SARASOTA, Fla. (May 25, 2016) – She’s more of an entrepreneur than a musician.
Jenny Alday Townsend, USF Sarasota-Manatee Class of ’09, said she wasn’t sure what to make of her future after graduation until she decided to pursue an idea gleaned while a hospitality leadership student.
She recalled a waitressing job where musicians complained of a lack of rehearsal space, “a place to really let go and get loud in,” so she devised a business plan around rentable rehearsal studios.
Years later, Townsend, 34, is turning that class assignment into a viable business. After a handful of sales and marketing jobs, the USFSM alumnus started scouting places to test her venture and found one at 1747 Cattlemen Road, Sarasota – an 1,800-square-foot warehouse with ample room and where noise isn’t an issue.
Her business, the Music Compound, officially launched Jan. 4, however the focus has shifted since her student days. Musicians are welcome to practice there, but the emphasis now is on music lessons for people of any age or skill level.
“We even have infants,” said Townsend, referring to one program where babies listen and react to simple melodies.
Launching the Music Compound was a difficult task for the young entrepreneur, but she notes the decision wasn’t hard given the hectic pace of her sales job.
“I was working 80 hours a week and my husband said if you’re going to work this hard you might as well work for yourself,” Townsend recalled. “So I gave myself a year to enhance my business plan, get the financials in order and get funding.”
Working with a mentor at Manasota SCORE, a group of retired executives, Townsend secured a Small Business Administration loan for fixtures and furnishings, musical instruments and operating cash.
This summer, she plans to move to a space that’s triple the size of her current location. She hopes to break-even by the fall and turn a profit after that. She’s enlisted help from Denise Verheul, a former music store owner who now serves as music director, and Mindy Wren, a 21-year-old USF Sarasota-Manatee student who coordinates marketing and events.
“She reminds me of when I was younger,” Townsend said of Wren, a psychology and sociology student. “She’s very eager and driven.”
Wren said it turned out her new job dovetails with what she’s learning in class, particularly her psych classes.
“So much of what I’m doing now is about navigating relationships,” she said. “Whether it’s dealing with children or parents or other people, it’s about communication.”
Among other duties, Wren runs the front office, sets up instruments, schedules events, signs up clients and helps secure sponsorships for events such as the Beer, Bands & BBQ musical showcase set Oct 1 at the Sarasota Polo Grounds.
She said she heard about the job after contacting USFSM’s Career Services Office. After meeting with Townsend and determining that Wren’s qualities matched those of her business, Townsend said she was happy to bring her aboard.
What sets the Music Compound apart, she said, is its emphasis on customer service. Observing how students work with music teachers, she said, she realized that success often comes down to how well students and teachers interact.
If for some reason a student is not excelling or feels less-than-inspired, Townsend said she’ll reassign that student to another teacher. She said she wants students to feel inspired to play. The business works with nine instructors who teach everything from tuba to timpani.
“We want our students to want to play outside the studio or lesson,” she said.
Additionally, students pay a flat fee to attend the Music Compound. Townsend said the business provides instruments so students – or their parents – don’t feel obligated to purchase one right away.
“I thought that instead of spending money on an instrument that may or may not get any use, why not invest in education?” she said.
If at some point a student wants to perform before an audience, Townsend offers a small staging area where musicians can try their hand at monthly live performances. The space includes a music lounge with instruments and comfortable chairs as well to encourage collaboration.
“As the students are learning how to play an instrument they can also learn about stage presence and gain confidence from that,” Townsend said. “In a way, this provides them with life skills without really understanding that they’re learning a life skill.”
The business model, which also includes vocal lessons, has proven popular with children, teens and their parents. But Townsend is quick to note that more than 30 percent of her customer base consists of clients 50 and older, including those who’ve always wanted to learn an instrument but never found the time.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are,” she said. “We even have someone in their 80s. She said she always wanted to learn how to play the piano, and now she’s doing it.”
For more information about the Music Compound, visit www.musiccompound.com/.
“Jenny is a USFSM Bull to brag about,” said Jay Riley, program director of student alumni engagement. “She gives her time and support to many community non-profits, including at USF Sarasota-Manatee. She serves as a great mentor and role model to future entrepreneurs.”