SFCM alum’s company helps democratize access to high-quality music instructors
Violinist DuMarkus Davis had a big decision to make after graduating from SFCM in 2018. He had multiple job offers, including a full-time symphony position and a fellowship that would allow him to play worldwide. Each could’ve led him to careers in music as a performer or arts administrator. But Davis envisioned a different kind of life—that of CEO/Founder of Musicbuk, a hub of top instructors offering private music lessons to students across the country.
Musicbuk had always been an idea in the back of Davis’ mind.
Growing up in College Park, Georgia, he saw how challenging it could be to find and work with top music instructors. Years later at SFCM, where he studied with Cordula Merks, Davis and his colleagues would teach around the city and sometimes get only a 25 percent cut of the total fee.
Davis recalls, “I always asked myself, ‘Why hasn’t anyone built Uber for music teachers?’”
During his senior year, Davis took the first steps to do just that. He got a grant from SFCM’s Professional Development and Engagement Center (PDEC) to undertake the project. It began as a music studio, where he would hire out fellow SFCM students to teach younger aspiring musicians.
After graduation, there was a moment where Davis felt conflicted about continuing with what would become Musicbuk. He had multiple full-time opportunities that would set him up for the future, and starting a business felt daunting. He fielded advice from several people, including SFCM Dean Jonas Wright.
Davis recalls, “Jonas said, ‘DuMarkus, if you really think you can do it, go do it. Because this is gonna be the time.’”
Ultimately, Davis dove into the unknown world of entrepreneurship.
The results didn’t come easy. He spent over a year funding the company out of his own pocket after an initial angel investment from his mentor in Georgia.
What Davis may have lacked in early funding, he made up for in faith and perseverance. He’d identified a need within the music community—for a place where students could easily access top instructors and those same teachers wouldn’t be undercut by company fees—and living in the shadow of the greatest tech companies in the world, it seemed only a “natural fit” for tech to play a role in Musicbuk.
Over the past year, Davis has raised $250,000 in funding from companies like Google, OHUB, and Techstars as well as pitch competitions.
He has also grown the platform to include some of the country’s best musical talent, including SFCM alumni Zhenwei Shi ‘19 (Principal Violist Atlanta Symphony), and Christina Gavin (Oboe/English Horn with Atlanta Opera Orchestra).
Musicbuk only accepts the top 1% of instructors who apply for teaching positions, and Davis focuses on finding people who are excellent musicians as well as dedicated instructors. This has allowed his student retention rate to sit at around 87% and most work with the same teacher for months or longer.
All of this is a great feat for the young startup.
As is Musicbuk’s successful pivot to virtual lessons during the pandemic.
While Davis founded the company with the hopes of hiring instructors nationwide to provide in-person, local music instruction, the pandemic changed his focus, but not necessarily for the worse. With music lessons gone virtual, even students in the most remote areas can now learn from high-quality instructors whereas beforehand it was more about location and who you know.
“We're taking all of that out of the picture,” explains Davis. “Now it’s you see the instructor on the website, you see their bio, you see reviews, and if you want to, you can book a lesson with this person.”
He continues, “What it allows for is the little kid like me who's from College Park, Georgia, and doesn’t know where to start looking for a violin teacher—well, now he has a resource available.”
A resource—begun at SFCM—that Davis continues to champion and grow.
Hear how other SFCM alumni are choosing their own career success.