Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in music education but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Victor Olavarria, Founder of Victor the Drummer Guy, located in San Diego, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I teach drum lessons to anyone that wants to learn how to play. I've had students ranging from 6 years old to people in their 60s. My goal is to give people the tools to create on the instrument rather than just regurgitating a song with no understanding of what is happening. Technique, theory, and concepts are all covered, which gives my students a solid understanding of what they're doing, which allows them to eventually have the freedom to play whatever they want to on the drums. Learning songs is a part of that, of course, but I also give them drumless songs so that they can use the skills they've learned to create their own drum parts. It's really fun.
Tell us about yourself
I saw Hanson perform on Jay Leno when I was in the fourth grade, and the drummer, Zac, was my age. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world and decided that I wanted to learn how to play. I joined the 5th-grade band to play percussion, but when I learned that we wouldn't be playing the drum set, I got private lessons and never looked back. I played in my own band in junior high/high school and then went to Berklee College of Music in Boston. After graduating, I went back home to Seattle with the goal of being in a successful band. Since that was my focus, I decided that my job should have the flexibility of being able to leave to tour, so I started teaching drum lessons so that I could be my own boss. As I got a taste of both worlds (teaching and touring), I realized that I didn't like living out of a suitcase and that teaching was a better living than touring, so I put all of my focus into that. I love playing the drums, and I love seeing my students improve. Having gone through (and still going through) the process of learning an instrument and overcoming the frustrations that can come with that, I'm able to share what I've learned with my students so that they can hopefully avoid the mistakes that I made along the way. The fact that I can do that for a living motivates me to do what I do.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I'd say my biggest accomplishment as a drum teacher is to be doing it at a level where it's my full-time job. I can pay my bills and live, but more specifically, my willingness to adapt and find new ways of teaching. When I moved to San Diego from Seattle, I figured out how to teach online drum lessons so that I could keep my Seattle students after I moved. I had multiple camera angles and online portals so that my students could access PDFs of the things we were doing in real-time as we had our lesson through whatever video chat service they wanted to use. Having online lessons already set up was HUGE when COVID hit. I was able to switch all of my in-person San Diego students over to online smoothly, and as the pandemic went on, I became the busiest I had ever been. As the world started to reopen, the demand for online lessons started to dwindle, so I've gone back to in-person lessons. During the pandemic, I also started working on a subscription-based lesson service, where I film my curriculum in step-by-step courses. That has been really fun to get off the ground, and I'm really proud of how it's turning out. I'm able to deliver the information exactly how I want it to be delivered. It gives students the opportunity to have a lesson with me every time they practice. They can rewatch each lesson as many times as they need to until they're ready to progress to the next at their own pace. I'm really excited to keep working on that.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
My business is just me, which simplifies things. I have a relatively simple operation going on, and I rely on myself to do whatever needs to be done. I guess the hardest part of what I do is scheduling, but it's just part of the job.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Do what you love, and the money will follow. I've been teaching professionally for 11 years now, and in that time, I've found that I've been most successful when I do it my way, which is the most authentic way I can. I've developed my own curriculum based on my own learning experience. When I was taking lessons, it was, "play this exercise out of this book; now go study this book.." I got to where I'm now, but there were struggles along the way that could have been avoided, and lots of times, I didn't understand why I was doing what I was doing. The learning experience I give to my students is based on how to avoid those struggles; every single thing we do in lessons has a reason for being done. I'm getting busier and busier, so it must be working, haha.
- You have to spend money to make money. Within reason, of course, but if you don't believe in yourself enough to invest in yourself, you're going to have problems. It takes money to develop branding, set up a website, advertise, and get your own space. If I didn't believe I would succeed, I wouldn't have spent the money to get set up so that I could, and I wouldn't be where I am now.
- Never get too comfortable. If you ever feel like you're coasting, something is wrong. If I had been content with only in-person lessons, I wouldn't have had my online setup, and I would have been crushed by the pandemic. If I had been satisfied with only online lessons, I wouldn't have been able to adjust when the demand for in-person came back. Now that I'm doing in-person, I'm eventually going to run into an issue when I'm fully booked and physically can't teach any more lessons, which means I can't make any more money. But I don't want to hit the ceiling, so I'm developing my subscription service so that people can continue to learn from me on their own time and at their own pace. I'm constantly asking how I can be better and what more I can offer, which has kept me ahead of the curve.
Where can people find you and your business?
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