Music lessons going digital: Live and online
Baltimore startup Bandhappy.com, savvy musician-entrepreneurs bring live music lessons to the web
Matt Halpern, a world touring rock drummer, launched his website Bandhappy in January. He is pictured demonstrating his drumming on the site, which offers live video portal for music teachers to connect with students all over the world. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun / March 22, 2012)
No traveling is involved. Instead, Boyce fires up a computer, plugs in his electric guitar and launches into a live music lesson with his instructor on Bandhappy.com, a new Baltimore-based website that aims to bring such lessons to the masses.
"I was super-skeptical about it at first," said Boyce, 27, who is a guitarist in a band called Unvisioned. "But after my first lesson, I was hooked. It's so convenient and you're not sacrificing anything over doing a live [in-person] lesson."
Boyce is among a growing crowd of music teachers and students who are turning to live online lessons on the Web. Powered by speedy broadband connectivity, a site such as Bandhappy.com can connect people who want to learn music from a specialist instructor or from a musician they follow anywhere in the world.
But it remains to be seen how well online music lessons can co-exist with in-person instruction. Researchers are in the early stages of studying how well online distance learning can be applied to music lessons. And some music teacher groups believe online instruction can supplement, but not replace, in-person lessons.
"I don't know how I would deal with helping a student to adjust posture and hands to get a better sound," said Michael Blakeslee, a former strings instructor and deputy executive director for the National Association for Music Education, a 130,000-member nationwide group.
Yet some music teachers are clamoring to teach students online, because they can draw in more students and build their reputation beyond their geographic area, Blakeslee said.
"Any teacher has to know the new tools of the profession," he said. "The real key as a professional is knowing when to use each tool and how to use it."
Matt Halpern, the 28-year-old Pikesville native who founded Bandhappy, believes he understands the nuances of in-person and online teaching — and his website can accommodate both. He's been teaching drums since he was 16.
When he's on tour, Halpern eschews online lessons and uses Bandhappy to arrange in-person lessons with his fans.
Halpern hopes BandHappy, which launched in January, can streamline online education and e-commerce for music teachers and their students. His goal is to create an online marketplace for students and teachers to discover each other.
"I was using Skype for the video, Paypal to get paid, email and Facebook for marketing, and a separate calendar for reminders," said Halpern, who drums for Periphery, a progressive rock band that tours more than six months out of the year. "It was all very cumbersome and disjointed."
Teachers can set their own lesson prices; Bandhappy takes a 15 percent cut for enabling the lessons and processing payments, Halpern said.
The Web has enabled a wide range of new activity for musicians once limited by geography. Some sites, such as eJamming.com, allow musicians to collaborate and play live together — over the Internet — from wherever they are in the world. Some artists are putting on live performances for their fans on YouTube.com and Ustream.com. And various websites now sell recorded music lessons, helping artists make money online.
Before Bandhappy came along, savvy music teachers used Skype or other software for live Internet lessons. While Skype is free, it's one piece of software out of several a music teacher and student may need to teach and learn online.
Music teachers often have to build their own websites and use other services to market themselves and collect online payments. And students who want to continue their studies offline, through music exercises and assignments, would receive work from their teachers via other methods, such as email.
Dave Frank, a Manhattan-based improvisational jazz pianist, has been running his own online lessons using Skype and his website for the past 18 months, with great success. He teaches students in dozens of countries, as far away as India.
But Frank also has in-person clients who sometimes choose to stay in their apartments in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens rather than trek to his midtown studio.
He is interested in a site such as Bandhappy to expand his online business, he said. About 60 percent of his music lessons now are done over the Internet, Frank said. He thinks because he offers specialty training, he's able to attract students from all over the world.