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September 18, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

From AC/DC to Zappa: Student turns owner of White Plains School of Rock

Jeff Sillverman, owner of the School of Rock. Photo by Ryan Deffenbaugh

Jeff Silverman opened the latest Westchester County location for the national music education franchise School of Rock in December at 242 Central Ave. in White Plains, but his interest in the franchise dates back to 2013.

He had just left a career in the apparel industry and was looking to get back into music. Though he played guitar in high school he wanted to learn drums, so he stopped into the School of Rock near his home in Bedford. He figured the school was just for kids, but they might be able to hook him up with an instructor for private lessons.

“Lo and behold, they tell me they have an adult program where I’ll be placed with a private instructor and then put in a band,” Silverman recalled. “And then eventually you get to play out in a real, live venue.”

To that, he said, “sign me up.” Today, he is the one signing people up. His school offers lessons for kids starting at age 5 through adults. School of Rock – founded in 1998 before the Jack Black film and 2015 Broadway show helped bring fame to the name – is a national franchise with more than 220 schools worldwide that teaches drums, guitar, bass, keys and vocals.

Silverman spent more than three years at School of Rock in Bedford before ending his lessons and starting his own band, called Exit 5. You can find them playing bars and restaurants around northern Westchester.

But beyond learning a new instrument, Silverman was looking for a new business venture by the time his lessons ended at School of Rock. His career had included time as a buyer for Target stores in Minneapolis and in imports in New York City. For about a decade he owned a hardware and home décor store in Chappaqua. But after selling the store and working for some time in a large marketing firm, he needed a change. He wanted something that would mix his retail and business background with his love for music.

“Knowing the methodology of School of Rock, it became a no-brainer,” Silverman said. “I knew they were a franchise and the more I looked into it, the more I loved it.”

The most important aspect of the school’s model, he said, is playing within a band. The school describes its lessons as “performance-based,” meaning that students learn music theory and techniques through playing songs, whether by Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. The school teaches “everything from Motown to metal, and AC/DC to Zappa,” Silverman said.

Weekly lesson rehearsals eventually led to a live show.

“I’m telling you from experience there is nothing like being in a band,” Silverman said. “I could play the drums by myself and that’s fun, but if I hadn’t started playing with the band in School of Rock, I would have lost interest.”

The band concept also helps younger students socialize, he said.

Jim Heffernan, music director for the White Plains School of Rock, works with students during a group lesson. Photo by Ryan Deffenbaugh

“Playing in a group setting and then playing live does more than just teach kids music,” Silverman said. “It teaches self-esteem, self-confidence and it’s just a terrific experience.”

His location joins Schools of Rock in Bedford and Mamaroneck in Westchester, among 14 in New York. In Fairfield County, there are Schools of Rock in Greenwich, New Canaan and Fairfield. The school has a rookies program for ages 5 through 8, Rock 101 for ages 8 to 12, a teenage “Performance” group plus adult courses. Silverman expects to draw students from within a 10- to 15-minute drive – about as far as a parent might be willing to drive for an after-school activity.

School of Rock franchises require an initial investment between $169,000 and $400,000, according to company information. Last year, Forbes rated School of Rock as the second-best franchise to buy in the U.S. for its medium investment category, between $150,000 and $500,000.

The location on Central Avenue opens up the business to lots of traffic and visibility. The building’s three floors previously hosted a dental school, ambulance call center and an insurance brokerage. Silverman signed a lease for the building in 2018 and soundproofed each of its individual rooms for lessons. As it grows out its client base, the School of Rock is sticking with using the first two floors. The third floor is used for storage and a rehearsal space for Silverman’s band.

While the teenage group is typically the most popular, Silverman said his location launched with more sign-ups in the adult and Rock 101 programs.

The White Plains School of Rock employs seven instructors and is edging toward 60 students while looking to double that by next year. He says the building has capacity for about 200 students – including the third-floor space used by his band.