Want to host a classical concert in your living room? There’s a startup for that.
Groupmuse brings together classical musicians and people looking to make new friends in an innovative way that has led to thousands of beautiful evenings across the country.
Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin took a year off before college to travel Europe using couchsurfing.com, an earlier version of Airbnb that allowed you to “rent” your couch to people for free — just to meet people from other cultures. He was amazed at how willing people were to open their homes.
In college, Bodkin began spending time with some musician friends and was amazed by how talented they were. He interned for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and continued to grow in his appreciation for classical music after a friend played him a piece that changed his life.
“Within six months of that first experience with Beethoven, I knew that I was going to devote my life to expanding the listenership for classical music,” said Bodkin. He met several musicians from the New England Conservatory, and the idea for Groupmuse was born.
Groupmuse lets people host a classical music concert at their house with musicians of their choosing and create an event for others in the neighborhood to attend. It’s a great way to meet new friends around a shared interest.
Using the Groupmuse platform allows hosts to approve each guest that RSVPs and make sure that there aren’t too many people. The exact address of the Groupmuse event is revealed to approved guests on the day of the concert.
So far, there have been almost 2,000 Groupmuses hosted in a number of different cities — New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston. Since each Groupmuse has an average of 30 people, it’s clear that Groupmuse could connect tens of thousands of people with classical music.
One of the strengths of Groupmuse is the network effect that occurs whenever someone uses the service. “If someone hosts and they invite 20 of their friends, none of whom had ever been to a Groupmuse, and they’re totally turned on by this magical evening, maybe they decide to host one of their own,” said Bodkin.
The biggest challenge for Groupmuse is finding sustainability. Bodkin is always trying to find new ways to expand the customer base, connecting more people to classical music while finding a way for the company to stick around.
“We don’t want Groupmuse to be a nonprofit that depends on the generosity of a few passionate arts patrons,” he said. “That’s not a robust model.”
The majority of people who come to a Groupmuse are not classical fans, so Groupmuse can’t make prices so high that people are not interested. And yet, it’s important for the company’s mission to guarantee musicians are well compensated for their talents.
One of the problems that any event suffers from is “flaking” — when people say they will show up but never appear. This is especially frustrating to Groupmuse hosts, who often have people on a waiting list because they can only fit so many people in their house. If someone doesn’t show up, someone else may have been prevented from attending.
To help remedy this problem, Groupmuse introduced a $3 RSVP fee in San Francisco as a pilot program. The goal is that the $3 fee will help the company continue on its path to sustainability and make sure that people are serious about coming to each Groupmuse they RSVP for.
Musicians love the service too, since they have a chance to connect with listeners from around the city as they work on building their reputation. Groupmuse also asks that each guest pay at least $10 to help support the musicians’ careers.
“We want to eventually turn Groupmuse into the platform that classical musicians use to cultivate a local listenership,” Bodkin said. His hope is that musicians can then use that listenership to develop a strong following in their community, making Groupmuse a vital part of their musical careers.
“We really want to use this experience and this platform that has so much scaling potential to really imbue beauty, meaning, depth, and substance into the social fabric of our world to create meaningful community,” said Bodkin. Groupmuse is well on the way to achieving that goal through brilliant and beautiful innovation in the world of classical music.