Long before he was the owner, headmaster, IT guy and chief bottle-washer at Tampa Bay’s Bach to Rock Music School, Rick Schmidt was just another Tampa kid with big dreams. And what he dreamed about was the radio.
“When I was growing up here, I would call Q105, and 95YNF and try to win my Def Leppard concert tickets, my Jimmy Buffett albums and all that stuff,” Schmidt, 50, explains with a chuckle. “I don’t know why, I was just really intrigued by the power that radio had. People cared about what you said and what you did.”
What Rick Schmidt did was parlay that fascination with radio, and his own preternatural communication skills (he’s a raconteur and a storyteller) into a lengthy and successful career in the business.
He’s been music director, program director, station manager, commercial voice talent and air personality at some of the biggest FM stations in the country, everywhere from Arizona to South Dakota to Washington, D.C. And Florida, of course – Schmidt worked at the big rock stations in Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Gainesville, and ran 98 Rock here in the bay area.
Along the way, his unwavering belief in a handful of Florida bands – including Creed, Sister Hazel and Shinedown – led directly to those groups getting national attention, and subsequently selling millions of records.
Today, of course, radio isn’t what it used to be – and neither is Rick Schmidt. “I wasn’t really loving the fact that at that time, you get hired to run a radio station, and then suddenly five chiefs are all in there telling you five different things to do,” Schmidt says.
Schmidt and his wife Holly packed up the kids and returned to Tampa in 2006. He co-ran a record label, booked and produced events for a national radio network, then took “civilian” jobs in St. Petersburg – he was the Mahaffey Theater’s Marketing Manager for five years, followed by a nearly two-year stint as Director of Marketing and Events for the St. Petersburg Museum of History.
Schmidt’s lengthy daily commute across the bay began to wear on him. Not only that, he was simply weary of working for somebody else.
“It took a long time before Holly and I thought we could pull it off – whether it was time, money, or the skill set that it took to open a business,” he says. “Because it’s scary to do it. We’d been talking about business ideas for 10 years.”
After saying “no” to food services, and a few others that didn’t feel like a good fit, the Schmidts found something they were passionate about: Music.
With 36 schools nationwide (and another 12 opening next spring), the Bach to Rock franchise is trending to become a $15 million brand, teaching more than 10,000 children and adults this year alone and over 45,000 since the company’s inception in 2007.
It’s designed to be a non-traditional music school, offering individual and group lessons to students of all ages, in multiple genres, encouraging group participation (yes, there’s a “rock band” program), all with instructors who specialize in one – or several – instruments and disciplines.
“I looked for a couple of different things when I was hiring,” Schmidt says. “I really wanted good humans – that was first and foremost. I don’t need Eddie Van Halen or Stevie Ray Vaughan, I need good players and people who are passionate, but I like the fact that some of them are quirky. Musicians are quirky.
“Because you want a fun factor. You don’t want it to be where people come into the school and everybody’s stoic and very serious. Music’s supposed to be fun – when it’s really at its best it’s fun. You may have moments where you really have to dig in and be serious, but for the most part the joy of making music is this: ‘How cool is this? I’m making some noise.’”
(If you can make some noise with a banjo, there may be a job waiting for you at B2R: Schmidt’s had numerous requests for a banjo instructor to join the 10 other teachers in his employ.)
The school, on North Dale Mabry in unincorporated Lutz, has been open for just over two weeks. Prior to opening, the Schmidts did a lot of early legwork at Hillsborough and Pinellas schools, so there are just over 40 students already enrolled.
Rest assured, the fun also comes with a certain discipline. Music theory – learning to read – is part of the study platform. “You may have a kid who’s great at improvisation, but you can’t ignore the other side of it,” Schmidt says. “There are some kids who come in here, they will read sheet music like crazy, but when you have to get them to do improv or something that’s not on the sheet, that scares them to death.
“Each kid’s different; the recipe’s not the same. You have to balance all of it. We don’t start on Page One with every guitar kid who comes in. We’ve got certain things we want to work on – maybe 16 things in Level One – but each one’s ability and desire is going to dictate the path you’re going to take with them.”
There’s an online portal allowing students – or the parents of students- to follow the lessons and track progress.
B2B has a fully-stocked “band room,” with instruments, amps, lights and a p.a. system – for rocking out. And an in–house recording studio.
And rehearsal rooms decorated with gold and platinum record awards, along with other music memorabilia, from the various phases of Schmidt’s career.
He wants his students to feel the same euphoria he feels when music – any sort of music – carries them away. “When I found Bach to Rock,” he says, “they were really doing something different with the way they approached the music. It’s not all performance; it’s not all sheets of notes. I also liked the fact that they didn’t have everything geared toward doing classic rock, or doing classical: If a kid comes in and wanted to do country, or an adult came in and said ‘I’ve always really loved jazz,’ or the fact that they’ve acknowledged, with Beat Refinery, that electronic dance music is actually a thing. There are a lot of different genres of music, and that appealed to me.
“Rather than ‘everybody’s going to learn Led Zeppelin,’ or ‘everybody’s going to learn Mozart.’”