I had the pleasure of interviewing Caleb Chapman, the founder and CEO of Caleb Chapman’s Soundhouse, the contemporary music training studio and program in American Fork, Utah that develops critical life skills through performing, recording, touring, and mentoring from top-tier musicians and educators. Dozens of Soundhouses will be opening all across the United States as well as expanding overseas starting in early 2019.
Tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was in elementary school, I considered myself a jock. I played sports year round and had some talent for them. Although I played saxophone in the school band, I had little interest in it and was the absolute worst player in my class. I remember I only signed up so I could get out of singing in the choir. In the summer of my 5th grade year, I was looking forward to a soccer summer camp. However, when my mom got the application materials, she thought I would benefit from going to music camp instead. I was furious! Thankfully, she didn’t give in to my pleading. Up to that point, I thought music education was limited to marches and classical music. I was shocked when I attended the camp and learned that I could play rock, pop, blues, jazz, and more on my instrument — music that I listened to and wanted to play! There was no looking back after that and it set me on a course to reinvent the way music is taught.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I think the most interesting story happened on the first day I decided to open the Soundhouse. I had just returned from a trip with the idea to open a music school for young people. The only problem was I was a college student with absolutely zero financial resources! I drove around the town where I was teaching some individual saxophone lessons. After only a few minutes of driving I saw a perfect little red brick building that looked like a school and had a “for lease” sign on it. I stopped and called the number. A man answered and told me that the lease on the building was $3,000 per month. At that point in my life, I had never seen $3,000 at once, never mind coming up with it every month for rent. My heart sank as I quickly realized that there was no chance of me being able to start a business as a broke college student. It was ridiculous for me to think otherwise. I thanked the man for the information and started to say goodbye.
Before I could hang up he stopped me. “Wait! What did you want to do with the building?” he asked. I told him I was planning to open a music school. “Who is this?” was his next question. I told him my name and he said, “Caleb Chapman? This is your doctor, Carl Bell!”
At that time I knew about 50 people total in the entire city. The fact that he ended up being one of them was crazy to me. “Look, I love the idea of a music school. Our city has needed that for years,” he said. “How much could you afford to pay on a lease?” I replied that $1,000 was probably my max to get started and he said that we would have a gentlemen’s agreement that when I could afford to pay more, I would. As a result, instead of my business stopping before it ever started, we have gone on to affect thousands of lives.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Touring is a big part of the Soundhouse experience. Each year our bands, comprised of students ages 10–18 travel all over the world and perform at amazing venues. Globally, we have played at major venues and festivals in Cuba, Scotland, Mexico, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, England, Switzerland, Canada, and more. In the U.S. we have performed at Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center and many of the nation’s most prestigious clubs and music halls in every major city.
Early on, we received an invitation to perform at a famous jazz club in Hollywood. I was ecstatic! Even better, we were scheduled to connect with the drummer for the Brian Setzer Orchestra who was going to work with the band before the show. Once we arrived, I went in the club to set the stage while the musicians unloaded the gear from our tour bus. For some reason after about 20 minutes everyone was in except the drummers, who always have the most gear. So, I sent everyone else in the band out to help them. I guessed it was taking them extra time because they had so much equipment. After about 10 more minutes all the musicians shuffled in along with the drummers, but no one was talking. I noticed why. None of them were carrying drums. We had traveled across country to play this big show to work with a celebrity drummer and NO ONE BROUGHT THE DRUMS! Since we had multiple bands and drummers on the tour, they each assumed the other was bringing the gear.
Thankfully, the guest clinician was able to call some friends and round up a drumset for us to borrow. It slowed us down a bit, but the show came off great. This was an important lesson early on to remind me that if multiple people are in charge, then really no one is. From that time on I have made sure that for every task assigned only one individual is responsible to make sure it gets done.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One thing that makes the Soundhouse incredibly unique is the fact that we do so much to contribute to the arts and the success of its clients, and we’re still is a highly profitable business model. Typically, educational institutions that do this much good rely on a non-profit model to survive. At the Soundhouse, we created an educational product that is so exciting and effective that people are willing to pay for it. The result? For the last 12 years virtually 100% of our graduates have received college scholarships, averaging well over $1,000,000 annually.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
For the last 20 years the Soundhouse has won scores of awards and impacted thousands of lives from just one location in Utah. As of right now, we have completed our first round of funding and are moving on to the next round of fundraising as we look to expand the Soundhouse around the globe with a projected 140 locations in the next 10 years. While the music education model we have developed has received rave reviews across the U.S., I realized that if I really wanted to have a chance to impact music education globally, we would need to have a presence everywhere.
What advice would you give to other C-Suite executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Booker T. Washington said “Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.” I think many executives understand the first half of this principle but lose out on the benefits of following through with the second half. It’s critical to not just give our people responsibility, but also let them know that we have the confidence they will be successful.
At the Soundhouse, our musicians regularly achieve what most people would assume to be impossible. They are able to do this because we tell them they are capable, and they believe it. It is no different with our employees! Share your confidence in them and they will rise to the occasion.
How do you define “Leadership”?
