How a Failed Musician Created Two International Music Holidays—Vincent James, Keep Music Alive, Co-Founder

Have you ever failed at something only to shortly thereafter have a breakthrough moment? Or maybe you keep trying to do accomplish a goal and finally, you have that “AHA” moment?

Today’s guest, Vincent James, shares how he went from a failed music teacher to building a national franchise brand, and then to build a national non-profit business. He has an incredible story. Let’s jump right into it.

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LINKS:

**Learn more about Keep Music Alive at: https://www.keepmusicalive.org/

ABOUT OUR GUEST:

Vincent James along with his wife Joann is on a mission to help more children (and adults) reap the educational, therapeutic, and social benefits of playing music. They founded the national non-profit Keep Music Alive and two international music holidays: Teach Music Week (March) & Kids Music Day (October) and now partner with 1,000+ music schools and stores every year to offer free lessons to new students and to hold special events that benefit kids playing music. Over two dozen celebrities and music brands support Keep Music Alive ranging from Casio to Remo and Jack Black to Julie Andrews. This musical couple is also the author of the “88 Ways Music” book series, featuring inspirational stories of how music impacted people’s lives, sometimes dramatically. 80% of all “88 Ways Music” proceeds are donated to music education and service non-profits. For more information on Keep Music Alive and “88 Ways Music” please visit www.KeepMusicAlive.org and www.88WaysMusic.com.

SPONSOR

This episode is powered by Big Sky Franchise Team. If you are ready to talk about franchising your business you can schedule your free, no-obligation, franchise consultation online at: https://bigskyfranchiseteam.com/ or by calling Big Sky Franchise Team at: 855-824-4759. 

TRANSCRIPTION

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (00:01):

… to build your business, and now it’s time to grow. Welcome to Multiply Your Success podcast. I’m your host, Tom DuFore, CEO of Big Sky Franchise Team and a serial entrepreneur, and the purpose of our podcast is to give you a weekly dose of inspiration and education to help you multiply your success. As we open the show today, the question is, have you ever failed at something only to shortly thereafter have a breakthrough moment, or maybe you’ve been trying to accomplish a goal or something that’s been on your goal list or bucket list for a long time and then finally that idea or that aha moment hits you.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (00:43):

Well, today’s guest Vincent James shares with us how he’s had several of these moments and where he went from a failed music teacher to building a national franchise brand in just three years. Then he built and grew and is now running a national nonprofit business. It’s just an incredible story. Let’s go ahead and jump right into it.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (01:09):

My name is Vincent James, and I’m the co-founder and president of a national nonprofit, Keep Music Alive, with a mission to help more kids and adults reap the educational, therapeutic, and social benefits of playing music.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (01:23):

Great. I love what you’re doing. I’ve been so excited to have you on. I’ve been a musician pretty much my whole life-

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (01:30):

Cool.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (01:31):

… albeit probably average to below-average musician, primarily a vocalist, but I love music and my kids are all involved in music right now, so it’s a big part of our lives. I love what you’re doing. However, where I’d like to start is how did you get into this music business and helping kids get excited about music? Where did that come from?

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (01:58):

Well, it’s funny. You got to go way, way back, Tom. I’ve bounced around in a lot of things, as you probably read from my little bio that I sent you. I mean, I’ve been involved in music pretty much my whole life as a part-time passion. Everything from a songwriter to managing bands, to being the artist myself and releasing CDs to radio stations across the country and got a little bit of chart success. Working in a recording studio and then co-owning a studio at one point. Then I wrote custom love songs for people through another website I had for a number of years.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (02:35):

Then, I had a friend who had a business of refinishing wood floors, and he was getting really successful with it in his local area, and he wanted to branch out, and he was getting ready to open up this first office outside his home. So I walked away from my full-time technical job and like, what the heck? He was the person who actually had been helping me with my music career on the side, so I thought, let me jump in with him and see what this is about. That started a three-year journey of, we’ve opened up the first location outside his home, and by the time I left three years later there were over 50 franchises in the U.S. and Canada and continuing to grow.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (03:19):

It was just a whirlwind experience of number one, first of all, I didn’t know anything about wood floors. They’ve been under our rugs the whole time here. But I learned a little bit about that. I basically helped to run the office, create the office, create the backend, create the website, all the little things. As you know, when you start out, and you’re the franchisor or any company, you wear all these different hats. I basically did everything except for do the wood floors because I don’t think they trusted me. I don’t know why, but that was a whirlwind experience. Then, after three years, I enjoyed it and I elected to walk away and go back towards what my passion was, which was music.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (04:05):

