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WorkshopLive: Innovative Web-Based Music Instruction Site
Creates Opportunities For Artists, Working Musicians,
And Music Students Alike
Interview With Marketing Director John Ross
By Anne Freeman
is a web-based platform for "guitar
lessons online" and much more. The brainchild of WorkshopLive CEO and founder of the National Guitar Workshop
David Smolover, WorkshopLive is home base to video-based music instruction as well as a plethora of related resources
and activities. But the heart of WorkshopLive is instruction.
WorkshopLive offers subscribers 24/7 access to high quality, digitally captured instruction on a variety of guitars
and keyboard, with new instruments in the pipeline. Subscribers can select their level of expertise, from "absolute
beginner," offering a lesson on how to buy a guitar, for example, to the Master Seminar series, offering targeted
lessons on technique and theory for advanced learners. Instructors are highly qualified, and their degrees,
instructional experience and professional experience are noted on the instructors' bio pages.
Subscribers can "interview" their prospective instructors prior to selecting an instructor by visiting instructors' bio pages, which also include videos of the instructors talking about themselves and their instructional philosophy, giving subscribers an opportunity to find a good personality match and to personalize their instruction. Subscribers also select their particular learning styles do you learn best by seeing, watching, doing, hearing and the format of the lessons can be altered to fit the subscribers' needs.
WorkshopLive has obvious audiences: adults wanting to fit lessons into a busy lifestyle, children with limited access to qualified instructors, and busy classroom music teachers seeking to augment learning opportunities for youngsters.
But WorkshopLive presents an untapped opportunity for working musicians to access targeted instruction while on the road using wireless internet connections on a tour bus or in a hotel room. It's also a resource for record labels, management and others to encourage their artists to improve their technical skills, as well as an opportunity for new income streams for "master level" artists and musicians who sign on to instruct others their fans on their techniques.
To that end, WorkshopLive has entered into a content sharing partnership with Alfred Publishing, which acquired the Warner Bros. Publications catalog of instructional videos and DVDs. WorkshopLive's Master Seminar series now offers instructional content from artists like Carlos Santana, BB King, Joe Petrucci, Chick Corea and Steve Morse. WorkshopLive seeks opportunities to work with labels and other musician-based organizations to provide quality instruction and services to their artists and membership ranks.
At $29.99 a month for unlimited lessons and discounts for longer term subscriptions, WorkshopLive is a valuable resource almost everyone can afford! Learn more about WorkshopLive's innovative approach to instruction in my interview with WorkshopLive Director of Marketing John Ross.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] John, when was WorkshopLive conceptualized and how long has WorkshopLive been up and running?
John Ross WorkshopLive was an idea created by Dave Smolover, our founder and CEO, about ten years ago. He's been building music education companies for more than twenty-two years. We launched the company in early 2005 and flipped the switch on the web in December of 2005. We've started with online guitar lessons. We have also added beginning keyboard lessons and piano lessons. This spring we are launching our online bass guitar lessons and drums will soon follow later this year.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] The founders of WorkshopLive are music educators. What experiences prompted WorkshopLive to move from live workshops to WorkshopLive?
John Ross My background in building online music communities taught me to first recognize and honor the type of information web users worldwide look for. With more than 500,000 searches per month on Google alone for music education resources, it's easy to recognize the importance of building an online destination for music makers.
People all over the world are looking for additional resources to play better. Some seek out WorkshopLive so they can join their neighborhood band, and some users hope to tap back into the great, positive feelings of when they used to play. Some students use playing music as a stress release from daily life. Playing music is healthy!
Offline research would tell us that there are more than 9 million individuals in this country alone actively taking music lessons and 55 million worldwide. Early subscribers to WorkshopLive live in Vietnam, England, Denmark and even Trinidad & Tobego. Our subscribers want to play better now, and WorkshopLive's online guitar lessons help them do that. They also want to meet like-minded individuals with similar interests; that is why we're growing so fast.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] The music educators on WorkshopLive have extensive professional credentials, both as educators and as musicians. What convincing did you have to do to bring them onboard to teaching, essentially, to a camera?
John Ross We work with more than 450 teachers nationwide in our summer programs, the National Guitar Workshop and DayJams. We feel we have a great pool of talent to work with right off the bat. Music teachers are small businesses in and of themselves. They work extremely hard to carry as many as 50-60 students per week. This is an opportunity for them to spend a concentrated amount of time in the studio and then the platform makes their teaching available to so many other potential students around the world.
Our WorkshopLive faculty are great teachers, they are great musicians who tour all over the world and, last but not least, they are superb on camera. Many of the teachers film as many as 10-12 lessons in a single day. Each lesson is made up of 4-5 scenes or exercises. We have thousands of lessons of valuable teaching available for every student. We aim to bring lessons live on the web within a few weeks of when they're filmed. Imagine the response time to meet our online community's needs!