Of course, there are countless definitions of leadership, but for me it’s the art of painting a clear picture of a destination and motivating a team to want to go there. It doesn’t matter how well a leader can share the vision of an organization if it doesn’t align with the desires of the team. THAT is the real challenge of leadership — getting everyone within the organization (who have different personalities, priorities, and motivations) to want to not only arrive at the same end goal, but also take the same path to get there.
What advice would you give to other C-Suite executives about the best way to manage a large team?
It’s critical to understand our individual strengths and weaknesses. I learned a long time ago that leadership and management are two very different things, and while I am gifted at the former, the latter is not one of my talents. My advice when it comes to management, especially for other creative entrepreneurs like myself, is to not be afraid to augment your skill set by hiring a facilitator who is skilled at management. When I decided to expand the Soundhouse to a global marketplace, the first thing I did was to reach out to one of my good friends, Andrew Surmani to offer the position of CEO while I remained as Chairman. He excels at details, communications, and management and it was the best decision I ever made for my business!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
In the early 2000’s I did my first capital raise. Much of that money went into developing one of the nation’s largest and most beautiful music instruction facilities. The building was loaded with top tech, music gear, and fantastic finishes. I hosted industry leaders from around the globe including retailers, colleges, manufacturers, and others. Time after time, they told me how blown away they were with our setup and that it rivaled some of the top university programs.
Then I got a visit from Rick Drumm, who was then the President of D’Addario, the world’s largest music accessory company. He entered the building and a look crossed his face. I was waiting for the normal praise at the impressiveness of our location. Instead he laid right into me and scolded me for the incredible expense I was incurring by using that facility. He encouraged me to consider “right-sizing” the building and the business. Those words proved to be prophetic and saved my operation as I wrestled through the global recession of 2008. I called on him frequently for advice over the next decade and he always seemed to have the answers I needed. So, I was completely shocked when I asked him in 2017 to come on as a partner in the global expansion of Soundhouse and he accepted!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Just by the very nature of our business, everything we do brings goodness to the world. We are teaching people of all ages to develop critical life skills by performing music at a very high level. This includes leadership, creativity, self-confidence, self-discipline, pursuit of excellence, communication, and several other qualities critical to success. After our young musicians graduate, they use these skills to become impressive members of society, whether through music or other pursuits like business, medicine, education, law, or technology. In the 20 years we have been operating, there is a tremendous track record of success. And, as they learn and grow through performing, they bring incredible art they share with the world!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
When I was first getting started, I did a lot of “fake it till you make it.” This actually worked incredibly well until I started to believe some of the spin and found myself being in way over my head. It’s okay to project an image but make sure you are always honest with the person in the mirror.
2. Focus on the product and the money will follow.
There have been a few times in my career when I have been counseled to focus my attention on the bottom line, clawing for every last penny from my customers. Ironically, these times have often been my most unprofitable. When a company puts its customers first and focuses on quality of product the money will always follow. It’s so much easier to sell to happy customers who feel like they are getting real value rather than trying to convince customers you have nickeled and dimed to stick around.
3. Just plan on things not working.
In the early days of my business when I would hit a setback (which was often), it would leave me shaken for a few days. I would eventually come out of it and get back to work. After awhile, I realized that all this meant was I was having lots of unproductive days. Eventually I just started planning for things to not go smoothly. Then, when there was a hiccup I didn’t need to be surprised or lose time. I could just get to work solving the issue and moving on.
4. CEO doesn’t stand for “Chief Everything Officer”.
It’s easy to convince yourself that as the person in charge you are supposed to have all the answers. But no one in your organization actually thinks that, and they definitely don’t want it! Surround yourself with people who are more skilled than you whenever possible and never be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. The sooner you learn this the faster you will reach your own potential.
5. Just because things don’t go the way you expect them to, doesn’t mean they aren’t going to turn out well.
Literally the best things in my career have come out of what I perceived as complete disasters. Don’t try to play the role of fortuneteller in addition to your other responsibilities!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to get the world to start thinking differently about not just music education, but the educational model as a whole. I think it’s past that now is the time to rethink the role and goal of education. We do things a certain way simply because that is what has been done for centuries without considering whether that model remains effective or relevant. We need more people to question methods and outcomes.
Education is power and with today’s technology, we have the opportunity to truly empower more of our population that at any other point in history. If you really want to impact the largest amount of people in regards to food, health, sustainability, or the environment, it all starts with a better education model.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is from Bob Dylan. He said, “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” People are always trying to define success and certainly spend most of their lives pursuing what they think will bring them happiness. I’m not old, but I am old enough to realize that for me, stuff is just stuff, and the real value of life comes down to time. I never take it for granted that I am excited every day of my life to get to work and do what I love, and at the end of the day, I get to go home to the people I love. By the measure Mr. Dylan laid out, that makes me successful every day and that’s a great way to live. And as an added bonus, I believe it’s nearly impossible to have success in business without a true passion for the product.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I would love to be able to sit down with Elon Musk and pick his brain. I have always prided myself on thinking large, but I am so blown away by the level he does that at. And not only does he tackle the impossible — he does it with style! Space travel? Roadsters? Flamethrowers? Sign me up!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find me at the Soundhouse on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and on our website @CcSoundHouse and at www.ccsoundhouse.com.