I bounced around different musical ideas and then one day, you ask how I got into this, I was drawn to a tele-seminar about how everyone has a book inside them that they need to write, and honestly, Tom, I never thought I would ever write a book about anything because I didn’t consider myself an expert on anything. I was a so-so engineer. I was a so-so musician. You bounce around with so many things, you just don’t feel like you’re an expert at it, but I was drawn to that training and in that is when I was hit by a bolt of lightning. “Well, what about a book of inspirational stories of how music changes people’s lives?” I’m like, “Wow, I wouldn’t have to write anything. I just gather the stories, edit them and publish it.” That’s kind of where this whole music education advocacy journey began with publishing our first book, 88 Ways Music Can Change Your Life, back in June of 2015.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (04:59):

Then shortly after that, I got a crazy idea. There should be a holiday. There should be a week where musicians everywhere, you, me, everyone we know, offers a free lesson to someone else who’s interested in learning. “Hey, Johnny, I’ve been seeing you play the guitar and I really liked it, and I’ve always wanted to learn.” Well take them up on it and actually put the guitar in their hands and get them started and that’s how Teach Music Week began in, I think, March of 2016, or maybe it was ’15. It’s a little fuzzy. Little while after that, we ran into a gal who was doing something called Kids Yoga Day. I’m like, “Kids Yoga Day. That’s really cool. I wonder if there’s a Kids Music Day.” Feverishly looking, googling, no such thing. Well, there is now.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (05:47):

Then we over time with the last six, seven years we’ve built up and now partner with over a thousand music schools, music stores, and other music organizations to offer free lessons to new students for Teach Music Week. For Kids Music Day, they hold various special events that either benefit or celebrate kids playing music, from instrument petting zoos, kids open mics, student performances, instrument donation drives, anything they can dream up, we support it, and we reach out to the media and get them talking about it with the whole purpose of driving back to getting more people excited and interested about wanting to play music. That’s all because we know what the benefits are. It’s just been a whirlwind these last six, seven years.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (06:27):

That’s an incredible inspiring story. When you’re describing that, something stood out when you said an instrument petting zoo. What is an instrument petting zoo?

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (06:37):

What the heck is that? I have to say we get some funny looks when we first tell people when we do these instrument petting zoos, and we only recently learned about this, I’d say about three years ago. Someone else had the idea. This is where we bring in guitars, ukuleles, keyboards, dozens of different types of percussion instruments into a library, into a classroom, into a festival. Any environment where they’ll have us, where families can come in, and the kids can put their hands on musical instruments, sometimes for the very first time. We have volunteers that come in, teaching artists that showed them how to hold a guitar, how to put the pick in their hand, how to strum. “This is what it sounds like when you put a little bit of distortion on. Isn’t that really cool?”

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (07:22):

You start to see their eyes light up, and they’re like, “Mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa. I want this, I want to start doing this somehow, some way.” We try to get them started. That’s part of our advocacy mission of just getting kids and adults, sometimes adults come over and for the first time they’re sitting down at the keyboard like, “I always wanted to play the piano.” I’m like, “I don’t care how old you are.” My one guitar student didn’t start learning to play guitar until he was 80 years young, so it’s never too late.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (07:52):

Oh, that’s incredible. As you described, you were a musician. You tried it. You grew a franchise company. That’s what our audience is doing, which is amazing. They’re, in many cases, either starting to franchise their business or maybe they have already franchised and trying to get to the 50 units that you were able to get to. I’d be curious, were there any quick little nuggets of wisdom you might share about what worked for you as you were growing that business?

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (08:26):

I was working with my friend. He was the founder of it, and I was number two man in the organization. Back then it was just working hard, working late, following up quickly, being responsive. Obviously, you need to have happy franchisees. If you’re trying to grow what you’re doing, you’ve got to keep the group that you have happy. So being very responsive to them, listening to them, giving them guidance, whether it’s on the actual… I actually wasn’t helping them with the refinishing of the floors and learning that process, but just on the backend, because they would each have to open their own office, whether it was in-home or outside their home. How do they do their calls?

