SAM (Squamish Academy of Music) – an arts hub of learning, performing, discovery and connection
The Squamish Academy of Music, more affectionately known as SAM, is currently in its 13th year of business. Located downtown Squamish, SAM was founded in 2011 by Melissa Braun and supports musicians of all interests and levels. The music school features a mix of full and part time teachers, as well as several student teachers.
SAM offers private music lessons and group classes in a variety of disciplines, including voice, piano, drums, ukelele, guitar, violin and cello. Other programs include preschool classes, music therapy, musical day camps, and their very popular Broadway or Bust music theatre classes.
An interview with Melissa Braun, founder of SAM
What is your business story?
I grew up in Ontario and moved to Squamish with my rock climbing husband, where we found ourselves in the midst of a very welcoming community. At the time, I was teaching in the school system, as well as from home. There were lots of other great music teachers in town, but they were all working from their homes and it felt very spread out.
There was a high demand for music lessons, and it felt like the musical community was in need of a central gathering venue. I wanted to create a place where I could take everything that I was doing, and everything that was out there already in the community, and bring it together in one brick and mortar space. And that’s how the idea for SAM was born.
As someone with a business in the Sea to Sky, how has Community Futures Howe Sound helped you?
When my daughter was born, I went on maternity leave from teaching in the school system. During that time, I accessed a Community Futures program that had been established for new business owners who were eligible for EI. The program created cohorts of new business owners who met monthly, listened to presentations on business topics, and were provided with some financial support. It helped me start a business without the added pressure of having to bring in enough income to cover all the startup costs.
Since opening SAM, I’ve applied twice for loans, both of which were used to help expand the business. The first was to buy more pianos, so that we could have one in each study room. And the second was to set up a container office to offer more space.
What do you wish you had known when starting your business?
It can be challenging to find a balance between the business side, the services side, helping clients and mentoring staff. In the beginning, it was definitely hard to understand the amount of time I would need for running the business, and I wish I had been better prepared for that. Now that we’ve been open for over ten years, I’m surprised that I enjoy the actual running of the business much more than I thought I would.
What has been your biggest success to date?
I originally set out to create a community space, and I think I’ve been successful in making a hub that people come to and want to be a part of. It feels especially rewarding when I listen to the kids in the waiting room talking about what they’re excited about, and taking ownership of their own learning. I love that these kids want to have music as part of their daily lives.
We’ve also had external successes with students, with many of them going on to study at the post secondary level. And our first student teacher graduated last year and they played a big role in our summer programming.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Definitely the pandemic, although it went fairly smoothly, probably as well as it could have. The logistical side went well and we were able to shift everything to 100% online. Any time you deal with a large community of people, it’s important to keep everyone feeling safe and satisfied and supported, and I feel like we succeeded with all of that.
What’s a project you’re working on right now? Why is it meaningful to you?
Well, this year is the first time we’ve ever done a winter musical theatre production and everyone involved is very excited!
I’m also working on creating ongoing roles and employment opportunities through SAM. The industry standard is teachers who are hired for contract positions, and at SAM we have moved to employee positions. This means the teachers have full time, ongoing supported work, which is not the norm in the music industry. I like that we are doing this, because it feels more ethical and responsible.
Who inspires you?
I am part of a business group called The SpeakEasy Cooperative, a group of voice teachers who all operate voice related businesses. The members are amazingly smart and thoughtful individuals and the conversation topics range from effective and inclusive pedagogy to business systems. It's inspiring to watch others bring their businesses to life while figuring out what feels true to them. My students also inspire me constantly! I feel so honoured to watch their hard work turn into flourishing creativity and honest self expression.
Who is someone who has made a big impact on your life? Why?
My family has had the biggest impact on my life. I never would have become a musician without my parents' support and wouldn't have taken the risk to be a business owner without encouragement from my husband.
What’s the last book you read?
I just finished "Real Self-Care" by Pooja Lakshmin MD. I would definitely recommend it to all women business owners!
What’s one item you can’t live without?