We had the good fortune of connecting with Phil Circle and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Phil, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
As a kid I was always torn between being a creative person and being an entrepreneur. I pursued music, but always had a side hustle while working some day job. It was exhausting. Then when I was about 22, I had a life-threatening illness that offered clarity. I was absolutely going into music. But I also realized that my love of creating money-making opportunities for myself would help me succeed in the tremendously challenging business of music. I was right.

By the time I was 27, I was working entirely in music and had stumbled upon a new love; teaching. It didn’t take long for me to see that music was being taught in an archaic way. I was so motivated to answer students’ needs that I not only got my degree in music composition and performance from Columbia College Chicago, but would read up on everything from neuroscience to cultural anthropology, seeking a deeper understanding of how we learn and function as human beings.

As I progressed in my teaching, I was able to identify ways adult music lessons were failing. Basically, most approaches teach adults the same way we teach children. But without realizing that adults need a “why” in their process, and without understanding that most adults already know how to learn and how they themselves learn, we lose the opportunity to give them a far wider understanding of music. I saw it with one student after another; they always ran into road blocks or lost motivation with their previous teachers. I would use everything I knew to figure out what they were missing, what gaps weren’t filled. Before long, I was breaking people through. I had a method! And it continues to evolve as I continue to learn. As it should be in life, generally.

Fast forward to 2016 and me turning fifty. Several positive shifts in my life caused me to move to the next level. After years of working as a contractor for various teaching facilities and taking students at my home studio, I decided to open a space and start expanding. So I grabbed a small industrial space near my house in Chicago. I began offering workshops, along with my private lessons, and eventually hired an assistant to help me expand all my musical pursuits. I’m also a working professional musician and songwriter. In fact, these inform my work with students, too.

When COVID hit I had to close my studio a few months after lockdowns, but pivoted hard into remote learning and building a stronger online coaching presence. I also officially started an online music store stocked with items recommended by me and my contemporaries. In June of 2021, as restrictions began to lift, I rented a new space in Chicago’s popular Wicker Park (think NoHo) in the historic Flat Iron Arts Building. I began to bring in like-minded pros to join me in teaching a wider array of music subjects. My wife, an actor, moved to Los Angeles that fall. After a year living across country from each other, I came to LA and opened a second school in Westwood.

By now, I have multiple awards for my work, and both my schools, in Chicago and LA, are listed among the top music schools in their respective towns. Two of my Chicago teachers are partners in the business. But our entire team of teachers are on a mission to make our national music scene better, one artist at a time. We’re creating more courses on video and for live in-person and remote, designed to help anyone and everyone reach their highest potential, to uncover and nurture their talent. This was never about just making a buck. Because, honestly, if that’s what your job is about, look for a better one. It’s about the motto I adapted for the school from a quote by Ghandi: Be the change you want to hear. Make great music.

Our business model is one of equity, transparency and trust. Every teacher has a key to the school and access to the scheduling portal. They also have the freedom to work with students who run into financial restrictions. Students can book and schedule or reschedule completely on their own through our portal or talk directly to their teacher and sort it all out. The rate we take from tuitions is almost half what most schools take from their teachers. And every coach is free to create whatever workshops they like and utilize our studios for creating content or practicing, anytime the spaces are open.

I’ve always enjoyed solving problems. Especially when it matters. Music matters to everyone. So making sure we give everyone access to being a creative musical artist is incredibly important to me. It’s truly a mission. I’m really proud of what Phil Circle Music is creating and look forward to expanding.

Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
My music school, Phil Circle Music, is dedicated to coaching adult musicians. My teachers and I are all professional musicians with a love for what we do. The spark we see in a new student when they discover their own creative style or voice, is a great motivator for us.

For me, this has been essential in remaining focused through countless setbacks over the years. An unshakable core is built when we’re working with a deeper sense of purpose than simply making a living. I believe this because it’s been my experience. I always wanted to see my students succeed. But when I began to look back over the years and see how their successes taught and inspired me, I began to see my own motivations more clearly.

Music is not just about getting on stage or in the studio. It’s not just about entertaining a crowd. It’s also about connecting human beings through the artistic spirit.

Phil Circle Music is defined by the dedication of the teachers at both schools, in Chicago and Los Angeles. Every one of us shares this strong feeling about what we’re doing. Every student is treated as if they have unlimited potential. We give everyone all the tools they need to uncover and nurture their talent. And we believe that everyone has talent.

