Making Beautiful Music

Sep 30, 2008

Icons & Innovators

How Richard Petty, CEO and president of Power Music, turned a personal passion into an empire of sound.

Richard Petty has always loved music—really loved music. Just out of high school, he worked days at a record store and nights as a DJ. It was the early days of the fitness revolution, and he noticed that aerobics instructors were coming into the store to find music, then asking him to mix tapes for their classes.

“It was happening so much that I began to suspect no one else was offering music for this market,” says Petty. “I went to my first IDEA convention in 1988 and found out I was right. I sold out of every tape I brought. I put an ad in IDEA’s magazine, and it took off from there.”

Petty’s mixed tapes became Power Music, the fitness industry’s top source of music for more than two decades, today serving approximately 125,000 fitness professionals around the globe. Power Music was the first company to standardize 32-count music phrasing; to offer workout music on CD; to create a fitness music e-commerce website; and to offer specialized music for a wide variety of exercise formats, among them step, kickboxing, indoor cycling, mind-body, personal workouts and dance.

Most recently, Power Music has launched ClickMix, an innovative service that helps fitness professionals do what Petty started out doing 20 years ago—create custom mixes. The online program lets you create your own mixes from a choice of over 3,000 single 32-count tracks; you can also browse mixes made by other members and burn them to CD for same-day use.

“We’re really in an innovation stage right now,” says Petty. “Instructors have always been saying they like certain songs on CDs but not others. Now they can mix their own and choose the sequence, the tempo—it’s much more personal, and they can do it in 15 minutes.”

Power Music works with many of the leading personalities and companies in the fitness and dance industries. It has just released a workout mix with Carmen Electra, available on iTunes.

“This business has diversified in ways I never would have imagined,” says Petty. ”When I started, it was all about high-low. That was it for group fitness. Then in the early ’90s we added step in lower tempo, and that really changed the industry. Now there are so many different kinds of classes—it’s all about variety.”

Petty says the most significant lessons he’s learned have been the importance of product quality and the value of music as a motivator. “You can’t skimp on the customer. We’ve believed that from day one, and I know that’s essentially what has made us successful.

“Having music is nearly equivalent to having shoes for a lot of workouts. You need it. The better the music is, the better your workouts are likely to be. Music plays an important and personal role, just as the instructor does. It can make or break a class.”

Petty’s favorite music is contemporary jazz, but he’s always had a love for pop and dance music as well. “ I care about music. I know what sounds good. I know about production. I always wanted to be the one who offered music that’s as good as it could possibly be. I didn’t get into this because I’d been to business school. Everything I know I learned along the way, and everything I’ve done has been because of a passion for music. In fact, I’d probably still be DJ-ing if I wasn’t doing this!”

After more than 20 years, Petty says he feels like he’s just getting started. “There’s just so much opportunity out there. I feel like we’re in a new era, and it’s very exciting. In music, format and distribution are changing so rapidly that none of us fully understands where [the industry] will go. But challenge is invigorating, and I’m not afraid to go for something big. For all of us today, change is happening so fast that you have to be able to embrace it and work with it if you really want to succeed.”

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