Realizing the Changes in Pop Culture and Technology
In the 17 years that I owned a music school, I can think of two or three times when changes were occurring in pop culture that I was pretty oblivious to. Or maybe I was aware of them, but I didn’t necessarily think they were going to have any impact on my music school.
Ultimately, I noticed changes in students’ interests, some for the better and some for the worse. It became clear that the source of these changes was the evolving landscape of both pop culture and technology.
The Dominance of Rock Music in 2003
When I started my school in 2003, rock music was still king. Rock bands dominated the pop charts, and the impact of Nirvana and the entire grunge movement from the early ’90s was still resonating. This was working great for me because my music school was focused on placing kids in rock bands.
Shift in Teenagers’ Interest Away from Rock Music
But then, I noticed a shift, and over the next few years, I observed that teenagers were becoming less interested in joining my rock band program. I was still doing well with younger kids, but my best-sounding bands had always been made up of teenagers, and they weren’t signing up anymore.
I ultimately realized that teenagers just weren’t listening to rock music as much as they were in 2003. This shift happened around the time of the 2009 recession, and after that, the teenagers just never came back.
How My Music School Business Adapted to the Pop Music Trend
Rap music and pop music were dominating the charts, so I shifted my efforts and focused more on getting younger kids into rock bands. This is when I developed my Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz programs, allowing me to place kids as young as four in a group.
The Challenges I Faced with Recording Studio and Technology
Another change in culture and technology that really caught me off guard was when I decided to build a recording studio in my music school for recording live bands. I thought the kids would go bonkers over the idea of being able to record their music. The kids appreciated it, but there wasn’t as much interest in it as I had anticipated.
Opportunities I Missed in Adapting to Cultural Changes
There wasn’t much interest in my recording studio. I even tried to launch some programs to teach kids how to record a band and operate that type of recording studio, but there was no interest. I spent a lot of money on that studio, but I failed to do my research. I failed to recognize the shift in the mindset of kids.
One student pointed out to me that he could do much of what we were doing in the school, including using the studio, on his laptop with GarageBand. It had never occurred to me that kids might not be so excited about my recording studio since many of them were already able to do some form of recording on their own. I thought my recording studio was giving them access to a world they otherwise wouldn’t have.
The Surge in Acoustic Guitar Lessons Due to the Taylor Swift Phenomenon
At one point, I noticed a lot of young girls signing up for acoustic guitar lessons, which thrilled me. Typically, boys were the majority of guitar lesson sign-ups, but there was now a huge influx of girls who specifically wanted to learn acoustic guitar. I began to wonder, “What’s going on? What’s behind this?” The answer was clear: the Taylor Swift Phenomenon had started. While this had a positive impact on my business, I could have acknowledged this cultural shift in my marketing and messaging. I might have crafted a message that would resonate with parents even more effectively.
The Unanticipated Popularity of Ukulele Lessons
All of a sudden, there was a growing interest in ukulele lessons. Ukulele lessons? Who plays the ukulele? Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” back in the ‘60s? Why all of a sudden now? And, once again, it was girls. Well, it turns out there was an 11- or 12-year-old girl who went on—I think it was maybe “American Idol”—and charmed audiences with her ukulele playing and singing.
The Importance of Embracing Cultural Shifts in Music
It was another example of pop culture having a positive impact on my music school, but I was blindsided by it. I wasn’t prepared for it, and it was a missed opportunity to embrace changes in pop culture and incorporate them into my marketing and messaging.
The Rising Interest in Electronic Music
One thing I noticed with many of my students, especially the older ones—the teenagers—was that they were getting really into electronic music. Even though they were guitar players and piano players, they were diving into making beats and creating simple electronic soundscapes and loops on their laptops.
The Value of Keeping an Eye on Pop Culture and Technology Trends
I noticed other music schools started incorporating electronic music production into their programs. I also noticed schools incorporating DJ lessons into their music schools. I didn’t embrace or try to incorporate any of these programs into my music school, but I believe there’s an important lesson to learn from these schools, which is the value of keeping an eye on shifts in pop culture and technology and looking for potential new opportunities to incorporate them into your music school.
Can Traditional Music Schools Adapt to This Technology?
I think if you’re a more traditional music school with an emphasis on classical music, these changes might not necessarily impact your school or create a new opportunity for it. However, there may be a creative way to stay true to your classical foundation while incorporating some of this technology.
Pop Music’s Constant Evolution
I think if pop music plays any role in your music school, you’re dealing with a style of music that’s subject to change because pop music, by design, is meant to evolve. It’s meant to reflect popular culture.
James Patrick Approach
On today’s show, I speak with James Patrick, owner of Slam Academy out of Minneapolis, and he’s fully embraced the world of technology and electronic music. He’s fully embraced the aspects of music that a lot of young people, especially teenagers, are really into.
Embracing Electronic Music, Production, and DJ Classes
Slam Academy focuses on electronic music, music production, and DJ classes. These are all tools that today’s teens have access to, not just on their laptops but even on their phones.
What Is a Teenager’s Perspective on Music Lessons
A quick story…in my interview with James, I shared a story about how I asked my teenage son if he wanted to sign up for bass guitar lessons and maybe we could find a music school that has a rock band program where he could be in a band. He then pulled out his phone and said, “Dad, why would I want to do that when I’ve got this?” as he waved his iPhone at me.
I thought, “Wow, that was a real wake-up call.” I grew up in a completely different era where we didn’t have access to these tools.
James Patrick’s Unique Business Model
James’ business model is very different from the typical music school that offers music lessons, maybe rock bands, or other group programs. I think it’s important to hear his story and ask yourself this: “Are there any aspects of what James is doing in his school that could be incorporated into my business?”
Incorporating Electronic Music to Engage Teenagers
I do know plenty of music schools that include electronic music as part of their offerings. I think it’s a great way to keep teenagers engaged in your music school. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, when I started my music school, the predominant age group was teenagers, and that shifted to younger kids. And that was great.
Extending the Lifetime Value of Customers
I love bringing in younger kids because when you bring an eight-year-old in, there’s a good chance that they might be with you for another 10 years. If you’re onboarding a new 14-year-old, maybe you can get four years out of them, but if you have programs that can engage these teenagers, you’ll be able to extend the lifetime value of each of your customers.
Creating a Differentiator Through Electronic Music
I think by incorporating electronic music and audio production, it’s also another way to create a differentiator for yourself. It’s a great way to set yourself apart from the competition.