9 Lies That Are Holding Your Studio Back and the System That Will Set It Free

Chapter 9

Lie 9
The studio business is the same old, same old

If you have run a studio for a while, you know that not a lot has changed in the music studio industry. Yes, the pandemic made video lessons acceptable but other than that, the biggest technological innovations introduced have been recurring credit card billing, which I used to teach studios to do way back in 2004, and Google docs which was launched in 2006.

Ironically, I see almost the exact same fear of change and resistance to StudioAutoPilot today that I saw from studios back then when I suggested they use recurring credit card billing

Even the teaching books are largely the same. My kids all used the same Suzuki Violin book Volume1 that I used when I took violin lessons as a kid. (That however did make it super easy to help them, the pieces never leave your mind.)

But just dream with me for a bit. Imagine this. Instead of retiring, you move to a warmer or more desirable place you have always dreamed about living in, and StudioAutoPilot automatically profitably runs your studio with minimal input and oversight from you.

That is no a dream. I have several studio owners who started using StudioAutoPilot to do just that. One husband/wife team made the tough changes after 31 years of operating manually and moved 3 time zones away and are now loving their new life out west.

We have younger couples in their 50’s who are doing this too. Using StudioAutoPilot as an alternative to retirement. They are semi-retired with a nice stream of cashflow from a business that runs in a very automated way. The awkward emotional phone calls and emails with parents that previously made them want to escape the business entirely have disappeared. To them StudioAutoPilot is not just software, it is a freedom machine.

One studio owner who sold his studio contacted me and was kicking himself that he did not know about StudioAutoPilot earlier. He said if he could have run his business like this, he never would have sold it, but just kept it and ran it at a distance. He’s right. Why sell a cash machine?

There are several studio owners using StudioAutoPilot to run with their minimal input but they still live close enough to drive by once in a while. It’s a closer to home semi-retirement plan.

If you want to pull back and not be as involved, the one major piece of advice I will give you is to set up the initial main parts of your StudioAutoPilot system yourself. You. The owner. Do not delegate that initial set up. You are building you own money-making robot. You don’t want someone else doing it who does not get the reward. If they finish building the robot and see a bag of bolts left over, it will not be as crucial to them as it will be to you. I’ve seen admins enter the wrong dates the studio is closed and screw up the billing. To an admin entering a date is just another item on a to do list. To you, the owner, it is super important and you will confirm and double check it is done properly. You get the reward.

I’ve seen even very small studios make this delegation mistake. They get an admin to set up the initial system because they think delegating is a good idea. Yes, delegate the actual day to day using of the system to your admin staff, but Val and I still do the initial set up of new teachers, closed dates and schedules. It is the best investment of a few minutes to make sure you have the system running properly when it duplicates hundreds of transactions in the future.

Yes, it will take a little bit of time but you will know the system inside out. You the owner will take that extra time and care to ensure you get the reward. Don’t let the mistakes of non-rewarded people impact you. Pack your own parachute.

One other crucial detail.

Don’t push the decision of using the system off onto your staff or a manger and just let them poke around with StudioAutoPilot and decide if it “works”. They won’t get it. This is an owner only decision.

They do not have the full understating to make this decision. If they did understand on the deeper level that you do now, some of them would quickly realize this system, if used properly could make them a lot less valuable and needed. They will realize that with StudioAutoPilot you can live without them. I’ve seen studio managers realize that fact and then try to clamor to keep a lot of things manual to justify their importance and higher pay.

There is another mini-lie that surfaces, usually in larger studios with over 400 students or multi-location studios, but I’ve seen it in some smaller studios too. We have all been told that “teamwork makes the dream work.” When studios hire more admin staff, the owner usually feels the need to do meetings with them to keep the “team” involved. We used to do this. It’s a logical idea based on what big companies do.

I’m ok with team work. Like, everyone does their individual job to make the whole recital go well. I am totally opposed to team decisions, team unofficial voting in a group setting (who else likes this idea?) and team policy making, done on the spot in a group setting.

