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Small Biz Saturday: Oz’s Music offers music online, looks to adapt future needs

Owner of Oz’s Music in Ann Arbor discusses adapting to online teaching, future changes to business.

Oz's Music has been serving Ann Arbor for  over 25 years.
Oz's Music has been serving Ann Arbor for over 25 years. (Oz's Music)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – “As musicians, especially ones that improvise, we’re kind of used to going with the flow somehow. So, hopefully we can be creative enough to make it work for everybody,” said Steve “Oz” Osburn of Oz’s Music.

Having started his Music Environment in 1979, and his store, Oz’s Music, in 1990, Osburn has been a part of Ann Arbor’s musical community for decades.

He has “a lot of irons in the fire” as he put it. On top of owning the music store, he supports local musicians, teaches music lessons for various instruments and created the band “Know Obstacles” 25 years ago.

Lately, Osburn has had to transition part of his business online. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he and the other instructors at Oz’s Music have had to teach their students online.

He’s been using different platforms, like Zoom, WhatsApp and Google Hangouts, for his lessons and said that he felt online teaching has made him more organized as he has to keep more notes on each student.

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Osburn said he feels his students are practicing more and that even some of his younger students or shyer students are more engaged when interacting online. He thinks online lessons are how things will stay for the future.

“I feel like most of the students, and their parents, are going to want to stay at home, even if things snap back right tomorrow,” said Osburn.

While the transition to online teaching was smooth, there have been a few downfalls, namely video lag and sound quality. Instructors at Oz’s, many of whom are local musicians, have seen a decrease of 25% to 50% in students.

Osburn has also made a few other changes. At Oz’s Music he usually offers weekly Open Stages for musicians to show off their skills — he now holds those online.

Even some of the members of Know Obstacles, a band primarily made up of young musicians with special needs, showed up for a recent Open Stage.

“It was really nice to see a lot of my friends from that community and give them a chance to shine,“ said Osburn. Before having to close the Oz’s Music to the public, Know Obstacles used to have regular rehearsals but Osburn has been disconnected from the band during the pandemic.

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Nevertheless, Osburn has several ideas for how to keep clients safe when he can reopen his business for lessons and appointments.

“We’ve been trying to think ‘what can be the new normal for us in music’ and it’s forcing a lot of physical changes in the space,” said Osburn.

He is thinking of reconfiguring some of the practice rooms in the store so that instructors can be in one room and students can be in another, separated by a piece of glass. They can still see each other and interact through two-way audio.

Osburn would also like to turn his well-known Music Environment -- a large multipurpose space equipped a stage and various ready-to-go instruments with its own storefront -- into a socially distanced rehearsal space for local musicians.

“My room is quite large so we’ll be able to get five musicians in there and keep them 15-20 feet apart, so they can social distance rehearse,” said Osburn.

He’s toying with the idea of bringing in negative ion generators and turning a teaching room into a sanitizing space with UV lights as well as having face shields for employees.

Osburn said that he may also transform room in the Oz’s Music basement into an instrument repair shop so that local partners can come into his space to do their repairs.

As for the business’ annual summer camps, they are an ever-evolving process. Throughout a normal year, Oz’s Music raises money for scholarships for young musicians to come to the summer camps. Because there may not be camps this summer, the business has started a Know Obstacles GoFundMe account to help those students with other music-related costs like lessons.

For now, the “mom and pop” part of Oz’s Music is essentially a “one-woman operation” according to Osburn. His wife, Leslie Zager, has been fulfilling orders and shipping them during the store’s shortened hours.

Osburn said that, when it becomes possible, Oz’s Music will be able to offer one-on-one appointments and virtual appointments to show off merchandise.

Currently, the store is able to deliver items and offers curbside pickup. It is open from noon to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

Oz’s Music is at 1920 Packard St.

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Musicians gathers for a photo.
Musicians gathers for a photo. (Oz's Music)

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