Music Lessons: How We Went From 90 to 900 Students

Wentworth Music is a testament to the power of word-of-mouth advertising. At The 2017 NAMM Show, Noel Wentworth shared how he grew his lesson program from 90 to more than 900 students during the past 13 years. His secret? The power of storytelling.

“If word-of-mouth is king, then a good story or experience is your No. 1 asset,” he said.

Wentworth added that his company has made its music school the go-to place for lessons—in a city of approximately 200,000—by starting with a simple question: What did you wish for when you first picked up an instrument? One of the most popular answers is “to feel like a rock star.” So, he designed a student concert that makes participants look and feel as if they’re on tour, living the dream. Twice a year, 160–200 students get the chance to live that dream and play for a sold-out audience of 860 people. According to Wentworth, these concerts have sold out consistently since 2009. (Hundreds of people now get turned away beforehand.)

Wentworth insisted that the shows are not recitals but major concert productions. His company stages a two-hour show with large bands—putting as many students as possible on stage at the same time. Wentworth mentioned that for every student on stage, four to six people come out in support. And every student gets to be on stage at least once.

Plus, concert proceeds get donated to a local cause. To date, Wentworth Music has raised more than $156,000 to help sick children at the local hospital. “Put your heart in the right place, and it becomes your story,” he said.

Here are additional tips from his NAMM U session. (Watch the video for the full session.)

Key Points for the Concert
• Book the venue 10 months or more in advance.
• Ask the venue for the school rate, which is usually lower than the non-profit rate.
• Pick a concert theme that’s easy to promote. The theme should include every instrument you teach.
• Assess and assign song parts that are slightly easier than the student’s ability.
• Have students practice for six to eight weeks. Then, have three one-hour rehearsals as a band.
• Sell concert tickets at a reasonable price that’s affordable for the whole family.
• Donate proceeds after expenses to help your local charity.

Pre-Show: Create the First Story
• Twelve weeks ahead of time, tell people what you’re going to do. Write a press release that’s print-ready, and send it to all news sources (print, TV, radio and online). Also, publish it to your social media channels.
• Promote consistently! Try to find different ways of sharing, so people don’t get burned out.

Post-Show: Create the Second Story
• After the show, tell everyone what you did. Three to four weeks after the event, turn your generosity into a story. Your charity can work with the media.
• One show can generate three to four months of media promotion and several short- and long-term stories. It’s an opportunity to make your name visible throughout the year.

Third Story! Long-Term! The Experience!
• People like to talk. Results last years. Students involved in Wentworth Music’s concerts take lessons for five to seven years on average.
• The concerts also create referrals, including siblings, parents and friends.
• Students double up on lessons, so they can get more stage time. Backup singers get to be on stage three times, and as a result, Wentworth’s vocal program has exploded.

Charitable Concerts Open Doors for Community Partnerships
• Build community attention, marketing and brand awareness into the event promotion. Pitch the concert as a positive activity that engages youth.
• Promote partners heavily. Benefit from the collective efforts, and share equally in the final amount raised. Create a win-win for everyone.
• Partner with a local bank to provide a cash donation under the concert name. Partner with a radio station that provides high-rotation advertising before and after the concert. Partner with a local printing company for posters.

You Get What You Give
• Create your own customers through instrument sales and upgrades.
• “Stories” become content for your website.
• Publicity/advertising: TV, radio, newspaper, magazine and online news sources—this is the most amazing aspect, according to Wentworth. He said he didn’t anticipate the amount of publicity, advertising and support the event received. It all happened because he did something different.

Stories are Powerful
• Repetition creates awareness. The more your name is mentioned, the more you come to mind in your community.
• Excitement is contagious. Go big. Try new things, and let everyone know!
• Do your best. At the very least, you have another story to tell.