Musical ties in Mountain Brook for Will Mason go back way further than opening their storefront for music lessons, Mason Music, in Mountain Brook Village in 2013. Today he focuses on running their four locations, while his wife, Sarah, runs the Mason Music Foundation to provide music opportunities to the low income population and those with disabilities. Will has also seen students like Ellis Bernstein signed with a band called Lady Legs and a group that came out of their Rock Band League, Riverbend, play at Sloss Fest. Here’s some of his story.
How did you first get into music?
My parents signed me up for piano lessons when I was 6. I excelled at it, but I didn’t really love it. I switched to guitar when I was 13, and it was totally different. I walked into my first lesson, and my teacher said, “What do you want to learn?” And I had never been asked that question, so I was really taken aback by that. Very quickly I started to connect the music I was listening to what I was playing, which was a really a different experience than piano. I started playing in bands, but I never considered making it a career.
How did you end up teaching lessons?
I took a “semester” off of college, and started playing in a band that ended up turning into a five-year endeavor. We got signed to a record label and started touring the country and lived the dream. It was called Moses Mayfield, and Matthew Mayfield was the principal songwriter. He and I played in Art Forms together at the junior high. Then, I met my wife, Sarah, and got married in 2007, and the band got dropped from the label. My wife is a musician too, and we started teaching lessons. My first student was a kid who came up to me at church after I was playing at a service, and said, “Hey, can you teach me how to do that?” I started meeting with him once a week and really liked it, and then his neighbor starting calling and their friends started calling.
How did that evolve into what is now Mason Music?
Sarah teaches piano and voice, and I teach guitar. We were driving all over, and then we started hiring some of our friends for our waiting list. All of the business stuff came later, but it became such a passion and there was a need for it in the community. We have now shifted from doing the teaching to finding great teachers to carry on our mission and vision. I have gone from my satisfaction and fulfillment being found in the teaching and one-on-one interactions with the students to letting go of some of that and seeing other teachers’ satisfaction in that and me enjoying leading those people. I feel really confident in everyone that works for us, and it allows us to multiply our influence.
How does Mason Music approach teaching?
It is very much a reaction to the rigid music lessons we experienced. Most of our teachers grew up with that, and to an extent we are grateful because it made us into the musicians that we are. As a teacher you have to figure out how hard to push a student and how to keep them engaged. It should be fun, it’s music. We have a lot of different teachers with different backgrounds and different personalities, so we can match people up to a teacher. We are like an eHarmony for music lessons.
What might people not know about what y’all do now?
The majority of what we do is private lessons—piano, voice, guitar, drums and violin, along with ukulele, harmonic, banjo, bass. We wanted to build community, and you can’t do that one at a time, so we do group lessons, like Taylor Swift voice class, a Led Zeppelin guitar class and more topic-based classes like a Recording 101. We have an acoustic jam session every Tuesday at 8:00 at night. The coolest thing we do in the group lesson realm is the Rock Band League. It’s a lot like a sports league model. They have a coach and practice every week in our facility, and then you have gigs at real venues. We also started a booking agency too that books bands in the community and have retail items in our locations.