Unlock Your Lesson Program’s Full Potential by Abandoning Industry Norms


At The 2019 NAMM Show, Michael Cathrea, co-founder and president of Resonate Music School & Studio, invited music retailers to think outside the box about their lesson programs. Cathrea cited his own journey as proof that it’s possible to start from scratch in a competitive market and build a thriving lesson program in just six years. He now offers 1,000 lessons per week in an 18-room facility, plus a recording studio that operates 24 hours a day, a small retail business, a staff of 40 and growing, and a second location opening soon.

Cathrea suggested reflecting on the state of your business and asking yourself the following questions:

• How much of what you currently do is based on what others do?
• What unique experiences are you offering?
• Are you in tune with consumer trends?
• How are you pushing the industry forward?

He also affirmed that music industry norms aren’t necessarily negatives but a jumping-off point for re-evaluating or creating your lesson program. A few norms worth re-evaluating include:

• Kid-focused. The majority of students are between the ages of 6 and 14. Are you only marketing to that specific age group, or are you catering to other age groups?

• Standardized. Licensed curriculums are often pushed on students, without offering tailored curriculums to the individual.

• Inflexible schedule. Many retailers want to avoid makeup lessons, but macro trends point toward services becoming more flexible.

• Supplement to store. Another standard is having lesson programs as a way to bring customers into a store. But if this is the case, your customers will get the impression that lessons aren’t your focus. Customers will lean toward a focused lessons and school model when they’re shopping around.

• Traditional recitals. As an experiment, ask anyone (not just a parent) to describe what a student recital might look and sound like. Then consider the experience you currently offer.

• Fixed term/school year. Traditionally, it’s September through June, then the revenue tap turns off. Wouldn’t it be better if we could just keep going year-round?

Cathrea shared that to have a chance of surviving with large, established music schools nearby, he had to shake things up and change his approach. His starting point was focusing on experience—at all points of the process.

Before the Lesson
• Online impression. This includes functionality and efficiency of your website, your social media, online reviews, SEO and a working mobile site.

• Registration. How do your customers register for lessons, and what are the methods? Do you have a catalog of services, prices and policies? These are all factors in the customer experience when they sign up.

• Atmospherics. This is the experience you want to create in your space. As soon as customers enter your store, what are they going to feel?

During the Lesson
• Lesson room look and feel. Is it comfortable, and what colors are you using?

• Sound treatment. This is the most important factor and often ignored, according to Cathrea. He invested in acoustic treatment for his rooms.

• Lesson plan and approach. This goes hand in hand with the teacher. Is the approach tailored, or is it just fitting a student into the curriculum?

• The teacher. Is he or she organized and in tune with the student?

After the Lesson
• Practice. Are you assigning one set of rules for everybody, so it’s always the same amount of time, or are you working with your students’ and parents’ schedules?

• Communication. Newsletters, SMS, texting, notifications—are you keeping in touch with your students throughout the week, or is it just when they come in for a lesson?

• Incentives/rewards. What do your students have to look forward to beyond getting better at an instrument? That’s typically not enough.

• Opportunities. Are you looking past the lesson and practice time to provide opportunities for your students?

Shape Your Program
Cathrea then shared how he and his team did it, taking into account the industry norms and the customer experiences they wanted to create:

• It was important for them to have consistent branding across the board, and they wanted to impart quality.

• No matter what social media platform customers were on, Cathrea wanted to be approachable and relevant to all ages. With Resonate’s website, he wanted visitors to get anywhere they needed to go with three clicks or less. This is extremely important, according to Cathrea.

• Every room is sound-treated. They made the investment. If you take the time to be careful and conscious of customers’ experience, those details will matter to them.

• Resonate has an amenities station, which offers free coffee and hot chocolate.

• They created two iPad bars with 10 iPads each, pre-loaded with games and apps that are primarily music-oriented. Cathrea remarked that it’s been the best babysitter in the world. For people who come in with multiple kids, it’s an amenity that’s relevant to your customers. Develop your amenities around your customers, and they will look forward to coming in.

• Speakers are on the inside and exterior of their building. The music is tailored to a 24-hour schedule, so it changes according to the time of day. An app called Soundtrack will create the playlists for your business, so it’s programmable ahead of time.

• They have two reception desks to greet and engage with customers.

• They have two 50-inch TVs that show notifications of future events, past event highlights, reminders of policies and that there’s always something for someone to engage in at Resonate Music School & Studio.

Lesson Offerings
Cathrea stated he wanted to do one or two things really well. So, he offers just two options — private lessons and group lessons — which makes it easy for customers to choose. The group lessons are curriculum-based and developed in-house.

Membership Plan
Cathrea revealed that Resonate’s membership plan is what the company is known for, and the plan is structured for customer convenience.

• Year-round availability. Students can start whenever they want and finish whenever they want. According to Cathrea, he sees about a 10-percent drop-off in the summer, but it’s usually offset by new registrations. In his area, no one was open in the summer. So, Resonate became the only place offering lessons.

• Month to month. There are no contracts.

• Flexible scheduling. Thinking about it from the consumer’s perspective, Cathrea offers unlimited makeup lessons if students give 12 hours’ notice. (They never expire.) It’s such an attractive policy that schedules fill up anyway, so teachers aren’t resistant. It’s more work to track, but it was worth making the sacrifice, according to Cathrea.

• Exclusive opportunities. Resonate has a professional recording studio. Pro recordings for students include one free hour every three months, their own engineer/producer and insight into the industry.

• Large scale band concerts/concert series. This is a true rock-star experience. Students play in 10- to 30-piece bands. The shows feature full production, are always themed and hosted at the end of July before an audience of more than 700. It’s a powerful retention tool, and Cathrea commented that students typically don’t cancel for August lessons when they’re returning in September. Proceeds from the concert go to charity.

• Gig-style recitals. These are hosted at unique local venues and feature pro photos and video, a teacher performance, food and drinks, and drawings and giveaways.

• Built-in rewards. Resonate has a points program. Students trade in points earned for completed lessons for store merchandise or local vendor passes. They can create a wish list, which helps them set goals, and it also helps Resonate retain students.

• Unified policies and pricing. Regardless of the teacher, it’s always the same price.

Drop-in Lessons
Cathrea said he wanted to provide another option for students and customers, as an alternative to the membership plan. This includes unlimited single bookings. Drop-ins are ideal for shift workers and out-of-town students.

Students can sign up for as many lessons as they want, without having to sign up for a package or full year. Cathrea revealed that allowing drop-in lessons ends up filling the inevitable gaps in the schedule.