In 2018 Kay and I and our partner Kyle locked ourselves in an airbnb in Cincinnati to figure out what the heck we were doing. At the time we had studios in Grandview and Westerville, we were flying by the seat of our pants, getting burned out, and needed a new plan. The first thing we did was write a mission statement. Now I’ll be honest, it was Kyle’s idea and I wasn’t thrilled about it. To me mission statements always seemed like cheesy platitudes that big companies did so they could print it on letterhead under their logo and pat themselves on the back. For instance, Microsoft’s is “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more”. That’s about as generic as you can get. Does it describe Microsoft? Sure, I guess. But does it tell me what they value and get me excited? Nope.
But in that airbnb in Cincinnati, we needed to answer a key question: why does Musicologie exist? I’m a firm believer in Simon Sinek’s philosophy from his book “Start With Why”. In his Ted talk he says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” That was our goal for our mission statement: to come up with our why. We knew if we answered that, we’d clearly articulate our values and have a standard to hold ourselves to. What I didn’t know at the time was that our mission statement would also impact absolutely everything, from developing a new business structure, to teacher hires, to daily interactions.
So what is it? What’s our mission? Our mission is to create an inclusive community of music explorers and empower teachers to build sustainable careers.
How We Create an Inclusive Community
There are two distinct parts of our mission. The first is student focused. It’s the bread and butter of what happens in our studios every day. For us, inclusive means many things. It is both descriptive of where we are now, and aspirational. It represents our commitment and constant effort. And it really does impact our daily conversations and decisions. Just the other day we were talking through a new idea and a team member said “If we go this route, are we living up to our missions to create an inclusive community?” We talked through it, and made some different calls because of where our mission directed us.
Our idea of an inclusive community is first of all one in which everyone is welcome. We teach lessons to all people, of all ages, all instruments and all abilities. Learning an instrument for the first time puts you in a very vulnerable place. It’s so important to us that Musicologie is a welcoming, open place for everyone.
Inclusive also means we meet you where you’re at in your musical journey. Sometimes people think if you’re going to be any good at music, you have to be super talented and it has to be really hard. They imagine you have to spend hours in the practice room until your fingers are raw. That’s not true. You can learn all the important theory and technique and achieve your goals and enjoy yourself all at the same time! Sure, learning an instrument is challenging and there are days when you won’t feel motivated. But mostly, music is awesome and we want to include you in that awesomeness. So, we’re never going to kick someone out because they’re not practicing enough. We’re not your tiger mom. Of course, if you want to become a professional singer, your teacher is going to lay out what that takes, and hold you accountable to your goals. We’ll make sure you know what you need to know. But your lessons will always be shaped by your goals, whatever they may be.
An inclusive community also means we work to provide lessons to families who can’t afford it. As public schools cut arts funding, an arts education gap is forming between those who can afford private supplemental education, like music lessons, and those who can’t. We have a scholarship program that gives tuition waivers to families based on income. This is funded in part by gifts from other students, and is also built into the budget of each studio. I’m the first to acknowledge we’ve only made a tiny dent, but this is an area we are working on and are committed to.
The final thing inclusive means to us is having a diverse group of voices at the table. Six out of nine people on our management team are either women or people of color, two out of five partners are women, and of course Musicologie was co-founded by a woman, Kay Barker.
Our mission says to create an inclusive community of music explorers. Why do we say music explorers? Why not just say musicians? Because explorers are in search of adventure, and learning an instrument is an incredible adventure. Explorers aren’t afraid of the unknown or the scary. They go boldly toward it! Explorers jump in even if they don’t know what’s waiting for them. They’re not afraid to fail. That’s what we want for our students. Learning an instrument is so full of unknowns and it can definitely be scary. But that can’t stop you! You have to push forward. You can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Guess what? You WILL make mistakes. But that’s part of learning. That’s part of being an explorer. We don’t just want our students to learn their instrument, we want to give them an insatiable curiosity about the whole world of music. We want them to go boldly forward into that exciting new world.
How We Empower Teachers
The second part of our missions is to empower teachers to build sustainable careers. That mission has been a founding principle since day one. Kay started Musicologie after working at a few other studios in Columbus. At those other studios she didn’t feel like there was any upward mobility, no one was developing new programs, and there was no opportunity for her to grow as a career educator.
At Musicologie, we want every teacher to know that we have their back, and they can grow with us. That means providing them with a consistent income and a path to a stable career. We do that by providing the best pay in the market, along benefits like student loan assistance, along with a health benefits plan. And, in an industry largely staffed by independent contractors, our teachers are W2 employees, and enjoy the benefits that come along with that: reduced taxes, unemployment insurance, worker’s comp and other legal protections.
Even our business structure reflects this mission: Many of our studios are co-owned by a core teacher who shares in the decision making and profit of their studio. I can’t stress enough how unique this program is. There is no other one like it in music lessons and we built it so we could grow by fulfilling our mission to empower teachers.
Teachers can use our recording studios for free, and take lessons with other teachers for free (see – you should never stop taking lessons!). We help teachers develop and implement group classes and programs, and provide stipends for continuing education. We work hard to strike a balance between giving teachers the freedom to teach and interact with their students the way they want, while also providing administrative resources to make their jobs fun.
Our student policies are even driven by our mission. We’ve tried hard to develop the simple, intuitive policies in our student contract regarding things like scheduling and payment. These policies have to be fair to both our students and to our teachers. It’s a constant balancing act. We listen to feedback from everyone to make sure we get it right.
Kyle Was Right About Our Mission Statement
I can admit it now: I was wrong to think it wasn’t important to have a mission statement. Kyle was right. It’s been one of the most important things we’ve done to create the community that drives Musicologie forward. I know that if we ever get off track, if we ever have a question about a decision, we can go back to our mission, and it will guide us.