Periphery’s Matt Halpern Gives Us the Lowdown on His New Online Venture
Periphery drummer Matt Halpern has conceived and created Bandhappy.com, a comprehensive online music education site that connects teachers with students via its custom-built, in-house video chat system in addition to offering in-person lessons. What's most appealing about Bandhappy.com, which is now up and running, is it allows touring musicians to make some extra coin on the side and students to learn from their favorite player.
Already signed on are Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders), Jeff Loomis (ex-Nevermore), Ben Weinman (Dillinger Escape Plan), Chris Adler and Willie Adler (Lamb of God), AJ Minette (The Human Abstract), Evan Brewer (The Faceless), Paul Waggoner (Between the Buried and Me), Rody Walker (Protest the Hero), Peter Wichers (Soilwork), Spencer Sotelo (Periphery), and many more.
Students can choose from a wide range of instruments, genres and music-related topics: drums to trumpet; metal to folk; rap to choreography; Neve to Protools; songwriting to media training. If there's a teacher who has applied and been approved and a student who wants to buy the lesson, then Bandhappy.com is the place to find it. It is version 1, Halpern says, but version 2 "will blow people away even further."
Noisecreep spoke with Halpern about every aspect of the site and he has really thought of everything.
How long was this idea gestating before you took steps to start it?
It was more out of necessity, to be honest, for myself and for other musicians that I know, and that at the time I was touring with. Basically, I've been playing in bands and teaching for a very long time and I started touring really heavily at the end of 2007, early 2008. When I was doing this touring, I needed to make money for myself. Obviously I wasn't making money from being in the band so I taught the fans of the band that I was in and I would teach as I travel. And as Skype got better and better, I was able to then bring these students home with me, through the webcam, as I like to describe it, to where I would teach students and fans all over the country. Then when I get home, instead of having to go wait tables or bartend or do these warehouse jobs that I know a lot of my friends in bands do, I was able to not only interact and create a special bond with my fans, but also educate them and make a living doing so.
And as I was traveling with these other bands on tour, they would come up to me and say, 'I see you teaching at the venue; I know you teach kids online. Are you getting paid to do this?' and I would answer, 'Absolutely.' So at that point, I had already been wanting to do this kind of site and I had everything planned out, all the way back from 2007, knowing that there was this unique connection between artists and their fans, so I figured 'Why not create this platform where you can connect fans with their favorite artists through music education and it's a win-win for both parties?' At the time, I literally sat down with big poster boards and I drew everything out. What people will see of the web site is true to what it started as years ago; it just took myself and my partners a lot of time to get it right and figure out what exactly we needed to do and really hone the system and figure out if there was a business.
Watch Nick Stewart of As Blood Runs Black's Studio Video
Even though it's just launching, have you been using this system?
I've been using this system now for the past few months. We had a prototype that was built before this actual site, but it was nothing that I was using. I simply booked lessons for musicians using a combination of Skype and iChat, or whatever video chat service there was; I would use Facebook and email to communicate about the lessons; I would use PayPal to get paid, to get my artists paid, and it's a nightmare. It's so cumbersome that it is really not practical for musicians who have busy schedules and don't necessarily have the same kind of savvy that some other people do, it's hard to organize all this stuff. That was another big indicator as to why we needed the web site.
Did you look for investors or was this an internal thing you wanted to own?
It started off, 'How do we do this so we don't give up a lot of the company and how do we retain ownership?' My partners and I we're not developers. We got a grant from the state of Maryland. It's a technology grant from a company called Tedco. The grant was strictly for development. But then we did get some investors and we were able to raise just enough funds to where we could get this thing built, the bare necessities, to commercialize it.
(Below: Willie Adler of Lamb of God)
Is what we see on Bandhappy.com what you originally envisioned?
It's version 1, but it blows away any of the ways that you previously could've had this kind of interaction or schedule lessons. It's not really about having an entertaining place where fans and teachers can connect; the real motivation and why this is made is that musicians need a way to focus on just music and not have to be distracted by working elsewhere. They need to be able to tour and make a living off of their talent; they need to be able to, if they're out of a band and let's say they had a big fanbase or they're retired musicians and still have a fanbase but they have no way to perform, this is a great way for these artists to reconnect and still make a living out of what they built.
Could it also be the little old lady who teaches piano?
100 percent. The site is open to any teacher or any musician who wants to apply.
It's hard for a local musician trying to get a band off the ground to squeeze in two guitar lessons during the week and it's even harder for a touring musician to find the time. How does the schedule work?
It's a very robust system that's very easy to use and it handles all the scheduling. Teachers can set it based off their availability. So if I know I'm going to be available Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday of this week and I can do two lessons a day, I can go in [to the site], create those lessons, tie a price-tag to them, and then promote them on my Facebook or tell my friends or tell my students and have them come first come, first serve and purchase those lessons through my Bandhappy profile.
They purchase in advance? As a music journalist, I know how many times a musician doesn't phone when he or she is supposed to for an interview. What happens if the artist doesn't show up for the lesson?
The artist doesn't get paid in advance. They pay the web site and we hold the money until the lesson is completed. And to ensure that the lesson occurs, we have web notifications and reminders that get sent out. There's amazing communication tools that are built in that allow the teacher and the student to privately access a lesson information page. All of the information about that specific lesson is listed right there and there is a communications comment system where they can comment back and forth, and schedule, reschedule, talk about what they want to learn, talk about anything back and forth prior to the lesson time. We also have very strict rules in place. If you have a lesson that's booked and the teacher doesn't communicate and doesn't show up, that is the only way we will give a refund on the site.
The student has to show up too.
