Music Company Executive Reinvigorates Industry with Innovative Thinking
Merging of technology and programs prove sustainable
By Ankie Yip
Name: Beethoven At Home Year Established: 2007 Location: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Montréal & Ottawa/Gatineau Website: www.BeethovenAtHome.com
In this Summer 2020 edition, as we continue to maintain a strong focus on resiliency in the private education sector, I had the opportunity to interview Neal Bennett, President of Beethoven At Home Inc., to explore music education entrepreneurship.
One of the unique ways that private education programs can experience exponential growth potential is to provide different methods of delivery and customer experiences. This is exceptionally true in our current scenario involving challenges due to Covid 19 during the 2019-20 academic year. As one of Canada’s premier music education companies, Beethoven At Home offers private, in-home, in-studio, and online lessons in the largest Canadian centres.
Established in 2007, Neal is a performer, an entrepreneur in education, and teacher holding degrees from the University of British Columbia, B.Mus & DMA, and a prix avec grande distinction from Conservatoire de Musique de Québec. He is well-known for his performances with iTromboni, the team Canada of Trombones.
Describing his day-to-day responsibilities in the company, Neal shares, “My wife, Peggy, and I are very much a team. She deals with the financial day in and day out, and I deal with the marketing and recruitment. We also have a partner, François Levesque, who is our web design guru and manages all of our backend systems.”
When it comes to target markets, there is a wide audience base all over Canada that the company draws from. “I think there are many target markets. Certainly, we address an executive, multi-child market where the convenience and value of in-home lessons become apparent,” Neal explains. In this case, Neal provides solutions for customers who, for example, may desire a singular, concentrated space for lessons in order to avoid long drives in traffic in a metropolitan area, as well as serving adults that may not be comfortable attending, for example, a lesson centre mainly tailored to younger children.
Q&A with Neal Bennett, President, Beethoven At Home
The Ed Exec: Over the past several years since your company’s founding in 2007, could you tell us about some of your most memorable milestones so far?
Neal Bennett: I think relocating to focus on the business was a major milestone because that meant we were truly all in. I like watching the statistics of how many teachers we have worked with. We recently passed our teacher application 2000 mark. While this does not mean that 2000 teachers are currently employed with us, it does mean that the dialogue, promise and message of fair conditions has reached at least that many teachers in a serious way.
TEE: How did you come up with the idea of starting Beethoven At Home, and what are some crucial factors that you have considered to enhance performance in the field?
NB: We both were motivated to improve the compensation and working conditions of the itinerant music teacher. Marketing oneself as a music teacher is difficult and inefficient. The trend toward online services makes a service like ours even more relevant and important. We have always been and remain proud to offer our teachers what we think is the highest rate of compensation in the industry. This is why our people stay with us.
TEE: Many of us in the industry are aware that this year has been exceptionally disrupted due to Covid 19. What are some new and different techniques you have had to implement in your business to cope with this unique situation today?
NB: Well, I would say that the initial impact was devastating… Initially up to 75% of clients were on hold indefinitely almost overnight. Eventually we were able to make sure that every teacher was paid on time. Cash flow can be problematic for businesses that are facing massive, sudden stop work and return cycles. The reason we survived so well is because our model is very modern, and we avoid overhead as much as possible in favour of paying our team a better rate. This lowers expenses and creates loyalty within our team. I have to compliment the excellent teachers we work with for adapting to online teaching and can say we are well on the road to recovery now.
“Cash flow can be problematic for businesses that are facing massive, sudden stop work and return cycles. The reason we survived so well is because our model is very modern, and we avoid overhead as much as possible in favour of paying our team a better rate.”
TEE: What are some interesting industry trends that you foresee in your market?
NB: I believe the value of the virtual has finally been proven.High tech video conferencing has been around and widely available since the late 80s and early 90s. I used to be very involved in these markets as the head of Commercial Electronics Ltd. professional division.I worked on several projects in this industry for many government and private groups.
At the time, the value proposition was easy to prove but never truly widely adapted. It was because it was expensive on the front end and quite frankly many executives still wanted to travel. The argument was that nothing can replace a face-to-face interaction. Fast forward to today and technologies like Facetime and Skype have continually improved to a great product like Zoom that is ideal for musical instruction if the parameters are set properly.
In the case of music lessons, there is of course value in a physical presence. However, now we have a different incentive to learn differently. The axis of the argument is now about health more than whether executives maintain a wider social circle across huge distances. I foresee the virtual presence as something that will continue to evolve as the speed of broadband and other technologies continually evolve.
Is there room for improvement? Of course. But now many clients see that a blend of virtual and physical presence might be appropriate. Perhaps the teacher visits the home once a month and the other weeks are virtual. There is a lot on the table in terms of possibilities from re-evaluating the traditional model. I am fond of this particular meme that says we can create a new garment in this time of change. This is true in education too. This is good for all, in my opinion.
“There is a lot on the table in terms of possibilities from re-evaluating the traditional model. I am fond of this particular meme that says we can create a new garment in this time of change.”
TEE: What do you believe are the most important advantages of learning an instrument and obtaining a high-quality music education experience?
NB: Learning an instrument is a profound experience. It uses more of our neural pathways than any other experience. It creates empathy and invites us to be better. It tests and develops our intelligence. Beyond any professional aspiration, I think it is an essential part of true human development. It is pleasure and it is a discipline. Music has more to teach us than any one human can learn. To ignore it is to ignore one’s humanity.
Since we are being futuristic, I would hope that there would be more multi-discipline degree education and that music would be a part of this in the future. I will cite two crazy examples. As a kid, I loved a movie called Buckaroo Banzai. In it, the protagonist goes from one scene where he is performing brain surgery to another where he is on stage with a rock band performing mercilessly. He even produces a piccolo trumpet from his pocket to perform an impossible solo. This appeals to my way of thinking.
I would love to see music become associated with the idea and value of being more like a polymath rather than an isolated specialization for people. The idea that great musicians could also be great contributors to society is a powerful one. They are actually. I can cite many wonderful examples of musicians that are doctors, chefs, etc. I think these musicians deserve more accolades than our stars do sometimes. At least in classical music we put too high a value on mathematical perfection. This is not unprecedented.
When I was doing my research for my doctoral degree, I researched a group of Czech monks that specialized in both medicine and music simultaneously. Loosely translated, they were the merciful brethren. Might not we create more parallel double majors in the world giving our great minds the chance to truly develop their merciful capacities via music? I would apply this to trades as well. It is an interesting way to think of education in the future.
TEE: Lastly, where do you hope to see your company in about two years into the future?
NB: The future for our teachers is bright. The future for music education is essential... Clients need to be happy and that ultimately is the job of our brilliant team. By empowering music teachers, we can have the results that clients want. The formula for that is to care about the teacher in the first place. They are people, not product.
TEE: Thank you, Neal, and all the best!