We had the good fortune of connecting with Molly Webb and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Molly, what’s your definition for success?
There are a number of ways I define success, but for the purposes of this interview, I’ll limit them to ones that apply to the music school my husband, Travis, and I run. The most obvious one, but probably not the most important to me, is the musical careers of my students. It’s, of course, exhilarating to get to see a student singing on Netflix, getting cast in their dream roles, and being accepted into the conservatories of their choice. I’m always thrilled for them and so proud of the part I get to play in their lives.
But there’s less visible success too: like watching students grow up at our school, whether they take lessons from me or one of our other wonderful teachers. It’s amazing to see kids who at first won’t sing or play a note in front of other people proudly perform at our recitals as they gain in confidence. There’s the adult student who for his entire life believed he couldn’t sing and then realizing after some lessons that it’s a skill like everything else; the workaholic pre-med student who uses music as her only outlet to decompress; the fiancé who wants to surprise his bride-to-be by singing (in tune) to her on their wedding day; the mom who’s going through a bitter divorce and needs to sing some angst-fueled 90’s music for catharsis without being told that she should really start with “classical training.” These aren’t people who aspire to illustrious music careers, just ones who want to learn to feel good about their own voices, which I sincerely believe is a good in and of itself. Speaking of 90’s music, another marker of success is giving my students space to thrive in the styles that they’re interested in. I pride myself on not foisting my own aesthetic biases on my students and using evidence-based techniques to help them achieve their goals rather than pigeonholing them into what I think a voice should sound like.
The way we treat our employees is another one of my barometers for success. Providing reliable music teaching jobs is a major goal for Travis and me. When I first started building my music teaching company out of college, I was fortunate enough to have help from my parents, which allowed me the time to build my client base one student at a time until I was full time. But most people don’t have that luxury and just need to get a job that immediately supports them. Our goal, and what would be a huge benchmark of success for me, would be to grow our company enough that we can hire teachers for full-time employment with benefits right off the bat without having to grow their client base bit by bit. We’ve already begun giving our teachers guaranteed hours and health benefits when they reach full time, but getting to the point where we can offer a stable and well paying full-time job upon hiring would be huge for me.
Finally, success for me would be the successful expansion of our new and most ambitious program, The Inside Voice. The major aim for the company is to make voice lessons widely accessible and something anyone can afford and fit into their lives. I firmly believe that everyone can and should learn to use their voices and that instead of being a luxury item, singing lessons should be thought of as part of a healthy lifestyle—something someone does to take care of themselves, like yoga. To spread that awareness and accessibility would truly mean success for me.
What should our readers know about your business?
Our first business, Molly’s Music, began with just me teaching voice and piano out of a room in Costa Mesa, while cobbling together other income by doing in-home lessons, teaching after-school piano programs, and running lessons out of a local music store. I’m incredibly grateful to the people who helped me in those early stages, like Rob Joly, the previous owner of Jim’s Music, who hired me before I had any real teaching experience, and of course my parents, who helped me secure my first location and helped in countless other ways.
2011 was when I got so booked that my then fiancé, Travis, and I hired our first teacher. The business grew fairly organically from there—we added guitar, ukulele, and drums to our offerings and hired new teachers as the old ones filled up. Now in 2020, we have a new Costa Mesa studio, an Orange studio, a recording studio, and an Irvine studio that came about from a partnership with my friend Giana at Dancing Keys Piano Studio.
Starting a few years ago, Travis and I began concepting our newest venture, The Inside Voice. It came about as an effort to make singing lessons more accessible—both in convenience (it can be done anywhere, any time) and in price. It’s a comprehensive program that includes instructional videos, targeted vocal exercises, live lessons (either at one of our studios or on Zoom), and “pocket lessons”–our trademarked name for asynchronous lessons with your private teacher that uses a picture-in-picture video exchange.