I personally didn’t initially believe this when I was a young musician. I thought, like so many, that talent was something life bestowed on us. But I would still work to inspire my early students to work hard because I wanted them to enjoy music. Then I watched one after another surprise me. By overcoming my own narrow-mindedness and little ego, I discovered how coaching others to find their best selves helped me to also expand my own life.

I love how music does this for anyone who opens themselves to the possibility of having talent, anyone who works for it. That’s why I keep pushing to expand the reach of Phil Circle Music. I’m working on all kinds of ways to reach students outside my school’s current locations, without sacrificing the integrity of my method.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’ve only been here since August and all my trips over the previous decade were spent in recording studios or otherwise working. But, I do still have something to go on.

Day one, we’re going straight to the ocean to Paradise Cove in Malibu. Better make this a Monday or some less traveled day or you’ll never find parking. Get your name on the list at the front of the restaurant and then go hang on the pier or the beach until they text you that your table is ready. Get one by the windows indoors. Who wants sand blowing on their food. You can still see the ocean. It’s beautiful. Don’t buy a burger. You’re by the water. Get fish.

Day two, we’re going hiking above The San Fernando Valley at the old Nike Missile Base. Just let the GPS take you to the dirt road, then park. All you need is gym shoes, but hiking shoes are great, too. Walk in along the road and start snapping pics, but save your device’s memory for the big payoff. By the way, this isn’t high end hiking. I did this weeks after a complete hip replacement. It’s about a mile round trip. When you get to the old base, climb the tower and grab some 360 degree panoramic photos and videos. If you time it right, at the right time of the month, you can do like I did; catch the sunset on one side while the moon rises on the other. If it’s clear enough, you can see the full length of the valley on one side and downtown LA and the bay on the other. Then go to Mel’s Drive-In Diner down in Sherman Oaks. It’s like 15 minutes away.

Day three, we’re going to a movie. But allow some extra time. We’re going to the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd. Parking is only a couple bucks (get it validated). Then spend an hour or so strolling along the Walk of Fame. There’s plenty of food options up and down the street. Keep a good playlist for the car coming and going. Traffic may be a challenge if there’s anything going on at the nearby Hollywood Bowl.

Days four and five, back to the ocean. Grab some lunch or breakfast food in Venice, then you have to hit Venice Beach. Legends happened along this delightfully seedy strip of vendors, outdoor gyms, musicians hocking their tunes, and no healthy snacks. Then you head practically next door to Santa Monica and choose from all kinds of delicious dinner food. Time this for sunset. Hit the pier for people-watching or walk the Pacific Palisades. If Venice doesn’t do it for you, you can drop by my school (Phil Circle Music) in Westwood’s Persian Square to say hi and grab some Persian food for lunch. I accept your offer to buy lunch.

Day six is for the the daring. Traffic is a challenge wherever you’re coming from, so bring snacks, tunes and conversation. We’re going downtown. Go straight to the Angels Flight Railway. It’s in Perry Mason (the new one), and is the shortest incorporated railway in the world, with ironically some of the highest ridership. By the way, you can park on Hill St, a block away for $10 for the day if you bring the guy cash. Grab lunch at the Grand Central Market across the street, at one of the food vendors spanning the entire inside of the block. If you head down Hill St. (away from Chinatown) for a bit, then head left around the block and come back on Broadway, you can watch the developing of this part of downtown and all the old theaters and little historic bits. Walking will make it a day-long adventure. So plan on grabbing the car and heading over to Chinatown for dinner.

I didn’t add night spots because I’m not someone who usually goes out to clubs anymore. I play music, so sometimes the last thing I want on a night off is to head to a club. But the Sunset Strip is a must. And quite frankly, while this all sounds touristy, I did the same kind of things in my hometown Chicago. It’s free or cheap to explore a vibrant city, even the sketchy parts. Try food you haven’t tried. Visit areas you don’t know much about. Walk a lot. Tell your GPS to avoid highways. Explore.

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?
Every teacher and mentor that believed in me, even when I didn’t, and my dad, Bob Circle. These are the folks who saw something in me, who saw right through all the appearances I put on to protect my fragile self. They allowed me to safely grow and to get comfortable with it being an ongoing process.

Website: https://philcirclemusic.com

Instagram: https://instagram.com/philcirclemusic

Linkedin: https://linkedin.com/in/philcircle

Twitter: https://twitter.com/philcircle

Facebook: https://facebook.com/philcircle

Youtube: https://youtube.com/@philcircle

Other: https://linktr.ee/philcirclemusic

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