Blog of Alumni Team

Alumni entrepreneurs

Alumni Team - Posted on 11.03.2020

Conservatoire graduates are uniquely placed to solve the challenges that affect musicians and, as a result, we have a number of successful alumni entrepreneurs who are innovating within the music profession. 

We spoke to three businesses set up by Academy alumni to find out more about what they do and ask their advice for budding entrepreneurs. 

Music in Vision

Kathleen Wallfisch (Baroque Cello, 2009) set up Music in Vision in 2017 with the aim of bridging the gap between production companies and musicians. 

What have you been up to since leaving the Academy?

I studied with the wonderful Jenny Ward-Clarke and freelanced as a cellist in the period instrument world. I started my business in 2017 as I wanted the opportunity to work from home more often after having children.

Tell us a bit about Music in Vision. What do you do?

We provide music supervision, casting and consultancy services to the film and TV industry. This could be one element – finding the right artist for an on-camera role, licensing tracks, coaching talent or assisting on set, for example – or the whole process.

What gave you the idea to start Music in Vision?

I had carried out some work as an on-camera performer and wondered why the booking of musicians was such a casual process. From a consultancy point of view, production teams are not generally knowledgeable about musicians, and will leave this aspect to a casting assistant, who might not know what is required for musicians to perform to their best ability either. I wanted to provide the answers that they needed about instrumentation, rates, historical performance and so on. I was also fed up of seeing background extras being booked to play instruments when I knew that professionals could be doing the same job properly!

What have you learnt from starting your own business?

I have learnt a huge amount about structure and process. It’s essential to have a business plan and then work backwards; for example, after you have the initial idea, how will you create repetitive processes that enable you to work quickly and not start from scratch each time you have an enquiry. I wish I had done this when I started out as a freelance performer! 

Do you have any advice for students with a business idea?
Research is vital at the beginning. Do you have any competitors? If so, what is going to help you stand out? Be confident that you have lots of transferable skills as a musician, such as creativity, working well under pressure and being a good team player. You’re probably used to networking and making new contacts already – this will be essential in your new field.

Find out more about Music in Vision here

MyLuthier

Ariel Lang (Violin, 2016) and Pedro Silva (Cello, 2017) set up MyLuthier with the aim to provide musicians with exceptional instruments at a price they can afford.

What have you been up to since leaving the Academy?

Since leaving the Academy, we have both been busy freelancing in London and abroad. We came up with the idea for MyLuthier in our last year at the Academy and spent a lot of time working on it and fine-tuning it before turning it into reality.

Tell us a bit about MyLuthier. What do you do?

MyLuthier is the UK’s first online platform and showroom dedicated to promoting contemporary instruments. 

Our main objective is to provide musicians like us with an amazing alternative to antique instruments. Every young player dreams of playing on a Stradivari violin, but the truth is that most high-quality antique instruments are unaffordable. We want to change this.

We go through a rigorous process of trying instruments ourselves. We travel all over Europe and select makers based on their reputation and previous work. Our philosophy is that we wouldn’t show anything to our customers that we wouldn’t be happy playing on ourselves, so we set a very high standard from the start.

What gave you the idea to start MyLuthier?

We were finishing our studies at the Academy and had to return the instruments we were borrowing and look for our own instruments. We quickly realised that most high-quality antiques were unaffordable and started to look into contemporary instruments. There was very little information about who the living makers were and where we could find their instruments. 
The resources needed to travel around the world and try all of these modern instruments are too demanding for musicians to do alone. We thought that if we could take care of that part, all musicians would have to do is come to our showroom. The idea was that an afternoon spent in our showroom would be the equivalent of spending weeks looking for instruments and trying them on your own. 

What have you learnt from starting your own business?

It forced us to challenge ourselves in completely new ways. As musicians we are used to dealing with pressure on an almost daily basis, but this is different. Dealing with the ups and downs of business is a more constant and slow-paced endeavour and it requires you to be very adaptable. 

One of the main things we learnt was how to be able to do a little of everything. There are many facets to a business including business development, marketing, design and accountancy, and to be able to do these things, you have to learn a new, broad skill set – one that as musicians, we didn’t really have. 

Do you have any advice for students with a business idea?

The most important thing is to try to fill a gap in the market. Identify something that you think might be missing in a certain aspect of your life and see if the idea seems to get other people’s attention as well. 

A fundamental necessity when starting a business is having the drive to succeed. Musicians are quite good at this because from early on, we’re taught to push ourselves and move forward in our careers rather than stay complacent and wait for opportunities to arise. It’s completely normal to have days with more or less enthusiasm but the business won’t create itself, so you need to drive it forward constantly.

The last thing I’d like to mention is the matter of business partners. We are lucky that there are two of us and it’s very important to be able to rely on your business partner when one of you is feeling temporarily pessimistic about the success of the business. It’s absolutely vital that you find people that you can trust to work with. 

Find out more here.  

mushRoom

Judy Chen (Flute, 2013) started mushRoom to help musicians find available, affordable and fit-for-purpose rehearsal rooms. 

What have you been up to since leaving the Academy?

I started out mostly freelancing and teaching and I formed a flute and marimba duo. We did a few recitals and workshops in England and Jersey.

When I came back to London, I set myself a goal to curate 10 music projects that were original and meaningful to me. While curating these projects, I found that finding affordable rehearsal rooms in certain locations can be challenging, especially after graduating. One day I needed to travel from Southwark to do a rehearsal with my accompanist. As I passed by the famous NEO Bankside next to Tate Modern, I saw a wonderful grand piano in one of the apartments and thought, ‘I wish we could just rehearse here…’ That was the start of mushRoom.

Tell us about mushRoom. What is your mission?

My mission is to gather as many rehearsal/practice-friendly spaces as possible on one platform, making mushRoom the best tool for musicians when it comes to finding rehearsal spaces. The spaces won’t only be commercial rehearsal studios, but also churches, music schools and even people’s homes.

I am also looking into music rehearsal/practise-friendly accommodation for travelling musicians, to be launched later (hopefully!).

What gave you the idea to start mushRoom?

It has always been a problem for musicians to find suitable rehearsal spaces easily. For me it was especially difficult when travelling for auditions or competitions. Most of the time you don’t get to practise as much as you would like before these events, and it’s hard to find a place to practise comfortably (I used to discreetly practise in hotel rooms). Yet there are so many music-friendly spaces we could use, especially in people’s homes. As a frequent Airbnb user, it didn't take me much time to link the problem and the solution!

What have learnt from starting your own business?

I’m still learning! But the most important thing I’ve learnt is that a business idea keeps on evolving and the original concept might change, but it is important to have clear thoughts – you want to own each of your decisions.

Another valuable thing I always keep in mind is that the company represents who you are – the entrepreneur’s personality will become the culture of the company. This helps me to be more confident and clarify my thoughts.

Do you have any advice for students with a business idea?

As classical musicians, we are lucky to learn about problem-solving and organisation skills from a very young age (how to practise efficiently, for example) so don’t be too afraid – you will be starting with some strong assets!

Private teaching can be a great source of income to support yourself when running a start-up. A teaching schedule is much more flexible than most office jobs and can be easily adapted to your entrepreneurial activity.

It will be difficult and self-doubt will be inevitable, but if your idea is solid and you have a clear and achievable plan, stick to it! Find allies and use the determination you have for music – it will help you get there!

Find out more here.

 

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