Val and I have made some serious mistakes when we had our 8 admin staff members in a room for meetings. One would spontaneously suggest an idea that was not thought through, but seems like a good idea for customer service. Another admin person would then agree it is a “great idea!” and before you knew it Val and I had our “team”, our employees, not us, deciding that this idea needs to be done. It’s pretty hard to put on your boss hat and say, no – I hate it. Criticizing another person’s idea is practically illegal in the current “no one can ever be offended” society. Even if it is a terrible idea. (Don’t get me started)

You the boss are a sitting duck. Be very careful with team meetings. You have a lot to lose.

Make your independent decisions based on your individual goals as an owner. Then tell those decisions to your staff one at a time, not as a group. Divide and conquer. For years we were stuck with ideas that were suggested by admin employees during meetings who were not even working there anymore. It was like a lasting legacy of a bad idea we were saddled with. Not any more.

Be the boss. You get the reward. Admin staff and teachers can come and go. You will always be the owner. Own it. Make your decisions then tell everyone independently what is happening. Blame it on me if you need to. Just say the new software company says we need to do it this way.

Ok back to dreaming in a different way.

If you have ever flown through the Amsterdam, one of the busiest airports in Europe, you know it is a very efficient place and actually a fun place to spend some time if needed.

The airport came up with a very innovative way to give passengers access to info centers that were literally within steps of most people.

They did this:

The airport has one central center where staff are connected by video. One staff member can service dozens of info desk points around the airport instead of needing to put dozens of staff members in various locations in the airport. They flipped the script. Since consumers are totally fine with video now it’s not weird at all.

Stay with me.

Imagine opening a second smaller satellite location of your studio.  Maybe it only has 3 rooms and it is in cheap space. Maybe it is shared space with another business who wants some extra money and is not using the space at night. If it is your own dedicated space there are apps to automatically lock and unlock doors which could make it truly hands off.

What if every family who takes lessons at this new satellite location registers online with “old you know what”. They will all be fully trained to manage their accounts from day one and do things self-serve. At the satellite location you only do private lessons for kids who are a bit older. No really young kids. They usually trash the place. You can even set your StudioAutoPilot online registration ages to prevent kids who are too young from registering. You don’t offer group preschool classes there.

At your front desk you do not have an admin person. You have something like this:

On the screen you have a special version of StudioAutopilot running which allows parents to touch the screen and be instantly connected to a live video admin staff at your larger main location.

The satellite location system is an addon designed to easily screen share and show times and  account details if any parent needs assistance or wants to register. If they need anything you display it on the screen for them and send it to their phone. They take it from there.

If you added that low cost, low risk second location with no admin staff, could it produce an extra $2000, $3000, $4000 per month in profit? Sure, it’s possible. Could you add 2 of them? If you wanted to.

What if you already have 2 or 3 locations. Could you save money on staffing by shifting to live video staff later in the night like after 7:30PM, when there are very few students and most of them are teenagers or adults who need very little assistance?

Yes, those possibilities exist. This is one of the upsides of the “new normal” (I hate that saying but in this case, it works) that the covid experience has made possible.

I have studios who are very interested in testing this satellite addon option of StudioAutoPilot when we release it. The pieces of the puzzle are all in place and when it is running it could start a mini-revolution in studio automation.

These are the dreams I love working on when making StudioAutoPilot. What is possible? AI is a whole other area which will have some amazing possibilities to increase conversion and retention in our “same old, same old” music studio industry. Like Doc Emmet Brown said to Marty McFly: “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!”

So we are at the end of the book and at the beginning of your new adventure. When you fill out your application, if it’s a good fit we will let you run on StudioAutoPilot for a full 3 months to confirm that it is the best direction for your studio. If your application or website tells us it won’t work well, we will be honest. No point trying to put a square peg in a round hole.

Studio owners are a little surprise that we don’t chase people and try to do demos to sell them and follow up to close them. In my experience that is a terrible idea which encourages the wrong questions in an artificial environment.

The questions during demos have been about trying to use StudioAutoPilot to preserve old current ways of doing things which will be obsolete and unnecessary when StudioAutoPilot is running. During the few demos I did, many felt like I was trying to rent a vacation house that comes with free Netflix but the potential customer keeps asking if there is a video rental store close to the property. Totally different context needed.

