Wearing the frustrated frown of a raw beginner, Tyler Mathewson, 31, sits on a stool in a room in Bonney Lake with a guitar balanced on his knee.
Longtime professional musician Chad Chapin, 38, sits in a studio in Nashville.
Tyler tries to find the correct position for his fingers on the guitar frets.
“Now that you’ve got the G, move your index finger and your middle finger down,” Chapin says. “Just let the guitar sing.”
“Cool, man,” he says.
Teacher and student are meeting online, on Skype, on a two-way Internet video connection.
One student, one teacher, two cameras, one connection.
Chapin appears on a large screen. Mathewson’s image, in a small insert, focuses primarily on his hands. That’s what Chapin, in Nashville, sees in a larger image.
“You’ve got four beats in one measure,” Chapin says.
“It goes to C?” Mathewson asks.
He strums. He swears.
“It’s a good start,” Chapin says.
“I’m pretty close,” says Mathewson.
“That’s good. That sounds great,” says Chapin. “Now you know what to do this week. You’re one chord away from being able to play hundreds of songs.”
Nashville to Bonney Lake might just as well be Nashville to Spokane, or Stockholm, or Timbuktu.
But Bonney Lake is where it began.
BORN IN OREGON
Chad Chapin starts the story and it sounds like it belongs to a song.
“I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, out of high school just following a dream,” he says.
He and his brother drove from Bend, Ore., across the country in 54 hours in search of that dream.
He was a drummer and his brother played bass. Chapin had been working swing shift in a lumber mill in Redmond, and he had told his manager what he dreamed of doing. The manager once held a similar ambition, and said, “That was me 30 years ago.”
“That scared me,” Chapin said. “The first chance I got, I’m out of there. My dad, being a pastor, told the congregation, and after the service one of the guys told me, ‘Don’t move to Nashville. You’ll waste a year of your life.’ That set a fire inside me.”
He recalls arriving, it was 8 a.m., they drove up over a hill and “there’s the skyline, and I had these butterflies. That was 18 years ago.”
Chapin aced his first audition and played over a weekend, and earned $75.
“Oh my God,” he told himself. “I just got paid to play drums. That blew my mind.”
He played, he wrote, he published songs. He played with an artist called Ben Folds. He made something of a name for himself and he made the acquaintance of other touring musicians.
The idea came to him while he was on the road.
“It was 3 a.m. I was asleep. It just hit me,” he said.
“To use Skype to bring Nashville to all these other locations,” he said. “I got up and started writing things down.”
Looking back to his own younger years, he said, “I didn’t have access to professionals.”
This would provide that access — so some kid in, say, Spanaway, could learn from a real live musician.
“I started calling my friends saying I want to bridge the gap between aspiring musicians and professional musicians. No one told me no. Every one of us who makes a living from music knows how blessed we are. Just to be able to share those experiences ...”
And to make money doing it.
Chapin explains that a touring musician earns a living while touring, but a tour may last a year and lead to a year in hiatus before another tour begins. So there’s a period where income decreases, and now those artists can teach, online, to supplement their income.
They can teach when they are essentially laid off, or they can even teach when they are still on tour, from a hotel room or any location with online access.
The artists earn 40 percent of the gross, Chapin said.
His website lists the instructors at his Pro Music Academy, and their credits include playing with a variety of country, rock, pop and Christian artists.
The instructors teach a variety of lessons including developing skills on piano, drums, guitar, mandolin, fiddle and other instruments, along with songwriting and voice.
The cost ranges from $200 per month to $400 per month depending on the length of the lessons. Discounts are available. A full schedule of costs are listed on the firm’s website at promusicacademy.com.
Current students, online and at home in Nashville, range from 5 to 77 years old, from beginners to advanced players.
Chapin also produces Pro Music Academy Showcases, where artists and students can perform, and he is about to launch Pro Music Academy Marching Bands.
Bonney Lake is the site of his first satellite learning center, while Chapin is considering adding others in San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas. Connections can also be made in-home elsewhere.
Chapin chose Bonney Lake because the son of the owner of a local dance studio is taking lessons in Nashville, and she had a room available, and it just made sense.
The academy has been offering remote lessons for about one month.
“I can’t patent this idea,” Chapin said.
Already, he has heard of imitators, “but no one is taking it to this level.”
He expects the business will grow.
“I see this going all over the world. Country music (for instance) is a huge phenomenon. People are dying to learn how to play the mandolin, the fiddle.”
The majority of his marketing relies on word-of-mouth, although the academy story has appeared in local media.
The toughest part so far hasn’t been getting students, or teachers, or attention.
“When I was touring I had an accountant and a manager, and all I had to do is write the music and play it. I didn’t know how to start a business. What’s an LLC? I had to get one of those.”
After the verse comes the chorus.
“I love playing, I love being on stage, I love teaching,” he said. “This is the latest chapter. I don’t see a ceiling.”
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535