Generally speaking, there’s no clear path for people looking to make a living as musicians. With fluctuating pay rates and gig frequency, the field is notorious for being nothing short of grueling. For those in the Denver area, though, Brandon Whalen hopes to make the process of finding work a little more hospitable.
Whalen is the co-founder of Chops, a service that connects artists and bands with people hosting events. Chops aims to replace the canonical "Dad bands" of weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs with screened and curated artists – many of whom, he said, would otherwise fall through the cracks of a byzantine industry.
“I've been thinking about this problem of how to make money as a musician for nearly ten years now,” Whalen said. “I run a Facebook group of like-minded musician friends and through some conversations I had there I discovered how many of them are having the same trouble.”
Many of these friends constitute the roster of Chops musicians (it's a young startup, after all). However, Whalen seeks to diversify the talent pool with new applicants. “Part of our approach to this business is our effort to build a unique and exclusive roster of artists,” he said.
While the startup is focused on developing a proprietary style, according to Whalen, it's still in the process of reconciling internal culture with clients’ needs. “We start at the client's needs and work from there. Just last week we had someone explicitly request a horn trio with a French horn. We didn't have that immediately available. We're trying to strike a balance between customizable and structured that makes the most sense for us, our clients, and our musicians,” he explained.
Of course, this conundrum surfaces not only in the style of a band, but in the content of its music as well. For example, Chops and its musicians (rather than the client) generally dictate set playlists for an event, which Whalen said optimizes the artist’s or band’s performance and gives the talent a fair chance.
“We need to be ready to play an event at the drop of a hat. If our clients get too much access to the playlists, this becomes an unfair and non-feasible requirement for our artists,” he said. “We know special songs will be a necessity from time to time, but we have a reasonable price structure in place so that our musicians are compensated for their time spent learning those pieces.”
A two-person operation (“It's just Mr. and Mrs. Whalen at this point,” Whalen said), Chops is currently bootstrapped. According to Whalen, the startup’s focus is self-sustenance and internal growth.
“In the near future, we're collecting feedback data from some VIP folks in the Colorado wedding and events industry. We want to know their pain points, opinions, and feedback on the Chops mission. Starting in March we're going to connect with these folks and start collecting some useful feedback data on our beta launch,” he said.
Once Chops has navigated the industry in Colorado, Whalen will set his sights on regional expansion, which he foresees as a boon to an ever-growing musical community. “We want to build a wider community that honors the effort required to build musical talent and provides deserving opportunities to the artists in our communities who are great, but simply don't get the respect they deserve,” he said.
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