Reading this book and actually using StudioAutoPilot for free for 3 months is a much better way to show you that yes, the ideas really do work. I won’t even try to convince anyone who is in the wrong place mentally of that fact in a 30- or 60-minute demo.

Some studio owners are also very surprised that we don’t chase software prospects and follow up with them to convince them like other software companies do. There are couple of reasons we don’t.  Some studio owners are still way too plugged into the Matrix. Their perceived possible reality is very established so trying to suggest that things can be different is like trying to turn battleship. We let them come around on their own.

The other main reason, unlike a lot of other software companies we aren’t desperate for money or sales.

Here’s part of the reason why. This is one of the properties of our 2 former locations which is now rented out. We bought in 2004 for 1.72 million, which I thought was a lot back then.

Here’s the tax assessment today:

The building is fully paid off and it just got rezoned as a multi-story residential site. We have no immediate plans to sell it and cash out and we are happy to keep renting it out and just wait. We have 2 other buildings and one of them is also paid off and was also rezoned for multi-story residential with a similarly high value. I’m not saying this just to brag. The unsaid financial position of the company you choose has a lot to do with how good your software is now and if it will get watered down in the future to accommodate other industries, or eventually sold. I made StudioAutoPilot to run, not to sell. If a software company calls things “services” not “lessons” or “accounts” not “families” you are getting compromise software that is made for multiple industries not specialized for music studios only. Look out, it could get watered down.

We can afford to play a very long game to build the best, most intelligent software customized for multi-teacher music studios only, no private teachers. All other music studio software we’ve seen out there can be used by private teachers or as a studio version. It makes sense business wise for the company to sell more. There are a lot more private teachers offering lessons than studios. We studios are a small unique group.

However, the “studio” version most other software companies provide is basically a combination of single teacher accounts. As you know now, the psychology and understanding who gets the reward is crucial to the software getting used. The psychology of a solo teacher to family relationship is radically different for the psychology between a multi-teacher studio and the families. Combining multiple single teacher accounts together to make a studio version of software works about as well as welding 2 motorcycles together to make a car. It doesn’t. Software companies make this compromise to increase sales. Uninformed studio owners just see software as software and not as psychology and get duped into using it. It’s usually cheaper too. Guaranteed cheaper than what we need to charge for our permanently smaller user base of StudioAutoPilot. We are never going to make it up with volume by using our business model.

The studio owners pay for that lower price decision with non-usage by parents and extra hours of manual input.  They never realize that the reward motivation, the biggest piece of the puzzle was never even considered in the building of that other software. They thought about the decision on a clerical level. That is a backwards looking decision. Wayne Gretzky said it best: I don’t skate to where the puck is, I skate to where it is going to be.

We are completely happy to stay small and focused on just commercial music studios forever. No private teacher or multi-industry compromise crap. We will leave that to the other software guys. We have no debt, no partners, no venture capital pushing us to scale up and broaden the software to get customers in other industries like yoga.

We are focused on what we are building. It is my dream and it is the dream others can share once they see it. Some of you have been to my house and have attended coaching sessions in my backyard meeting center, Creators Landing. You know that I have already achieved my financial goals. For me it is about the dream, the innovation and making the complicated simple.

I feel like StudioAutoPilot is at an exciting stage. It reminds me of another big shift I saw in 2008 when I picked up a magazine at an airport in New York and read about an interesting start up called Tesla. In July 2009 I visited the original small factory in Silicon Valley, drove the prototype roadster and instantly ordered one. I later bought Tesla stock at $24 per share against the well-meaning advice from “intelligent” people that really did not see what I was sure would be the future.  I still have the car today and it is now a collector’s item and worth twice what I paid.

I don’t expect every studio owner to see the dream that is StudioAutoPilot right away either. It will take some time. No problem, we can wait. When the iPhone was introduced in 2008 it took a while for everyone to see it. The biggest hang up was “where are the buttons? My Motorola Razor has buttons! I need them.”

One day in the future, studio owners will think it is riskier to not use StudioAutoPilot because they will miss out on 24-hour registrations and potentially get a lot of costly errors from their staff doing things manually. Our current users already think that.

Your new studio, better future and your reward await.

Committed to your Automatic Success

Sam Beckford
Creator & Chief Dreamer