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (09:13):

My founder friend, he created a manual that I reviewed and helped to finalize before we were done. This is what the franchisees would use to help grow their business. You learn as you go. I mean, neither one of us… He had run businesses his whole life, solopreneur. Just himself. I think he would have some employees helping. It was basically just him. He wasn’t relying on anyone else to help him grow the business, so this was a new experience for him, and it was totally outside my… I’ve always just worked for someone else up to that point. I never really tried to actually work for myself and to build something.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (09:51):

As you probably know, it’s very exciting to be given the opportunity to be able to grow something, whether you’re growing something just in your area, and you’re trying to grow your clientele base. The biggest thing we learned is, one of our mentors always say, success leaves clues. Observe people, research people that have been successful doing it, whether it’s in your model and franchise companies they’ll show you, they’ll teach you what other franchises have done using their model and the tips and tricks that they’ve used to grow their business. We can either choose to listen to them and take them in and make them work for us, or we can just like, “Oh, I know what I’m doing because I did…” We all have that tendency sometimes, and listen, and learn from others. I think that’s really the best thing that we can do, no matter what we’re trying to succeed in.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (10:43):

Yeah, no, I appreciate that. I think it’s incredible because here you are, you’re growing this brand, you build it up to about 50 locations or 50 territories, and then you feel what I refer to as this calling to go another direction and go in a totally 180. I’d love to talk about creating this nonprofit organization and creating this institution that really is changing the whole… I shouldn’t say changing. Making an impact. It’s making an impact. I’d love for you to talk about that because I think a lot of entrepreneurs, I can speak for myself too, have thought of maybe one day I might want to do something like that. Maybe I thought start some kind of a charity or some kind of an organization, and you did it. I’d love to hear your story and going down that pathway.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (11:41):

Oh, absolutely. As you know, many companies, for-profit companies, that will open up a nonprofit sister to what they’re doing that ties in with whatever they’re doing somewhat, and they help to benefit different communities in their area. I have to tell you, when we first started out, we just stumbled into it. We had this book they were going to put out, and I’ll tell you, a lot of times when you start out, you do things by brute force. We reached out to over 6,000 musicians around the world asking if they had a story to share for the first book, just by sheer numbers, in order to try to get enough stories back that we thought were inspiring enough to put in the book.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (12:26):

Then, you stumble. Sometimes when you start something and then that leads you to the next idea. Teach Music Week was led to the next idea. Kids Music Day would lead to us now doing our own instrument petting zoos year-round in our Philadelphia region, and also sometimes we travel with that as well. You learn as you go, and I’m trying to remember what was the original question that you asked? I’m going off cycle here.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (12:53):

No, this was perfect. This was exactly… What got you into it, starting it and talking about what they can do in it.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (13:04):

You learn as you grow and also look for guidance and help. I had this big barrier where it’s like I had heard all these horror stories about starting a nonprofit and how difficult it is and the hoops you have to jump through. I just took that in and like, “All right, we’re just going to do this without having to go through that trouble.” But as time went on, I realized what we’re doing is a cause-based mission. We really need to be a nonprofit to take full advantage of what we can actually grow this and impact more people, more families. So we reached our I think to two accountants, an attorney, and then maybe it might’ve been someone else, and we just really weren’t getting the progress on getting it done.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (13:46):

I’m about getting it done. If I’ve decided I want to do something, I want to get it done. I don’t want to go through too much pain to get it done if possible. For whatever reason, it wasn’t working out. So I just put it out to the universe like, “Hey, how did you all start your nonprofit?” One of our friends who runs another music-related nonprofit out in Chicago, she said, “Well, I used this organization down in Florida, this company that basically does it for you. They know how to stick a round peg in the round hole, the square peg in a square hole, and they’ll walk you through it.” I’ll tell you, Tom, from the time we filled out the application to the time we got the piece of paper from the IRS saying that you’re good was a month.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (14:26):

Wow.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (14:27):

I was like, “Ah, why didn’t I do this two years earlier?” We sometimes hesitate. We let our fears get the best of us, even when we know in our mind that this is really something we need to do, whether it’s starting a nonprofit, being official in that way, or whatever it is we’re trying to do in our business, have a regular payroll or whatever it is. We try to shortcut and like, “Oh, I’ll just going to do it just, I don’t want to say cheat way, but easy way. I’m not going to do it the official professional way, because I can get away with this.” But if you’re really trying to grow something, you need to do it really the best way possible. Learn from others. Reach out. Put it out to the universe, and you’ll get advice, you’ll get ideas.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (15:11):

