How to start a music business in a pandemic

How to start a music business in a pandemic


norman lebrecht

May 27, 2020

From our occasional diarist, Anthea Kreston:

How to start a new business during the pandemic. Begin by asking yourself a few key questions.
1 What am I good at?
2 How do I or my friends/family feel?
3 What are we going crazy by, what do we crave, what are our problems and what might our problems be in a couple of months?
4 What resources do I have?
5 Do I have the energy and drive to learn many new skills?
6 Do I want to be very busy?
7 Am I ok with failure?
8 How can I protect myself from loss in the case of failure?
9 Am I optimistic?

I am teaching a student in Chengdu, China, online, and after getting some heavy exposure (Slipped Disc and NYT), I was approached by several schools, asking me to design summer programs for them in the States. I had a lot of meetings, designed some detailed programs, but when I suggested that we also design a completely virtual option, it met with blank stares or was knocked away. It was also thick and tangly – the number of people I had to cajole or compromise with – my vision, which I feel strongly about – was left a weak, spineless version of what I had so passionately believed in. In the States, in mid-March, they couldn’t understand me when I said we need to prepare for the virus here – it is coming here. They were booking dorm rooms and talking about flights and per diem, and I was talking about Skype and online conferencing platforms.

And so, I turned down contracts which would have offered financial stability to my family. I lost sleep over that decision as I saw my spring and summer engagements slip away, one by one. As my 30 students went online in mid-March, I was happy that we were ok financially, and I went into kindof a stupor for a couple of weeks. Then, one day, my husband said during breakfast, “just do it yourself“.

And so I did. And am. And I am so busy learning and managing and dreaming and building, I hardly have a moment to spare. I started by asking myself the questions above. And those answers, and the ideas that came from them, filled a the spare school notebook of my 8 year old.

I knew what I wanted – a long-term online international learning platform for all ages and levels, easily accessible, flexible, extremely varied, and with the ability to continue and change for years to come. I believe we will be in some sort of Inside state until 2025, and so I want a quick fix and long-term options as well. I decided to call it Inside Music Academy, during one of my long jogs into the hills of our small, rural town in Oregon. Academy because I want the future, not just the now.

I bought and designed a website. I threw away any ideas of what a summer camp normally is, and looked instead at what we need. Laughter, physical movement, new friends, short attention-span projects, demanding work, learning new skills, silliness. And I went to work. I designed a module platform, hired a person to run the books, then a personelle director. I added interns and now have upwards of 30 people working on this Academy. I can’t open my phone without new orders coming in – from Germany, North and South America, and enquiries from New Zealand and Singapore.

I invited my friends to teach. I designed short, inexpensive, rolling sessions in 4 different categories. I added Suzuki, conducting, composition, baroque. The electives module is so fun, I want to take every one – from Blast from the Past (silly music history – make a wig of famous composers out of toilet paper) to composition and community outreach taught by an El Systema teacher. I thought of the people who make me laugh, and I asked them to teach. My colleagues and my students and my teachers. I saw that my students were lethargic so we started to do scales while doing sit-ups or squats, and we take Victory Laps around the room every time we have a success in a lesson. I am now pre-recording our Rise-and-Shine daily warmups – bowhold burpees, high-knee running in place arpeggios. It’s silly and it’s fun and it’s actually a workout, but lead by a moderately-in-shape mother-of-2 in her mid-40‘s.

I have a lawyer drafting privacy documents, a Google Classroom specialist helping me design our virtual classroom, loading the virtual library, setting up the live Webcasts for our 12:12 Nanoconcerts (5-minute live concerts – guest superstars, selected students – it’s a surprise!). We have a full Suzuki wing, and Adult Learners are signing up. It’s a place for us to all be together, to laugh, to challenge ourselves, to learn new skills and to find solace within ourselves. I can’t believe how much I have already learned – we go live June 15, and we will jump into this new world with curiosity, ready to break free of our physical confines, and to expand our minds – the biggest and most free expanse in the world.

Director, Inside Music Academy
Virtual Summer Festival



  • Bruce says:

    We should have known that you of all people would find a way to make something positive happen in the midst of all this. Brava.

    • Rod says:

      “Of all people”? Why, because nobody else has that special skill of writing about herself, maybe occasionally interspersing some pointless anecdotes about her kids, her students or her back-bedroom business?

  • Alan says:

    Well done! Great to read you again on Slipped Disc.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    I love this, Anthea. This is one positive way to redesign the boxes we live in. Brava and thanks for the inspiration!

  • anon says:

    One question: Why does Anthea deserve the free publicity?

    There are others who have constructed similar programs, both as private entrepreneurs and as directors in non-profit music schools. Should they write in and expect coverage also?

    • Bruce says:

      Perhaps you are aware that Norman invited her some years ago to be a contributor on the site, to write a sort of occasional diary of her life as she moved with her family from Oregon to Germany to be part of the Artemis String Quartet. That came to an end after a few years, but she has shown up here off and on since then.

      As you can see from the earlier comments (including mine), some of us have become fans who enjoy seeing what she is up to, whenever she feels like writing about it.

    • Mayflower says:

      As an amateur musician I am very interested. I’d love to know about these other programs so I can compare them!

    • Rod says:

      Answer: She doesn’t. More piffle from the long-windedest, writes-about-her-kiddest, nothing much to say other than me-me-me, Anthea Kreston. Makes sure we don’t lose the sloppy amateur hour aspect of Slipped Disc that we all love to hate.

      • Bruce says:

        You should get in touch with “Alla Aranovskaya, first violinist of the Grammy Nominated St.Petersburg Quartet.” I think the two of you might get along well 🙂

  • fierywoman says:

    “Stop trying to navigate systems of power.
    Start building your own power.” –AOC, SouthbySouthwest

    Brava Anthea!

  • Marg says:

    You go girl!! Fantastic. Great that you are rethinking how to ‘do music’ in a pandemic. Love it and cant think of anyone better to be leading the way.