Moving to a new beat – online music tutorials flourish after band bookings bomb

Case study by Tim Dawson

Two-and-a-half years after fully focusing on producing online bass-guitar tutorials, Paul Wolfe is earning around £70,000 a year from his business.  Approximately 500 subscribers pay $127 annual subscription for his weekly magazine and instructive video, other eBook products sell hundreds of copies at prices generally between $100 and $200.  Indeed, so confident has Wolfe become of his methods that he now offers consulting services for those hoping to emulate his success.

It is a dramatic turn around from 2007 when 48 year old Wolfe’s party-band business was hit hard by the recession.   But while his tutorials have taken off in ways that he did not anticipate, a great deal of work goes into his product.  He estimates that he devotes three full days a week producing new material for students. started life when a friend’s child asked for help mastering the bass.  Wolfe, who has earned his living as a musician since abandoning a career as a surveyor in his 20s and is based in Wimbledon, in south west London, started recording lessons, which he posted on Youtube.  This mushroomed into a free weekly newsletter, which he gave away in the hope that he might sell some allied eBooks.  As his list of subscribers climbed towards 4,000, though, Wolfe realised that not enough of them were actually converting to paying customers.

“From the moment when Lehman Brothers when bust, our phone stopped ringing.  Eighty per cent of my band’s customers were corporate and from that moment on I realised that I had to make the internet business work, or rob a bank”, he says.

What he calls his ‘genius feature’ was the product of a happy accident, however.  On early tutorials, which then and now he creates in his home studio with a single, self-operated camera, he explained how to play the notes and played along with a recording of the song.  These were caught by Youtube’s copyright filter and deleted.  To get around this, Wolfe stated to create two qualities of tutorial.  On the free-to-view variant, he talks viewers through the notes and techniques, and plays along to a metronome.  A far more detailed, subscriber-only version, includes playing along with a proper recording and a more detailed instructions.

By adding progressively to the song-tutorial videos, he draws customers in through search engines and then starts to attract them towards his ‘sales funnel’.  At the moment he attracts around 600 unique visitors to his site a day.  His free weekly newsletter is sent to around 8,000 people and around 500 pay for the 50 page weekly magazine and video lesson.

He undertakes all the web coding and page layout himself, so the only costs to his business are accountancy, web hosting and email management, which cost him around £2,000 a year..  His main website is written in static html, although he says that were he starting again he would use WordPress, for its ease of whole-site revisions.

“I price in dollars because 80% of my market is American”, he says.  “Europeans are used to working in more than one currency in a way that Americans are not.”  Subscribers are offered early deals on other eBooks – he has recently published one on playing in the style of Motown bass players – and some have bought as much as $1,500 worth of product from him.  “It is both a humbling and slightly weird experience to have sold so much”, he reflects.

Needless to say, Wolfe is by no means the only person offering online music tutorials.  Search Youtube for instruction to play the part of a particular instrument on almost any well-known song, and there are plenty of amateur videos.  There are also paid for courses from quite slick providers, such as, beside which Wolfe’s offering is positively home brew.

His formula works, however, because he has a likable, easy-to-follow manner to camera and, he visibly works very hard to deliver for his audience.  A teenage ambition to write popular fiction has given him an easy facility with words and, although his screen style is low key, he leaves you in no doubt that he knows his stuff and he is passionately committed to passing on his skills.  Whether his sales continue to grow as they have over the past two years remains to be seen, but he seems to be as savvy about his business as he is rhythmically sound when he picks up his guitar.