I’ve had some amazing experiences with The Inside Voice so far, including getting to warm a student up for her Broadway audition (yes, that Broadway!) via Zoom. On the other side of the spectrum, but also so important to me, I’ve worked with adults who did lessons from their parked car, just to get a few minutes respite from their toddler. Our push for The Inside Voice accelerated when the shutdown happened and we realized how much humans need connection these days, even if it’s not in person.
To go back to the original question about whether it was easy to get to where we’re at, the answer is definitely no. Even though we grew organically, it was non-linear and never just a steady upward trend. We’ve had plenty of setbacks along the way. One of the latest ones that we turned into a positive was the AB5 law that upended the gig economy in California by making it illegal to use independent contractors for our type of business. We had a rough transition and lost some teachers along the way because of how much the business model had to change, but in the end, we’ve found some positives in it, like getting to provide health insurance and being able to offer paid training.
Of course, the most recent setback is the pandemic. We’re fortunate in that we were able to quickly pivot to online lessons, but after the second shutdown in Orange County, re-growth has been an uphill battle. We’re filling up quickly now, but the pandemic took our business down to where it was at in 2016 (after 4 years of growth).
I’ve learned so much since this all began, but one of the biggest things is that we should focus on what we’re good at instead of trying to be everything for everyone. Voice, along with the things that go hand in hand, like accompaniment instruments, performance, and artist development, is what we know and do best. Just because we get an inquiry for trombone doesn’t mean that it’s the right idea to rush out looking for a trombone teacher. Just because we could also get a reseller’s permit and sell instruments doesn’t mean that we should suddenly become a musical instrument store. We went through many instances of trying to do too much at once. It’s better for us, our teachers, and our students, for us to be the best vocal school around instead of the seventeenth best instrument shop and sheet music store.
What I feel really sets our brand apart, whether we’re talking about Molly’s Music or The Inside Voice, is our belief in an evidence-based vocal pedagogy that helps real-world singers no matter what style of singing they’re interested in. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to singing, and classical training isn’t the best approach for pop singers any more than pop training is the best approach for opera singers. We train our teachers on everything from vocal anatomy, to music theory, to practical vocal pedagogy and how to appropriately work with each type of voice and unique interest. It’s important to me that I’m confident in each and every teacher who works with us, and looking at our amazing staff, I certainly am. Right now, I’m particularly excited about the expansion of The Inside Voice. We already work with students internationally, and I’d love to get to work with even more students from all over the world.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This is a fun one, but also a hard question because of the pandemic, so I’ll just set my answer in the magical future when the world has opened back up. I’ll start with my favorite local restaurants: Every Monday, my family eats at our favorite local Indian restaurant, Tandoor, in Orange, so I’m hoping the visiting friend likes spicy food! Francoli’s, an Italian restaurant at the Orange Circle is also a must, especially on their patio during a warm night. We love the Country Club restaurant on E. 17th Street in Costa Mesa, and definitely Darbari, our favorite Persian restaurant in Costa Mesa. For drinks, we’d also head to the beautiful patio at Orange Hill Restaurant. As far as itinerary, we have some beautiful regional parks, like Santiago Oaks if you’re looking for woodsy hiking trails and Irvine Regional Park for more amenities. Of course, the beaches around here can’t be missed. If we had time to venture further out, I’d probably go for Idyllwild or Joshua Tree. We’d also go to a show or two, at Segerstrom or A Noise Within, and if it’s during a Covid-free summer, the New Swan Shakespeare Festival. I miss live theater so much.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Yes, this shoutout goes to my parents and in-laws. We definitely wouldn’t be where we’re at without their intense amount of support, both tangible and intangible.
Website: mollysmusic.org and theinsidevoice.org
Instagram: @mollysmusicschool and @the_inside_voice
Twitter: @mollys_music and @_theinsidevoice
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mollysmusicschool and https://www.facebook.com/TheInsideVoiceTIV
Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/mollys-music-costa-mesa, https://www.yelp.com/biz/mollys-music-orange, and https://www.yelp.com/biz/mollys-music-irvine
Tiffanie Battram and Kim Nakamoto