By Caleb Hsu
Some people characterize technology as a destructive entity that inhibits creative advancement (musically speaking). However, there are plenty of examples where this misrepresentation is readily challenged. Technology builds bridges that connect the world and allow for global boundaries to be broken down. For musicians, technology prevents having geographical barriers obscure collaboration. Imagine simply setting up a webcam over a broadband connection and securing a USB microphone in place for a weekly lesson with a private instructor from a different continent. This immensely accessible way of learning was actualized by LessonFace CEO Claire Cunningham and her supporting team.
LessonFace is basically a virtual platform for interactive music lessons vis-à-vis via webcam. It seems like such a simple idea, but some of the greatest entrepreneurial ideas throughout history that have shaped societies have been just as uncomplicated as this. Though the underlying idea is simple, LessonFace offers a complex range of courses taught by an impressive list of notable teachers, some even having Grammy awards and hugely successful students behind their names. Whether you’re just starting out with a new instrument or you’re a seasoned musician seeking to further your skills in production or mixing techniques, there’s a class for you. Below, Claire shares information about how you can get involved with LessonFace and a top 40 American Idol Berklee grad gives us an inside look at what it’s like being a part of such a unique teaching opportunity. Also, be sure to continue reading to discover promotional details and exciting upcoming opportunities LessonFace will be offering.
Berklee Groove: What entails the selection process for your instructors – any specific qualities/certifications you actively seek out in making hiring decisions?
Claire Cunningham: We look for instructors who are very skilled and passionate about teaching. We also ask that a teacher fit into one or more of these three specific categories:
- 3+ years of music teaching experience
- Music degree AND 10+ years playing an instrument
- 5+ years of being a professional musician with your principal source of income derived from music
Many of our teachers fit into more than one of those categories, which is great. We also check that the teacher has the right equipment for connecting adequately to the LessonFace platform, which is pretty basic – they need to have a reasonably good computer or tablet with a webcam, and a decent internet connection. We also seek out really extraordinary instructors – the sort of performer or teacher that is not typically available for lessons either on- or offline for special promotions and more limited engagements, and are looking to expand that offering in the future.
BG: Due to the large interactive potential that online global connectivity offers, do you plan on expanding your company in the future?
CC: Yes, we have big plans for growth in the future. We’d like to let the person in Tokyo who wants to play the blues learn from a blues master in Memphis, or the person in Omaha picking up the bagpipes learn from a teacher in Scotland. The potential for the platform we’ve built is huge, and we’re excited to see what will happen.
BG: What opportunities are available for recent graduates or musicians interested in your company? Do you plan on offering any training programs for aspiring teachers?
CC: We’ve been thrilled to have an influx of Berklee grads offering lessons through LessonFace recently, and would welcome more. Anyone who is interested can read more about teaching through LessonFace at LessonFace.com/About-Teaching. I really like that you’re interested in a training program for aspiring teachers because we are developing a course for aspiring teachers.
BG: How is the online model changing traditional lessons aside from adding the convenience of staying in your home?
CC: The online model, in addition to cutting down commute time, allows students to connect to teachers who may have been inaccessible for other reasons before – because the teacher is in a different time zone, or is touring with their band, or for a host of other reasons. We were surprised to find that we got a big bump in lesson bookings during Hurricane Sandy – people who wanted to continue to keep their lesson schedules going despite not being able to leave the house sought to do so through LessonFace. That was of course an extreme event, but it may illustrate some of the benefits of having the online option. Aside from that, we find that meeting online helps focus the time spent on learning during the lesson. We don’t envision online lessons ending traditional lessons by any means, but rather serving to expand the potential beyond the offline music lessons model.
BG: What is most rewarding being the CEO behind a brand new approach to learning music?
CC: I am really happy and humbled to be working with such talented people in bringing this new learning model forward. My favorite part of the job is talking to the teachers and students about their own experiences with learning, especially when that learning is happening on LessonFace.
Berklee Groove: What’s the best thing about working with students from anywhere around the world?
Naomi Gillies: Being able to work with people from around the world is amazing. You get to meet people from different cultures and different musical backgrounds. It’s a learning experience in and of itself. You aren’t just limited to people in your own region. I have people from my hometown that used to take lessons from me and had to stop when I moved; this is an opportunity for them to start up again. It’s also a great job for musicians. We are constantly moving around, traveling from city to city for different gigs and sessions, etc. As long as you have an Internet connection and a place to give the lesson, you can really do it anywhere. That makes it a great job for musicians who want to keep active while also teaching.
BG: How do you see the Internet changing the way music is being taught today?
NG: The Internet has revolutionized everything. Teaching is no exception. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for video chat lessons to really start getting big. You already have instructional videos posted about everything and anything you could possibly want to learn; with a click of a button you can get information on whatever it is you need. However, it’s not the same as getting that one-on-one time with a professional.
BG: Advice for obtaining a job after college as a Berklee graduate?
NG: You can’t wait until after college to start worrying about that. All my jobs have come from people I met while active at Berklee. I haven’t had to actively go out and look for a job because I did my prep work while I was there. You need to constantly be involved in everything and anything possible and make friends with the people you would like to work with. People ask musicians they know and trust to do jobs. Then, they recommend you to other people (i.e. if you show up prepared). I can’t tell you how many people are surprised that I show up to sessions actually knowing the song.
Follow @lessonface and Tweet using #onlinemusiclessons and you’ll receive a DM with a code for $10 off your first purchase: www.lessonface.com/promo
Sound exciting? There’s more. 2013 will bring website updates, contests, new teachers, media spotlights, and other exciting opportunities! Keep yourself posted by following LessonFace on Twitter, Facebook, and LessonFace.com.