Last Friday, we announced five April Amber Grant finalists. Today, we’re excited to share the recipient and the qualifier for our $25,000 year-end Amber Grant.
Congratulations to Elexa Bancroft, Founder of Atlanta Music Education. In our interview below, Elexa tells the history of AME, shares what sets her business apart from others and dishes on advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs.
WN: Share the story of how Atlanta Music Education came about.
EB: I founded Atlanta Music Education almost 10 years ago after working as an educator in my city and constantly thinking to myself “wait, I think I can do this better.” I found myself working for companies and programs as a teacher that were all about profit at the end of the day — and not about the children.
I started the business by simply teaching music lessons in my own style in the back closet at the local music bookstore. Over the last nine or so years, I have now grown my idea to a full-fledged children’s music school with over 100 enrolled private music students and five co-teachers offering group lessons, summer camps and private lessons in all sorts of instruments.
WN: What does Atlanta Music Education instill in its students, and how would you describe your teaching philosophy?
EB: When I grew up taking music lessons, sometimes I would dread the day I had to go to class. I didn’t find my piano lessons fun and felt a ton of pressure. My main goal in my school is for students to constantly be looking forward to Mr. Pedro or Mr. Gabriel or whoever their teacher is to come over to their house for music time. And I think we accomplished that. Our philosophy surrounds a strong music theory foundation but with fun games, modules, songs the students love from the radio and lots of performance opportunities.
My program encourages more performance opportunities than any in our area. We put together two formal recitals, a winter and spring, (four shows per recital day) annually included in tuition. We also have many other opportunities like studio outings to see local theatre, opera and movie musicals to attend with the teachers.
One performance opportunity we are well known for is Kids open mic nights. This event I open up to any kid in the entire Atlanta area who wants an encouraging safe space to perform anything from classical to pop music.
I remember a few years ago at our first Kids open mic, we had only six students perform. But it always grew each few months and this year at our Spring Kids open mic, we had over 60 kids attend and perform!
We run this program for not only our own students but for the community at no charge. We enjoy coming up with fun themes like St. Patrick’s Day or Halloween and supplying costume boxes and photo booths for the children to enjoy in between the sets of songs. We also do three group songs for children who don’t feel like they are ready to perform a solo. This gives them a chance to come up on the stage and grab an egg shaker and be a part of the show.
My music school also has almost a dozen vocal students participating in a nonprofit (Performing Arts Conservatory of Atlanta) voice competition each April. In addition to sending students to this annual fundraiser and competition, all of our teachers volunteer as judges to help vocal students in other schools and studios get feedback for their performances.
One performance that happened last month that I am especially proud of is my inaugural Young Atlanta Music Club classical student performers concert. The Atlanta Music Club was hosting an annual concert called Young Performers; teachers in the area can nominate three students to perform a memorized classical piece for no charge at a beautiful recital hall. This year, we were excited to participate for the third time. However, when we submitted our students’ information, we received an email that they decided to no longer accept performers that were not at an advanced level.
I tried to explain the importance of having beginners and intermediate students perform their very short pieces and then be able to watch the older students’ more challenging songs as encouragement. But we were still turned away.
I decided to call the venue hosting the Atlanta Music Club and explain the situation. I proposed an idea to begin a new club called the “Young” Atlanta Music Club, where any child — no matter what level of performance they are at or their age — is accepted to perform at a free concert. The managers of the venue were incredibly generous and allowed me to have the inaugural performances two hours before the Atlanta music clubs concert. The concert was a hit with 14 kids performing, and I took all of the families out to an ice cream social afterwards.
I strive for my business to be the leading example of creating opportunities for children in music education. You can learn more on Facebook
WN: How do you acquire customers/students?
EB: I think the large and swift growth with our studio is attributed to the genuine love that myself and my co-teachers put into our weekly lessons and events. Parents can really tell we have an honest passion for music and for education. What makes us stand apart from the dozens of other similar music schools or after-school activity options is that students have a plethora of opportunities to shine in our program.
Our social media presence, along with word of mouth referral, are big factors. I work hard daily to post events, pictures and videos of our students and their accomplishments. We also have a full staff of actively performing musicians and that’s exciting to share with our online community, too.
Teaching private music lessons is a unique experience. We stay with these kids and families for years. We grow up with them, bond and connect, share meals, share milestones and attend their school concerts. It’s a relationship that puts a stamp on your heart forever and we are so grateful that so many families invite us into their homes each week.
WN: What are your plans for the grant funds?
EB: We are completely floored and honored to be the April 2019 Amber grant award winners. With this grant, we’re going to be investing in a sound system and a weighted keyboard for all of our events (instead of renting them). We’re excited to launch more locations and more opportunities for kids in our community to be able to showcase their talent and find a fun space to use as a creative outlet after-school.
With the annual grant of $25,000, I wish to launch a scholarship program to be able to give students with financial hardship the opportunity to study music.
My big project is to commission a female composer to write a short musical about a fun historical event from our city of Atlanta. We would premiere this show at some of the iconic halls and theaters in our city to highlight our talented kids and teachers. I want our students and all young people in the world to see that females can be bosses; they can be leaders in the creative and performing arts.
WN: What advice would you give an aspiring female entrepreneur?
EB: Don’t give up. There are going to obstacles, building losses, nay sayers and turnover. But keep going.
Find your “tribe” and lean on them during difficult times. Seek advice from your fellow entrepreneurs. People offering similar services are your allies, not your competition. Create a sisterhood of business owners and lift each other up in marketing, programming and even just post-work personal fun. Stay involved in your community. Find ways your business can better the lives of those around you. Use all your local news outlets, Facebook groups and newsletters to share your company’s exciting milestones and offers to get them involved in your passion and growth. And lastly, when someone says no, just find another way to do it — and do it with a smile. 🙂