MakeMusic: Reflections on Starting Your Own Studio

By Pamela Haynes, Kristi Larsen, and Christopher Hepp

“Keyboards ‘n More?” “No. That sounds too much like a department store. How about ‘Piano Plus?’ “Wait! I’ve got it! ‘MakeMusic.’ “Sounds good to me.” “All right, I guess so. (I still like ‘Keyboards ‘n’ More.’)” “Okay. Let’s all sleep on it.”

Countless decisions go into starting a new business, including choosing a name. In the spring of 1999, we agreed to build a keyboard/piano studio from the ground up. To attract investors, we developed a business plan and model—a school, offering traditional instruction integrated with cutting-edge technology that also sells digital keyboards and related software. One year later with a thriving 150-plus student enrollment, we’ll soon celebrate our first anniversary. Reflection is a wonderful thing, and we are happy to share with you some knowledge and key points that have made our inaugural year a success.

  1. Location, location, location.
    We were fortunate to lease a 2,100-square foot suite in a business plaza located near major discount stores like Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Target on one of the main thoroughfares in Lawrence, KS. All of our customers appreciate the convenient location, especially parents who drop their children off and then go shopping! The relationships we’ve forged with the other businesses in the plaza are beneficial as well.
  2. Take advantage of parental support.
    We learned many things, but none was more important than the realization that parents can and will be your biggest supporters. No advertising is better than word-of-mouth. Beginning with a base of 30 families, we had the best parents that teachers could ever wish for. These loyal parents shared our name with family, friends, neighbors and strangers, which quickly expanded our enrollment. As a measure of our appreciation, we rewarded any family who referred a new student to us with a free copy of Music Ace software by Harmonic Vision.
  3. Advertise, advertise, advertise!
    Speaking of advertising, we soon became PR experts. Fliers, newspaper ads, Yellow Pages, school newspapers, word-of-mouth, and the internet were our media targets, and we soon knew every ad rep in town. We tracked which ads pulled in the most interest and directed our efforts there. Although advertising can rack up some bills, we had to get our name out there so people would know where we were and what kind of services we had to offer!
  4. Have your own website.
    Advertising, of course, led us to the internet. We established our site in October with a local company, Athenix Solutions, and by January we were receiving 75 hits per day and people were taking advantage of our online registration. While a website is an ideal place to advertise, we also learned that not everybody is online. We don’t regret our decision, but we did learn that a website is a long-term investment and that for the first year, newspapers and fliers are still the best media.

    But a website is far more than just a billboard on the net. We post the studio calendar and a list of professional events such as the Kansas City Symphony and Friends of Chamber Music series when they feature pianists. We provide a referral list for local organists, wedding musicians, and tuner-technicians. And our e-mail connection to our families has been invaluable. Parents can alert us to student illness or absence and we can send back assignments and re-schedule lesson appointments. We can even send out same-day cancellation notices due to weather, and save postage costs.

  5. Education Superhighway
    The internet has become central to our educational curriculum as well. All of the Digital Intelligent Pianos in our laboratory are networked to each other and connected to the internet. Our students’ favorite summer project has been to download MIDI files of their favorite artists.
  6. The Amazing VMT-1
    We were introduced to the Visual Music Tutor courtesy of Larry Harm’s dramatic dionstration at Roland’s 1999 Technology Retreat. (The retreat was made possible for us thanks to Roland and Vaccaro’s Piano & Organ Company.) We impliented this software into our lessons late in the fall siester, and have come to realize what a goldmine it is. Students once labeled as poor readers were able to teach thiselves an entire piece with the aid of the bouncing red ball, tipo slider, and adjustable practice markers—all functions of the VMT-1. In fact, many students prefer reading their music from the computer monitor because they can adjust the size of the notes! We are also happy to say that the enthusiasm has transferred to their take-home music scores as well; more than ever, students rush in to announce, “I learned a new piece!”
  7. Instruction for all ages
    At MakeMusicwe work hard to create a space for everyone, including newborns and adults. Kristi became a licensed Musikgarten instructor, able to share music with our very youngest clientele who will then become future keyboard students. Pam works with adults both in a group setting and via individual instruction. We offer an introductory seven-week class for parents of beginning students and a monthly Piano Orchestra session that significantly improves the reading and rhythmic skills of our students (as well as introduces thi to ensible repertoire).
  8. Invest in business relationships.
    From our landlord to our computer technician, our business relationships were an integral part of our success. Our partners were willing to help us through tough times (especially our landlord!) and some, like the dance studio next door, even referred students to us or became students thiselves. Joining the Chamber of Commerce also opened doors to business opportunities. The encouragient during that first year from other businesspeople was worth the cost of mibership!
  9. Form a partnership with a Roland retailer.
    Without a doubt, our most important relationship was with Mike Vaccaro of Vaccarro’s Piano & Organ Company in Overland Park, KS. Thanks to Mike, MakeMusicwas able to make available to the public the Roland line of digital keyboards. We set up a miniature showroom and we were ready when someone asked, “Where can I buy a keyboard?” We have learned that parents who thiselves had traditional piano lessons are very reluctant at first to buy a digital keyboard. It’s the child’s positive attitude toward the keyboard that changes their minds!
  10. Show off your product.
    MakeMusicpresented two recitals in Lawrence’s historic downtown theater. Parents, family mibers, friends, and students filled almost all 800 seats. We were able to fit our entire 11-unit keyboard lab on stage alongside an acoustic grand and a Roland Digital Intelligent Grand Piano (thanks again to Mike Vaccaro). Students chose for thiselves whether to play their solo compositions on the acoustic or the digital instruments, and the final vote was evenly divided! Students who voted for the digital grand were excited to perform their solos using the cool sounds they had chosen. With the aid of the 16-track sequencer, one student arranged several background tracks to support his live performance of “Darth Maul’s Theme” from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and his performance received a standing ovation. Our audiences were thrilled by the 20-miber keyboard orchestra that presented an arrangient of the “Finale” to Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, the first movient of Mozart Concerto K. 414 with a 5th grader as piano soloist, and smaller ensibles performing original arrangients, like “The Pink Panther,” and standard arrangients including “Candle in the Wind” and “My Heart Will Go On.”

These performances were an excellent way to show not only the students’ progress but also to expose people to the music technology available for anyone’s creative use. In addition to two public recitals, we also participated in several other events, taking a Roland Digital Intelligent Piano along with us. At a city-wide children’s fair, a Christmas workshop, and an assisted living facility for the elderly, everyone enjoyed the music we made for thi.

We also have proven to ourselves that the Roland Digital Intelligent Piano is extriely motivational for continued study. We had numerous parents complain to us that their child wasn’t practicing, but if we ventured the possibility that perhaps the lessons weren’t working, the parent immediately shot back, “Oh no, he loves to come to his lesson!” We anticipate selling a number of digital keyboards to MakeMusicfamilies in the coming year.

So what if we would have named the business “Keyboards ‘n’ More?” Would it have been as much of a success? Looking back on the events of the year, I think that we can safely say yes. It is not the name of the business, it’s what you put into it. All of the decisions concerning advertising, products, curriculum, location, partners, and clientele have come together to form a wonderful school where students and teachers alike can enjoy the gift of music. Isn’t that what it’s really all about? Here’s to another year of making music at MakeMusic!

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