Music education outside of the classroom is nothing new, of course, and even the concept of franchised programs isn’t a breakthrough. However, in the past few years, performance-based music instruction organizations have been making a greater impact – due partly to cutbacks in traditional school music programs, perhaps, as well as these alternate programs’ embrace of more contemporary styles of music. MMR recently spoke with the higher-ups from some of the largest and most well known music education franchises - School of Rock's Chris Catalano and Bach to Rock's Brian Gross - to get the inside track on this current trend.
MMR: What was the catalyst for starting your program? What’s the “mission statement”?
Chris Catalano: School of Rock is the originator of performance-based music education. All others, to our knowledge, have followed the model that we established and originated in 1998.
It was started quite simply because it is a better way to teach music. Traditional music education starts with theory and the human soul is not governed by theory – it’s driven by an instinctive reaction to beats and rhythm. To understand this, one must go back to the origins of music. Music existed long before theory existed, and it existed independently in various tribes without knowledge of the other cultures’ use of music. That is because music and rhythm is a fundamental part of the human soul. In fact, our bodies have a natural biological rhythm. Our whole existence is in fact governed by a series of beats and harmonious rhythms.
To that end, School of Rock attempts to get students playing real music – songs that inspire them – as quickly as possible. The reason is that students are much more motivated and thirsty to learn more when they are inspired by the fruits of their labor. Inspiration drives perspiration. It motivates the student to learn more (including theory at the right time). It is not unlike the way children learn to speak. We don’t teach them proper conjugation of verbs; No, we just get them to start making sounds and get them to communicate. Much like that, students communicate with music and hone their skills with theory later.
In addition to that, there’s the importance of having a goal, a mission, a purpose for your learning that assists in motivating learning. So performances are scheduled and deadlines exist. The performance is not far off and everyone wants to look great on stage. So they work hard. But they know their hard work will be rewarded with a live performance in front of a live audience.
This, coupled with the fact that students are not only playing their own instrument but also playing with others, helps in their learning. They don’t want to let their peers down, so they work harder. They get to hear the sound of their instrument and the contribution that it makes to the whole, as opposed to sitting at the end of their bed with their guitar with that lonesome performance.
Brian Gross: Our philosophy since day one has been that students learn best when playing the music they love most. Our vision was to transform music instruction into a team sport by coupling rigorous individual instruction with band practice that keeps students motivated by playing in a group.
We believe that part of Bach to Rock’s success can be attributed to interest in music education being at an all-time high, especially with the popularity of American Idol, X Factor, The Voice, and Glee. Additionally, music instrument ownership is up nearly 10 percent in the U.S. according to NAMM. With music and arts programs continuing to be cut due to diminishing school budgets, Bach to Rock helps meet the increased need for high-quality music education.
MMR: Can you describe your relationship with area music instrument retailers and suppliers?
CC: School of Rock is creating more players globally and, simply stated, this will help all of us. We aren’t traditional stocking retailers. Retailers have benefited from the musicians who we inspire in communities around the globe. They ultimately will be buying things – in some cases, lots of things and we aren’t the typical source for that.
Additionally, we have conversion opportunities for the right retailers in the right locations who want to join forces and help us inspire the next generation of musicians.
We have some direct relationships with suppliers. Generally speaking, those relationships have been for the purpose of supplying our schools with the base equipment required to operate a School of Rock. They are also supportive of the fact that we are inspiring more players and curious of the trusting relationship that we build with our customers. We are in a position of influence as it relates to equipment recommendations to our students.
BG: At Bach to Rock, we have partnerships with local, regional, and national retailers. We work with partners ranging from Casio, Music & Arts, and D’Addario to local music stores that offer sheet music and instrument rentals. While we have some national partnerships, we also encourage all our local schools to develop partnerships with the retailers in their area.
In the end, we don’t want to be a retail outlet. We don’t want to sell or rent instruments. We’ll sell some consumables, like picks and drum sticks, but small, minor items. For everything else, we’re looking to develop symbiotic relationships where we can refer people to MI retailers, so our customers can get quality products and services and customer service. In return, hopefully, they’ll refer us for lessons and when people are looking for performance opportunities.
Our schools should be a focal point within the community when it comes to music, music education, and serving the community. What I mean by that is, for example, one of our schools works with a local recreational council and provides a PA system for the local sports leagues. In return, our kids perform every Saturday morning before and after the baseball or soccer games. It’s about being ingrained in the community, not only for our business success but also just to be a good community citizen.
MMR: How would interested parties go about franchising with your organization?
CC: Participants can visit our website (www.schoolofrock.com) and click on “franchising” and then fill out the request info form, or they can call (877) 556-6184. We are waiting for them to join our team.
BG: This year, we’re focusing on expanding our footprint to major metropolitan areas across the country and we are currently seeking qualified franchise candidates with strong management or business backgrounds. This is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to build a business that is dedicated to helping children and adults learn to play the music they love. While music experience or ability is not necessary, candidates should be able to build a strong team of committed musicians to ensure the school’s success.
MMR: Any plans for the coming months that you want to share?
CC: There is a lot going on in our system. We will be opening about 25 to 35
locations this year and we will plant flags in several new countries.
BG: Bach to Rock opened its first corporate-owned location in Bethesda, Md. in 2007 and, since, has grown to six corporate schools: two in Maryland and four in Virginia. There are also three franchisee-owned schools on their way – Port Washington, N.Y. and Wayne, Pa. (slated to open this summer) and Sacramento, Calif. slated to open this winter.
We expect to continue the rapid growth of our franchise network. Within the next five years, we expect to have 75 to 100 Bach to Rock schools across the country. As we look further out onto the horizon, we envision 400 to 500 Bach to Rock schools in the U.S. alone. But the beautiful thing about music is that it’s a universal language. We could just as easily open a Bach to Rock in Europe as we could in Asia as we could in the Middle East. Ultimately, we envision Bach to Rock as a global brand that has schools across the world.
Additionally, we expect our product offering to continue to expand. We are piloting a DJ school in two of our locations, which has shown a high level of promise. We also recently launched a new infant and toddler music class called “Rock n Roll” in our Maryland and Virginia schools that is designed to help young children experience musical concepts through fun and interactive games together with their parents.
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