I say, always, listen to your heart and your passion. For me, it was, I went back to music because that’s just where my heart was. I had no emotional connection with wooden floors. I mean, it was exciting growing something, that’s probably why I stayed as long as I did because to me, it’s just really exciting to grow something, but I just knew that wasn’t who I was. But through time, I was able to finally stumble upon, “Well, wait a minute. What about using music to help other people?” I got all excited. I ran upstairs to tell my wife. I got her cajoled into helping me out. She became my co-author, co-founder for the organization, and we’re all in, hook, line, and sinker.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (15:53):

Yeah. That is all in for sure. Vincent, this is a great time for us to transition into the same question we like to get to every guest before they go. We start with the misses, makes, and multipliers, and we start with the miss first. Is there a miss or two that maybe came along the way and something you learned from it?

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (16:13):

I tell you the number one miss that I learned, Tom, was not staying on course with something long enough to really have it bear fruit. I mean, I would start having some success as a songwriter. I had some success as an artist. I had some success managing bands, but after a year or two, there’ll be another shiny new opportunity, or I’d have a different idea and I would move off of it, and then it just started the whole process over again.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (16:40):

I did this for literally probably a couple decades and then finally, when I had this idea for what we’re doing now I’m like, “I’m sticking with this till the end,” and this is why it’s paid off. It’s now coming up on seven years that we’ve been building this. So the big miss is, don’t jump out of something too early. If you have something, and you really know it’s the right thing, stick with it. Keep building on that success, and you will eventually get to where you want to go. Don’t keep jumping at the next shiny new opportunity because once you build something up big enough, then you can start looking at other opportunities because then you’ll have leverage and resources in order to do that.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (17:18):

Yeah. That’s great advice. What about a make or two? You’ve had some pretty exciting things you’ve already shared with us. Talk about a make and something you took from that.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (17:33):

Well, at one point, we listened to one of our mentors who said, “You should really reach out to celebrities to see if they would back you somehow.” So we started just with the book series and the stories we started reaching out to managers, agents, publicists for hundreds of celebrities that we thought might be a good fit, and we started to get a trickle of responses. This is what we were asking them, if they would like to be a Kids Music Day ambassador, we could use their name and their image to help promote Kids Music Day. I’ll tell you, for a while, we weren’t getting too many responses, just a few. Then the one thing that we learned along the way was another thing, find mentors and listen to them.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (18:11):

One of my favorite sayings now is silence never means no. Meaning, if you’re reaching out for something and people aren’t writing you back, they’re not calling you back, you have no idea what that means. It doesn’t mean no. It means they didn’t get the message. The email went in their spam. They were busy when they read it. They liked the idea. They got to think about it. They were on vacation, whatever it is. Until they actually write you back and tell you something, you have no idea what they’re thinking. Don’t answer for them in your own head. We had been reaching out to a particular artist for a number of years, initially for stories for the book series, and had never heard from any of their people, anything. Silence for two, three years, but we just kept reaching out for different things to the same people, same contacts for this one artist.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (18:55):

Then one morning we got an email back that says, “Julie Andrews would love to be a Kids Music Day ambassador.”

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (19:01):

Wow.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (19:02):

We were like, fall off our chair like, “Oh my God, that’s incredible.” That started the flood of many other artists saying, “Yes. If Julie Andrews has signed up for this, we’re in. We’re good.” So the make is silence never means no and to just keep trying, keep asking. Try a different approach. If the front door doesn’t work, try the side door. If that doesn’t work, start taking the tunnel.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (19:29):

That’s incredible. What an incredible story of just sticking with it. You’re right. Her people never wrote back, and they never said no. For whatever reason, maybe like you said, who knows, it just wasn’t the right time.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (19:42):

Yeah, timing, opportunity was different. You just never know. Don’t put ideas in your head that these people aren’t interested at all in what you’re doing. You just never know. It takes time to build these relationships and really that’s what it’s all about is slowly building relationships and seeing where you can help people, and then they can, in turn, help you.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (20:03):

Now, having really an iconic personality and celebrity to help endorse, specifically, especially for children and music. I don’t know if you could have landed a more ideal person than her to be a part of this.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (20:19):

No, I can think of none. I’d heard her daughter had been releasing children’s books over the last several years, so she’s very connected in with children’s causes and children’s music and helping children, so it was ideal when we just came to her with just the right thing. Her people put it through to her, and then she said yes.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (20:38):

Absolutely. Wow. Amazing. Well, let’s talk about a multiplier. Has there been a multiplier that you’ve used personally, professionally, as you’ve grown now several businesses and doing what you do and maybe your career?

