Everyone that’s known me during the “dark period of my life”—also known as middle school—knows that I played the trombone in my school band. While my stint as a trombonist ended very early, my love for music didn’t, including my penchant for music by string ensembles. What’s sad, however, about popular music taste among younger people these days is that no one’s really interested in Beethoven when most twenty-somethings would rather turn up to Drake instead. One of my close friends said that she only ever listens to classical music when she’s studying, because it “helps [her] relax.” So the big question is, how do we get millennials hyped about classical music and revive this dying music genre?
The answer to that, my friends, came right out of Boston through the launch of a startup called Groupmuse. Founded in 2013, Groupmuse was started by Sam Bodkin, a Boston local who wanted to reinvent the stifling nature of traditional classical music concerts. It’s an online platform that connects classical musicians to local audiences through what Bodkin coins as “chamber music house parties.” For those that don’t know, chamber music is a form of classical music performed by a small ensemble; the small size of the group makes them fitting for performances in palace chambers or large rooms. Pairing musicians with people willing to host concerts in their homes, Bodkin seeks to create an unorthodox experience where both old and new friends can appreciate the great art of classical music together. The good company only gets better with great drinks and the freedom to dress however and clap whenever one wants. Currently, Groupmuse exists in three cities across the states: Boston, New York City, and San Francisco.
Contrary to how detached millennials are from the classical music genre, Groupmuse has seen profits with hundreds of young patrons tuning into their groupmuses, or performances, every week. It’s free to host venues, but both musicians and Groupmuse are compensated for their efforts by cash or online payments; a $3 RSVP fee from each patron sustains the business and $10 minimum donations at the end of the night support the musicians. Musicians have earned an average of $113 per event, and Groupmuse gained $25,000 in revenue during its first year of business. Despite being a for-profit company, Groupmuse highly prioritizes its social mission and values; it empowers communities to revitalize the role of classical music in their daily lives and invest in passionate local artists.
Come to think of it, Groupmuse’s business model may be similar to that of another famous company that we’re all familiar with—AirBnB. AirBnB formed a marketplace for people to list or rent out their residences for lodging purposes. Like how Groupmuse financially supports classical musicians and creates an informally fun environment for performances, AirBnB generates an alternate source of income for homeowners and provides intimate homestays for visitors. During this age of entrepreneurial ventures, it’s inevitable that start-ups begin to resemble other business models. With the lack of initial funding and the risk of brand new ideas failing, it makes more sense for start-ups to build their businesses off successful existing models. Although no one likes to categorize themselves, even Groupmuse can’t help but admit to its nickname as “the AirBnB of classical music.”
The most interesting facet of Groupmuse is how it considers itself as a “social network.” Bodkin described classical music as having an “inherently social nature” and believed that people could expand their social circles by enjoying classical music in relaxed, party settings. When RSVPing for a performance, community members are actually required to create a profile with a picture and introduction linking to their FaceBook and/or LinkedIn profiles; these profiles are shared with venue hosts to help them feel more comfortable welcoming new friends into their homes. Additionally, musicians get to familiarize themselves with their audience by having access to the guest list for their performances.
Of course, nothing beats the live social atmosphere that takes place during a groupmuse. Hosts, performers, and attendees are always given an hour between the scheduled start time and performances to mingle. And maybe it’s the intimacy of a small room, the close proximity to the artists, or the warm tingly feeling of alcohol running through people’s systems, but the social interactions that emerge from groupmuses are spectacular. A “rare breed” of millennials evolves from the audience that’s too busy clapping in-between movements to notice if someone sent them a Snapchat on their iPhones. A stark contrast to the subdued air of a traditional orchestrated performance, musicians are also more lax and socially-engaged with their listening friends.
But the socializing doesn’t stop even though the show eventually does. All participants of groupmuses are encouraged to share their experiences on their social media accounts and stay connected through their mutual love for classical music. This also helps spread the word for Groupmuse in its search for more hosts, musicians, and attendees.
There’s huge potential for Groupmuse to grow into a full-fledged company but not without some setbacks. With musicians still being paid in donations, the venture is working towards increasing minimum donations to $50 by the end of 2016 and integrating the payments into their platform; the hope is that Groupmuse can become a tool for up-and-coming classical performers to build their careers through more than just promotions. Companies can enrich their corporate culture too by utilizing Groupmuse at Work, which allows companies to host Massivemuses for employee bonding purposes. Partnering with big companies will aid Groupmuse in acquiring more venture capital funding that’ll strength its funding structure.
It’s apparent that Groupmuse isn’t simply just another start-up; it’s become a catalyst for the development of entrepreneurial solutions to bridging the gap between the social culture of millennials and aged forms of traditional arts. The goal of Groupmuse has never been to replace conventional symphony orchestras; the business only seeks to casually introduce millennials to classical music in hopes that the latter will venture out of their comfort zones and become more engaged with the genre on their own.
So for my friends who are too afraid to jam to Mozart or Luke Bryan in public, have no fear; there are businesses out there like Groupmuse enabling communities of fanatics to share their fondness for niche music genres with you. After all, art is [truly] better with your friends.