Play It Forward: LessonFace Sees High Notes with Live Online Music Instruction


There are tens of thousands of music instructors; YouTube counts 259,000 music instruction videos, and a Google search reveals no lack of instructional videos, lots of them tipped toward would-be rock guitarists.

But, a business that just started in September, aims to fill a smaller niche, with live, personal, one-on-one online video instruction-- but on a huge variety of instruments, from banjo and bagpipes to xylophone, from opera voice lessons to audio mixing and mastering. In all, LessonFace says it provides instruction on 85 different instruments or music-oriented skills.  

It has about 50 instructors, including some who have played with Barbara Streisand or Yo Yo Ma, or whose guitar work has been cited by Spin magazine.

Claire Cunningham, CEO and a LessonFace co-founder, thinks its existence reflects at least a couple trends. “One is the fact that, it’s just been recently that all laptops have been shipping with built in web cams and technology like Skype have made video communication it seem very normal. And online education is a huge trend.”



A third trend is that as the music industry has gotten tougher, musicians need to be entrepreneurial by turning to teaching. In fact, it was one of her husband’s friends—“When he puts a record out, it’s number 2 in Italy but still has to keep his day job in Baltimore,” she says—who gave her the idea to start the business when his fans wanted Skype lessons from him. Online, Skype is a veritable symphony of music teachers.

Brooklyn-based LessonFace packages that idea. Cunningham researched the idea for several months before launching with some initial financing and savings. The investors just re-upped last week, and LessonFace plans a second round of financing in the next couple months. She was the only full-time employee but now there’s a marketing person, and a marketing campaign is in the offing.

Cunningham is getting used to start-ups. She started a youth hostel in her native South Carolina after graduating from the College of Charleston, helped start a publishing company that specializes in reviving out-of-print books, devised a couple educational apps and was working for a “green” education company, when the music site became a possibility. Somewhere during all of that, she got an MBA from MIT.

There are only a few other live-instruction online sites she considers competition, but it is not hard to find many (many, many) sites that will provide video to teach you how to play something/anything. LessonFace hopes it has better instructors, many of them session musicians or people who run their own small schools. It also offers the bigger, best advantage of live, one-on-one instruction.

Cunningham considered keeping the number of offerings trim, but she says, “I think if you’re in small town Iowa, there’s probably a guitar teacher in the area.  The person in Iowa who wants to take bagpipe--I think that’s the draw. Or being in Ohio and learning guitar from a real pro in Los Angeles or Montreal.”

LessonFace uses Fuzebox video conference connections, and run pupils though instructions about how to use, and how to be to situate themselves and their instruments.

Instructors charge what they want, and the Website takes a slice. At this early point in its existence, Cunningham is happy to say the site’s had at least one student who’s spent $1,000 on lessons and many more approaching that point. Over 70% of its students come back for more than one lesson, but LessonFace is putting together a lesson package as it goes forward.

This should be a good month for LessonFace. It’s January and “learn how to play an instrument” must be on at least half the New Year’s resolutions lists out there.  It was for Cunningham. On Jan. 2, she signed up at LessonFace to learn how to play the ukulele.    

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