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (20:53):

I think the biggest multiplier, Tom, is learning to listen to feedback and find mentors to help you, whether it’s somebody you’re paying for a coaching situation, or you’re reaching up to someone who’s willing to mentor you on a once a month basis, whatever. Listen to their ideas. Listen to their feedback, because we never would have grown pretty much all of this if we hadn’t sought out mentors, listened to them, and, slowly but surely, putting in place pieces of their advice. That’s definitely something that I would say.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (21:28):

Well, and Vincent, the last question we like to ask every guest is what does success mean to you?

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (21:37):

To me, success means doing something you’re happy doing and being able to impact people in the process, impact people’s lives in a positive way in the process. If you’re happy doing it, and you’re impacting people in a positive way, it’s golden.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (21:55):

Well, and as we bring this to a conclusion, is there anything you were hoping to share or say that you haven’t had a chance to get across yet? Any notes you had jotted down that you were hoping to say?

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (22:08):

Well, if there’s anyone that is listening that might have… I can’t recall the folks in Florida that helped us out, but if someone’s interested in starting a nonprofit, and they’re interested in the people that helped them out, reach out to us, and we’ll be happy to connect you.

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (22:20):

If anyone has a music story, inspiring music story, whether it’s a personal experience or something that they saw or heard about, we would love to hear it and possibly put it in our next 88 Ways Music Can Change Your Life book, and just anybody interested in learning, supporting, being involved in any way on the peripheral or otherwise about music, education, and advocacy, we would love to connect with you.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (22:46):

Amazing. How can someone get in touch with you if they say, “You know what, Vincent, I’ve always had a love and a passion for music and if I can help kids find that same love and passion, I like the mission you’re you’re on here. How can I get involved with it, whether that be financially or giving time?” How can they reach out to you or your organization to get involved with this?

Vincent James, Keep Music Alive (23:13):

The best way is just through the website. It would be KeepMusicAlive.org, .O-R-G. You can also find this on all the social media platforms, just put in keep music alive, and we pretty much bubble up to the top.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (23:25):

Vincent, thank you so much again for being on the show. I know I’ve mentioned it throughout our interview, but music has been a huge part of my life for my whole life. It’s actually what connected me to my now wife, and it’s a part of my children’s life growing up, so thank you so much for what you continue to do to inspire children and adults as well to get involved with music and learning because it’s never too late.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (23:53):

Let’s go ahead and jump into today’s three key takeaways. Takeaway number one is that success leaves clues. I really think that’s part of the reason why I’m doing this podcast is that success does leave clues and that’s what we’re trying to get across with the Multiply your Success podcast. Takeaway number two, as he said, his number one miss was that he didn’t stay the course long enough until he had success. He talked about being a musician and trying that for a little bit and then stopping it and then onto the next thing and stopping before he had enough time for it to really accomplish the goal and success he was going for.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (24:36):

Take away number three, when he talked about the multiplier, and he said that listening to feedback and incorporating that feedback has been a huge gain for him, whether that’s been through mentors, coaches, whomever he’s been listening to. Now it’s time for today’s win-win.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (24:56):

Today’s win-win comes when Vincent said, “Silence never means no.” As the leader of your organization, I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where you’ve been reaching out to someone, maybe a prospective customer or a client or a key vendor or maybe an endorser, or maybe it was just a potentially great employee to bring into your company, and you never heard back. I love how Vincent said, “Stay the course. Wait, because silence doesn’t mean, no. It just might mean, not right now.” I just thought that was a great reminder that sometimes having that little bit of extra patience allowed him to bring Julie Andrews into his organization as a brand ambassador to support what he’s doing. Then her joining opened up so many more additional opportunities.

Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (25:54):

That’s the episode today, folks. Please make sure you subscribe to the podcast and give us a review. Remember, if you or anyone you know might be ready to franchise their business, please connect with us at BigSkyFranchiseTeam.com. Thanks for tuning in, and we look forward to having you back next week.

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