The student has to show up in order for them to get their money back, if the teacher doesn't show up or doesn't communicate. But if a student buys a lesson and they don't post a message saying they're gonna need to reschedule, or they don't get in touch with their teacher and the teacher waits there for that time and that student doesn't show up, that's that teacher's time. If the student doesn't have the courtesy to do that, then that's their loss but we made it extremely easy with our email reminders and notifications to communicate on the site so that that can be avoided.
It's the same thing with the on-tour lessons. We also allow teachers, if they're going on tour, to input all of their tour dates into their available lessons lists, and then students can purchase these lessons from them and essentially meet them at the venue. There are ways for teachers to send special instructions where to meet and what time. That's all paid for in advance as well so it guarantees the teachers a certain amount of income for his day. He can teach up to five students per hour when he is teaching on tour. I should say when she's teaching on tour too.
When I travel, I can't do three hours of lessons a day. I can usually only do one hour's worth of time devoted to lessons so I do it as a small group lesson when I'm in their city; it's a really unique experience. You [the student] get to the venue early and usually come in and see how everything works ahead of time. You sit down with the artist, or I sit down with my students, and it's really fun; the kids get to know each other and it's really informative and everything is managed through the web site so it's really easy to do. The other thing is if teachers don't want to put their availability, or if a student doesn't see [a time] when [he or she] is available, then students can also send requests for lessons to their teachers.
What percentage does the site take?
Teachers set their own rates for lessons. Teachers will be able to look at other teacher's profiles and what they charge per lessons. There's a minimum. Don't charge any less than $15. The lessons are either a half-hour or one hour and teachers determine that themselves, then they can tie a price tag to it. I know some guys who are going to teach $40 an hour lessons and some guys that are going to do a$100 an hour lessons. It's going to vary. We take 15 percent of all the lessons.
Watch 'Bandhappy.com Student Tutorial' Video
Bands like Hatebreed and Fallout Boy are name-checked in your promo video. Have the bigger artists said why they want to be involved? For the money or they like teaching and want to pass on their knowledge?
There are different motivations for everyone and I can't say what's in these specific musician's wallets because I honestly don't know. What I've found that has been really inspiring to me is that most of these musicians, first of all, love music. They love the instruments they play. They love sharing what they do and that's why they're in bands. So this is whole other way for them to connect with an audience and share what they do. It does offer benefits that they can make an extra little supplemental income.
I mean, let's say the guys from Fallout Boy, they're home; they're not really doing much; why not connect with their fan-base and keep that connection going? But then also make a little coin for their time? Specifically [drummer] Matt Byrne from Hatebreed is so excited about this because one it will enable him to not have to do any other jobs when he gets off tour - I know they do well, but I know he does other things - it will enable him to strictly focus on music and really earn his own living by interacting with his band's fanbase. And why not through teaching and through playing music?
What we're going to building into this, and releasing more information about in the new year, is a lot of our cause-based initiatives, where artists who don't need to spend an hour or two hours teaching to make a living will get on board because the platform of music education will be great for raising money for different causes and charities. I'm calling them, very loosely, 'online field trips' where we're going into school systems across the country - middle schools, high schools - and we're having artists broadcast and add on to what they're already teaching in these music classes. It's a way to get younger kids inspired to play an instrument and you can make a living from it if you learn all the sides of it and do it right way. It also hopefully inspires kids that are going into college or that are in high school to continue playing music and inspire people younger than them and even to teach or take lessons. The list of initiatives and the list of what we're going to be doing are endless.
How can you be sure that these musicians are competent teachers? Just because you can play well, doesn't mean you have the patience or communication skills to teach.
I think that there will be some people that realize that for themselves. They'll learn pretty quickly what works and what doesn't.
If a student comes back and says that lesson sucked, what happens?
We have a ratings system that is built into the site. So students can rate their teacher. There is a series of questions that are tied in with a weighted average that gives a public rating. So anybody can go to this teacher's profile and see what their rating is. We do give incentives for teachers to learn how to teach and do well on the site. There are some teachers, such as myself, that are going to be offering lessons to other teachers that will teach them how to run their lessons. So we have tutorials and all sorts of videos on the site that will explain this as well.
Unsigned, signed, big, small, whatever genre, they are always some crazed fans, some more extreme than others. How can you be sure the student doesn't simply want to meet or interact with the artist for $40 an hour?
We've thought about all that stuff. The tradeoff is 1) if it happens and it's an online lesson, at least you're not sitting in the room with the person and you can watch the clock, but you're also getting paid for that time. You could still make it pleasant. And it's not as hard to swallow when you're making a buck to deal with someone who is a little bit off. My opinion is this: I know that there are people that are fanatical. I know that there are people that don't release how crazy they can be sometimes, but I think if you really talk to that person and let them know that you are human being and explain it from that standpoint, you really see them kind of change.
If they're not crazy, but the teacher realizes they really don't want a lesson after all. They just want to tell their friends they talked with them?
That's gonna happen, but that's going to be up to the teacher to determine if it's worth their time or if it's not. And because of the way that the request system is for the site, for example one of my teachers doesn't want to make lessons available because he doesn't want random people coming and purchasing them so he's only going to book lessons off of requests and he can vet his students. That's the other thing, students who register have their own profile and they're not publicly searchable by teachers, but if a student reaches out to a teacher for a lesson, then at that point the teacher can view the student's profile and make a decision based off that. If a teacher needs to cancel a lesson, they can. They just let us know. If you go on tour and something inappropriate happens at an in-person lesson, there's usually lots of other people around, but if not, that's up to the teacher to say, 'Hey get out of here, I'm sorry. You're wasting my time.'
For more information and rates, head over to Bandhappy.com.