Will Mason never planned on owning a business.
Growing up in Mountain Brook, both of his parents were educators, and the path laid before him was education. Going to college and getting a degree to support a family. But Mason said it didn’t fit.
“When I was in college, I didn’t feel like this was the right direction for my life, and I felt so lost and wondered what I was supposed to do,” said- he declared.
Mason joined Birmingham band Moses Mayfield in 2003 and spent the next five years making music and performing. There really was no plan but to keep doing this for as long as he could, Mason said.
When the band went through some changes, Mason got married and decided it was time to call it quits in 2007.
“I was kind of like, ‘What am I doing now? I don’t have a degree. I don’t have a plan. I’m supposed to be a husband now,'” he said .
He started working in construction, playing music in his church, and giving music lessons in the evenings – doing whatever he could to put things together. It was from this search and survival that Mason began to turn his music lessons into a sustainable business model.
When Mason Music started in 2012, everything was free and the teachers were volunteers. Over time, he talked to people who worked in the nonprofit world and realized he wanted to build something that was lasting.
“When you’re just relying on volunteers, there’s not as much long-term commitment, and these kids need people who will stay in their lives for the long term,” Mason said. “We had to do something to make a difference.”
Mason said one of the benefits of already having the Mason Music Foundation is that all the processes were already underway to manage music lessons, studios, teacher hiring, contracts and policies. To support this, they started fundraising to pay teachers enough to earn a living teaching music.
Mason Music now has 77 employees and between 900 and 1,100 students at a time.
Mason Music has five locations in Birmingham, with studios in Cahaba Heights, Mountain Brook Village, Bluff Park, Greystone and Woodlawn.
The company offers private lessons in guitar, piano, vocals, drums, and violin for students of all ages and skill levels, as well as music camps, band lessons, and the Rock Band League.
Mason said part of the reason their teachers love working for Mason Music is because all of the administrative components are handled and they just become teachers and build relationships with their students.
Mason Music Festival
In the summer of 2021, an end-of-summer party was organized for students and their families. This year, Mason wanted to do something bigger to celebrate the 10th anniversary.
“I had a vision to make it something bigger,” Mason said. “We really wanted to do something that our team could be really proud of and celebrate the fact that we’ve done it for 10 years. Instead of holding two events together, we said, “Let’s just do an amazing music festival and go big.”
Last month’s Mason Music Fest, held at Avondale Brewing Co., featured nine bands, all Mason Music-related. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the event went directly to the Mason Music Foundation to provide scholarships for students.
“As funding for the arts in public education continues to decline, we are stepping into the breach to raise funds for music scholarships with the Mason Music Foundation,” he said. “We wanted our guests to have fun at the event and feel good knowing their ticket was helping pay for someone else in Birmingham to take music lessons.”
As for making it an annual event, Mason said it was a huge undertaking and he would follow up with his team and get their feedback to make sure they felt it was a worthwhile cause. If so, he said they have a solid game plan going forward and it will be a lot easier the second time around.
past and future
Looking back on the past decade, Mason didn’t hesitate when asked what makes him most proud: his children.
Although he did not push them to make music, they have been in it since birth.
“I’ve built this business, and I get to enjoy my students learning and growing, and I get to see them perform at recitals, and I’m really proud,” he said. “Watching students take to the stage and rock is such a rewarding thing. But it’s not like watching my daughter perform. She was [initially] nervous and shy, but she came out of the first Rock Band League practice and thought, “That was awesome! And now his band is people, his best friends, and they play amazing music. Building something that my kids love and I’m a part of, that I now enjoy from a parent’s perspective. I’ve been on the other side of the business as an owner and can now see firsthand the joy these kids get from being part of Mason Music.
The next step for Mason is the opening of the Woodlawn Theater. Coming in late fall, the venue can accommodate 250 people and will also house the Woodlawn Mason Music studio, with classroom space for up to 200 students per week.
He said he wanted it to be a place for developing artists, and there will be shows regularly. The location is geared more towards original artists and will be a paid performance venue similar to Saturn or Workplay, but on a smaller scale. It will also be available for private events including weddings, corporate events and birthday parties.
Mason said looking back on his life, he can see how everything that happened worked to get him to where he is today.
“I’m a person of faith, and so a lot of my meaning that I attribute to life comes through that lens,” he said. “So every kind of inflection point in my life, I can see God directing it. We have this unique opportunity to be a child’s first impression of music. It’s really important to make those connections right from the start. the beginning for students to stay true to the music.It’s a truly unique reward for a decade of teaching.