A new startup called Music Traveler – like an Airbnb for musicians – helps music professionals find space to practice while they’re on the road.
It all began when everything went wrong: Vienna-based violinist Aleksey Igudesman was planning a badly needed holiday. But there was a complication. His then-partner, a professional pianist, would need somewhere to practice, and not just once in a while, but every day.
“I was trying to find apartments with a good piano in different countries, and it was practically impossible, a nightmare basically!” He spent hours, even days, on the problem, before realizing that it just wasn’t going to happen.
Later, on tour with his comedy-classical violin duo with longtime musical partner Hyung-ki Joo, it happened again. All they could find were spaces only available at awkward hours, and impossibly far from where they were staying.
Thus, like all the very best ideas, Music Traveler was born out of necessity: the challenge – both daunting and inexorable – for professional musicians to find good pianos and practice spaces when they are on the road. He began to imagine a world in which “you could pick up your phone and, pretty much like you can rent a room through Airbnb or a taxi through Uber, just rent yourself a room to play. At the touch of a button, anywhere in the world!”
Playing on home turf
Co-founded by the Russian-born Igudesman and his American business partner Julia Rhee, Music Traveler addresses the problem head on with a website, digital app, and an integrated on-the-spot booking system linked to a vast network of practice spaces for musicians.
It made sense to begin in Vienna, where he has lived for over two decades, as both the project’s natural home and as a testing ground. “In a city like Vienna, instruments are everywhere,” says Igudesman. It turned out to be the perfect choice: There were people all over town who were happy to have a musician come and practice in their homes, herecalled. “I myself get calls throughout the year from colleagues and students and friends, asking if they can come over and practice.”
Representing the stateside arm of the project is cofounder Julia Rhee, a pianist who later went into business founding some seven successful companies along the way. “She loved the idea right away,” says Igudesman. Agreeing that their combined experience would make for a formidable start to the project, Rhee and Igudesman got to work building the company. Following a successful presentation before the Wirtschaftsagentur (Vienna Business Agency) – a city-owned initiative aiming to help young Viennese companies get started – they began to forge key partnerships with piano maker Steinway, and long-serving Vienna practice spaces like the Klaviergalerie in the 7th district and Stingl in the 4th.
The potential of Music Traveler has caught the eyes of several of Igudesman’s former collaborators and friends, including Billy Joel, Hans Zimmer, and sensational Chinese pianist Yuja Wang, all of whom are now Music Traveler board members and investors. Hans Zimmer (with whom Igudesman would be performing later on the day of our interview) and Yuja Wang both enthusiastically came aboard.
Billy Joel’s excitement was piqued by the project’s real potential to promote accessibility to the piano as an instrument. “Well he is The Piano Man,” Igudesman jokes. However one cuts it, the consensus is clear: making it easier to find and book quality practice space is going to make the musical world a better place.
And it’s not so much the gift of space, as the gift of time that Music Traveler seeks to give to the music world. As any working musician will tell you, it can take hours to research and compare prices and locations – particularly in a new city. Igudesman summarizes it nicely: “If you’re losing time,” as the cofounders see it, “you’re losing money.” And music.
As of June, a testing stage in Vienna has been successfully completed, and a full roll out of the app and initial catalogue of bookable locations in the city is expected by July, offering up a variety of locations at a range of hourly rates – from no-frills rehearsal rooms right up to concert grade grand pianos in central Viennese apartments.
Alongside its business partners, the company is also linking up with Vienna’s many illustrious music schools, at times unable to provide enough space for students during their busiest seasons. Conversely, less busy periods at schools could become available as quality rehearsal space to nonstudents via the new Music Traveler app. The demand for space in Vienna is vast, even the Wiener Konzerthaus has told Igudesman of the difficulties they have finding suitable times and spaces for their many artists.
Around the world
If all goes according to plan in Vienna, the company already has its sights on other global music capitals like New York City, where the premiums on rehearsal space are even more inflated. Then there are myriad other common musicians’ problems Music Traveler may seek to solve, from professional piano tuners, to last-minute instrument maintenance, strings, reeds, to tuition, or performance bookings. In short, Music Traveler wants to fill a gap in the market by offering assistance to musicians around the world.
A lot has happened in a short time. But Igudesman is not all that surprised. He knew the need was there: “When I was first studying, my practice room was the toilet,” he teases. Quality practice spaces for musicians have always been expensive and hard to come by, and even when you’re home, testy neighbors and families make extended practice simply not an option.
But are musicians going to want to get so involved with the online world? As Igudesman is keen to emphasize, Music Traveler is no tech company. What they’re dealing in here is time – time for musicians to do what they do best.
“We actually want people to get away from apps,” he says. “We want people to just go out there and make music!”