that plastic instruments bring so many advantages over traditionally manufactured instruments. Our plastic instruments complement traditional instruments – and our experience has shown that they have helped open a new and additional market of both would-be and existing musicians.
We had no constraints when it came to material or process, and typically for a start-up company we were free to design and experiment, as a relatively young business, we are not constrained by the restrictions often faced by established corporations.
Everything was positive for Warwick Music, so we patented several elements and continue to be in a great position of growth.
3. Can you describe the reception from other instrument manufacturers at that time? The pBone was certainly received well by the business community. You won a number of awards.
Trombone players by their very nature are a supportive crowd, and as innovators we experienced early adopter’s support which helped the pBone overcome the skeptics. Today we continue to be very well received by professionals, educators and students. Of course, we signed a global distribution contract with Conn-Selmer in 2011, the home of Conn trombones and Bach trumpets and the endorsement of my good friend and jazz trombone legend, Jiggs Whigham, who ended up investing in our business!
4. Why are plastic instruments an important innovation for musicians?
I have yet to meet any level of musician that likes to have their trumpet or trombone in the workshop for a dent or simple cleaning, tune up, service, maintenance!
Plastic instruments are often used as complimentary expressions of the sound I want to create during my performance. Which means that I switch instruments on stage and showcase my musical chops with another tool, which happens to be in plastic.
But perhaps most important of all, we all have a responsibility to nurture the next generation of musicians and music-lovers. Our team gets a huge kick from seeing the next generation of musicians picking up a pBone, pTrumpet or more recently, our new instrument, pBuzz. If it sets them on a love for playing music – which they pass on to their children – that’s great for everyone. We’re very well placed to nurture those musicians – anything that makes music easy and accessible for beginners is vital.
5. There are many competitors on the market—Allora, Tromba, Nuvo, Vibratosax—with their own variations of plastic instruments. What differentiates your brand?
We started as a team of musicians. Clearly the success invited “copycats”. Competition is a great thing. It keeps us all focused. Warwick Music Group’s unique right to win (used to be called USP), is the combination of high quality and accessible products and services enabling everyone to just play! We don’t look backwards, we innovate forwards. Our industry leading quality comes from our decision to use some of the best automotive suppliers to make our instruments – parts of the pBone and pTrumpet are being made alongside components for Mercedes, Harley-Davison, Mann Trucks.
As a team we are focused on the attributes and characteristics that consumers associate with winning brands. Because we are musicians, we mix with musicians, we listen to musicians and we speak to music teachers. Above all though, we talk constantly to the consumer – those who have bought our instruments. We find out what they like and don’t like. We measure their satisfaction on a monthly basis. We use techniques such as Net Promoter Score, that enables us to benchmark ourselves against others, which is why we are easy to do business with, the consistent high quality standards enable us to exchange instruments rather than to repair them. Consumers know our products are fun, vote for us with their money, understand the “clever/cool” aspects. pBone and pTrumpet are market leading brands with over 1.4m people engaging with us every month, fellow players, teachers and parents having fun.
6. Warwick Music Group is also a publisher of sheet music. How do you balance the business demands of sheet music and instrument manufacturing? They seem like polar opposites.
Of course, the requirements and growth potential are different, but they complement each other. While we have experts that have been with the company for many years and the longer established sheet music business of Warwick Music continues to grow, we strengthen and develop our resources with expertise to gain core competencies. Our sheet music is listed on the Royal Schools of Music exam syllabi – reinforcing our strive towards quality in everything we do.
Because of the breadth and strength of our team, I am able to delegate and entrust the sheet music business, almost in its entirety.
7. What is your vision for Warwick Music Group’s education program?
Our vision is simple: we want the world’s greatest musicians of the future to start their musical journey with us. As parents and teachers ourselves, it’s something the whole Warwick Music Group family is passionate about. At a time when music has to fight for the attention of young children, anything that makes music fun and accessible is critical for the future of our industry and even our society.
We’ve developed a dedicated education website (education.warwickmusicgroup.com), we have teaching resources, on-line tutorials, videos and have completed several hundred pBone and pTrumpet circles lovingly called “pCircles” across the globe.
We are focusing our attention on equipping disciples in countries around the world with a series of video conferencing, share and learning sessions and webinars.
We recently launched “Make music fun with pBone, pTrumpet and pBuzz – a new series of webinars for our community to share and exchange ideas to spread the love . . . of music!”
All that said, we are going to round out the product offering to welcome three year olds to wind instruments with the pBuzz.
8. You launched the new pBuzz. Can you tell us more about it?
The pBuzz is a great example how innovation can work. It started with a discussion on a long car drive over Vuvuzelas, combined with which instruments – recorder or harmonica – young children can start out, and the lack of innovation in wind instruments for children.
We wanted to enable a three year old to effortlessly buzz their first sound and offer the ability to learn and play simple tunes!
Next our development and engineering team took the lead. Today we have another product that is selling in the tens of thousands and brings joy to a new group of players very few instruments manufacturers actually reach.
9. Given your busy schedule, do you still find moments to pick up the trombone and play?
Absolutely, I remain active teaching my three children at home, join my colleagues weekly and when my wife Kate lets me, the occasional orchestra performance or band gig is always “scheduled”. I also conduct an award-winning concert band and school student band but I enjoy nothing more than picking up the trombone. As my trombone teacher said: “The trombone chooses you,” and it is a privilege I will always hold dear just as I did when I started as a nine-year-old, not so long ago . . .