[The Aspiring Songwriter] I noticed that great care was taken when designing WorkshopLive to permit students to customize the delivery of their lessons in a manner that best suits their "learning style"; for example, learning by watching, doing, or hearing. What prompted you to take the time and expense to build that kind of customized learning into WorkshopLive?
John Ross We put the choice of matching the right student to the right teacher in the hands of the student. They can choose to start within a structured curriculum that will take them all the way to advanced playing or they can surf around and discover online guitar lessons for a whole new style based on how they respond to the teacher. Many of us never had the opportunity to choose a teacher in many educational settings.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Do you find that your students are cognizant of their learning style?
John Ross Our students go to their strengths when it comes to learning intuitively. This is a choice they may not have with other resources. Our students also find the privacy of learning wherever they want gives them confidence to try new lessons and explore how they can master their instrument. Mark Dziuba, jazz guitar instructor and tenured faculty at SUNY New Paltz, told me, "Imagine if instead of learning from one teacher, you got to learn from dozens of teachers. What a powerful resource!"
[The Aspiring Songwriter] And that is something you can, in fact, do on WorkshopLive. I especially like that variety of camera views of the teacher's hands on the instrument.
John Ross Our production team has nailed the challenge of live editing in the studio, which helps us to publish this content so much more quickly. The different camera angles also help with emphasizing the key points of how to best learn to play better! You match superb video with top notch audio in a customized player and the student really has all the resources he or she needs to improve their playing even on their first visit. So many subscribers have expressed that they can't even find a good teacher because they live in rural areas or small towns; now they've got dozens of great teachers to choose from.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] And I also like the partnering of the teaching videos with a variety of views for tablature, standard music notation, and in particular, the animated instrument ...
John Ross This is an important part of Dave Smolover's and Nat Gunod's vision. Nat is the head of our all our lesson content production and he heads the design of all the learning curriculums. Our students may want to take away printable lessons to practice elsewhere; we've got that for them. Our product can be customized for left handed players or students that prefer to sit opposite the fret board of the teacher on the screen. Visual learners may want to read the animated sheet music more closely. Auditory learners may want to loop the playing over and over to practice by ear. Many students preview lessons in whole new styles of music and learn more about what they want to achieve in proficiency, playing certain songs or sharpening their chops in favorite styles of music.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] WorkshopLive has numerous teachers for students to choose from depending upon their instrument and their ability level. It's obvious that student/teacher interaction would be critical to the success of live music lessons why is it important online?
John Ross I want to emphasize that a lot of it has to do with access. More people in the world have access to broadband than access to great teaching resources. WorkshopLive also complements other resources of personal instruction, music schools, instructional books and DVDs. Our product has built in assessment tools at the end of each lesson to help the student move forward. Even in our forums, students are helping each other learn different tricks and tips.
We also see a number of music teachers subscribing to our product and learning themselves how to teach different styles to their existing regular students. Even our Jam Tracks provide the student with an opportunity to play along with a band and test to see if they can drop in at the right time and keep pace with a virtual band.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] WorkshopLive offers lessons from the absolute basics, such as the "Absolute Beginner" lessons, to advanced lessons for working musicians with the Master Seminar series. Let's talk about the advanced lessons. How do you decide what to offer in the advanced categories?
esj_071306_01.htmlJohn Ross In this discussion, "advanced" identifies proficiency in technique and theory. These are the building blocks that differ greatly from style to style. WorkshopLive is working hard to translate these building blocks into the desire to play a specific song or play "in the style of" Stevie Ray Vaughn. Through subscriber feedback we're focused on writing different guides to achieve those goals. If you tell me "I want to play like Dave Malone of the Radiators!" we will be able to recommend a path that will get you there with all our resources.
esj_071306_01.html[The Aspiring Songwriter] Are the advanced lessons considered to be the WorkshopLive "Seminars"?
John Ross As our content and community grows we can quickly execute to focus on any number of seminars. We already produce lessons specifically centered on concepts like tapping, bending and slide guitar. The same will hold true on keyboards, bass and drums. Our Master Seminars are carefully selected lessons taught by major artists from the Warner Chappell catalog. Our partnership with Alfred Publishing allows us to share parts of their entire catalog of instructional DVDs from artists like Carlos Santana, BB King, Joe Petrucci, Chick Corea and Steve Morse.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Is there a process by which working musicians can request topics, styles, strategies?
John Ross With the amount of feedback we get through firstname.lastname@example.org, we are able to accomplish just that. We've redeveloped the "My Lessons" page interface as a result of what the community has asked for. We've also recently added a real focus on acoustic guitar across all styles of music from the feedback we received asking for more of this content. Even teachers who are interested in participating and teaching online can forward us a screen test and bio for consideration. We're also adding customer service staff who have not only computer knowledge, but music playing skills to help users with their questions.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Have you had any experience with managers or record labels that have identified artists who may need targeted instruction?
John Ross A number of the artists I have spoken with directly have talked about using WorkshopLive to get their chops back in areas they haven't practiced for some time. They want the privacy to learn something new on their own schedule, whether it be in a hotel room on the road or late at night after putting the kids to bed. We would welcome the opportunity to work with a major label or artist management company to create new revenue streams for their artists teaching their own music.
The fan clubs are there, the activity on the web is there! We just need to find time to sit down and strategize who could best teach the artist's music and find time to get them into the studio. Les Claypool doesn't have time to teach each interested individual how he plays the bass, but he could reach 1000s of fans and music makers through a platform like ours.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] How about musicians on the road are they accessing lessons using wireless internet connections?
John Ross Absolutely! A lot of road warriors and heavy travelers have told us they've settled down at night to practice when they travel. This flexible focus time is giving them more free time at home or with their families when they're not on the road. We're so proud of the fact that if you've got 15 minutes or 2 hours, you can improve your playing with access to us 24/7.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Another group that WorkshopLive is targeting are adults who are not professional working musicians. Why are you targeting that group and what has been your experience?
John Ross Our other divisions, including the summer camps, are attractive to lifetime learners, hobbyists, people who aren't looking to play music for greater income or accreditation, like a major university program. This overwhelmingly identifies our early adapters and a rapidly growing part of our community. Playing music is a lifestyle choice for so many people. They shouldn't cheat themselves by not pursuing their dreams and find out just how well they can play. We're a great place to start!
[The Aspiring Songwriter] The WorkshopLive site offers all kinds of support services and resources. Would you highlight some of the standouts?
John Ross I've mentioned jam tracks, which are full songs absent the guitar track for students to practice with. We've got a whole host of helpers like an online guitar tuner, metronome, etcŠ WorkshopLive also features the largest online video glossary available. Do you know what an arpeggio is? I often find myself happily lost in the 500+ terms that we've recorded for this glossary.
I try to challenge our staff with new music vocabulary that I learn. The ability to learn online and take away the printable exercises is also very valuable. We find parents that join as students will often add their children who are also interested in playing better. We offer a significant discount to any subscriber if they choose to add family members.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] What specs must a student have on their computer to best utilized WorkshopLive?
John Ross Broadband access is most important. Updated versions of Quicktime and Shockwave are also required. The site functions best with a version of Windows 2000 or higher. The same is true for Macintosh users with Mac OSX 10.3.9 or higher. We're adding the functionality so the student can choose what format they want to see the lessons in. We have Live Chat Support available through the web site to help any user if they need us.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Let's talk a bit about comparison shopping. There is a chart on WorkshopLive that compares the WorkshopLive to other online music lesson services. Any comments that you'd like to make about this?
John Ross I'm not sure anyone has put as much thought, effort and strategy into a product like this. I'm blown away by the technology we have employed to get there. If you go to the panel on the WorkshopLive.com home page called "Why Choose Us?" you'll see a full list of features for our product. The input from our students and community will determine where we go next.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Let's talk about money. There are monthly, quarterly, yearly and family plans, and there are charter prices for new members. How many lessons does that represent?
John Ross Our product offers unlimited access to all the teachers, all the lessons, all the tools, all the content, everything we have to share openly with our community. We've only been live since the end of last year and every student has access to dozens of teachers, more than 1,000 lessons and all the resources. If I decided today that I wanted to master the acoustic guitar, it may take five years for me to achieve my dream of steady weekly work with the acoustic guitar curriculum. That's how much content we have for just one instrument.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Finally, tell us about the "WL Zone."
John Ross The WL Zone gives anyone interested in our community a slice of the experience to see all that we have to offer. Our sample lessons on the home page do much of the same thing. The daily traffic we get is really amazing for such a new site. What's even more impressive is that these daily visitors come back often to learn more about we have to offer. I encourage anyone to download our course offerings and find out all we have to offer.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Anything else that you'd like to mention?
John Ross Building a large online music community demonstrates how much interest there is in finding a way to make more music. It's a perfect time to be part of such an exciting project. Time and time again we are reminded how web users worldwide are interested in joining this community.
Over the last two months we uploaded more than 40 short videos of the teachers jamming in the studios on sites like Google Video, Revver.com and YouTube.com. More than 1,500 people have downloaded these videos to their digital media devices and in excess of 200,000 streamed views have taken place of these select few videos. This is encouraging to me that we're producing the right content to ride the wave of what's here and even what's coming on the web. Personally, I'm hoping to play guitar like Jerry Garcia and the bass like George Porter, Jr.
John Ross, Director of Marketing: email@example.com, 413-358-9606, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Provided by the MusicDish Network. Copyright © MusicDish LLC 2006 - Republished with Permission
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