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How economist danced his way into competitive music business

Kamata Music School Founder Joseph Kamata show his Piano Class at his school along Kaunda Street in Nairobi on May 31, 2022. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The percussive sounds of drums in the background, the crisp, harmonious sounds of a guitar strummed by a freshly minted expert and the soft hum of a piano sound like music to the ears of Joseph Kamata. He is an economist who opted to start a school of music in Nairobi’s Central Business District.

He is happy for he has always loved music, and now he is helping advance it. His journey to founding what is now Kamata Entertainment School of Music is a testament to a man’s love for a course many would have easily dismissed.

Mr Kamata was in Form two when, during school holidays, his mother enrolled him in a music school. Within a short time, he could play the piano with relative ease. It was not until he was a student at The University of Nairobi, however, that he realised he could make a fortune out of what he had decided was a passion.

“There was a band called The Journey made up of students. They used to perform in Ufungamano on Friday evenings. One of the boys in the band introduced me to playing the guitar,” he says.

From that moment, there was no stopping him. After three months of strumming the guitar, Mr Kamata printed posters in the cyber café announcing that he was teaching music. He also plastered these posters against walls in his Ngumo neighbourhood. Soon enough, he had a few students asking to learn.

Once he had graduated, he went to Meru to be an accountant with an insurance company, having also taken CPA classes. That was in 2009. With the money he was making, he tasked his brother, who had just completed his secondary school education, with securing a space they could use as a classroom in Nairobi as Mr Kamata bought equipment.

“Gradually, over the years, we were able to get some equipment. We set up a studio, and our numbers grew,” he says.

They were not to have it easy, however, as three years into business, at the end of 2013, the building they were occupying on Moi Avenue was sold. Mr Kamata received an eviction notice.

“We tore down the partitions and put them in a church. I stored the equipment in my brother’s house. We did not even know how to tell the students we were shutting down,” he says.

“So many businesses die so soon after starting,” he says, “and so if you survive to maybe five years, you are doing well. We were very small and starting from very little capital, and there we were being flattened.”

Misfortune

An Indian landlord would later give him better terms for occupancy in another building. But relocating was not easy; Mr Kamata says it needed in excess of Sh3 million and he had no penny on him after that misfortune.

“Relocating, especially for a school, needs serious money. I did not have money. I had just gotten married and was starting my small family, and there we were out of business,” he says.

Kamata Entertainment School of Music is now located in the second floor of Queensway House, along Kaunda street. It opened here in 2019. This was after Mr Kamata had tried opening many branches before realising they were not good for business.

Dedicated marketing has seen the school grow into one that now enrols 400 to 500 students a year.

Mr Kamata’s passion for his music business made him leave his insurance job in Meru, although he says he still sells insurance. He relocated to Nairobi to ensure he was involved in the running of the school in full time. The school teaches piano, guitar, violin, saxophone, voice classes, drums, sound engineering, music production, deejaying, videography and photography. They also practice artist management, music recording and videography and photography.

It now boasts 17 staff members.

Mr Kamata says when he started, there were no pioneers then and he did not have any pricing models or curriculum to adopt. He developed all these from scratch.

“I started with a poor pricing model, as low as Sh2, 000 for piano trainings every two months. I was in campus then, freelancing, and did not think I needed a lot of money anyway; Sh2, 000 was good for one student,” he says. As an economics student, he admits that that pricing was unfavourable for business.

This figure would then double, before he took it to Sh8, 000 and then Sh12, 000 for three-month semesters. To his surprise, people kept paying and registering for the classes. He increased the figure to Sh17, 000 and then, in one daring leap, nearly doubled that, to Sh29, 000. People still paid without a lot of complaints.

As it stands, charges vary for instruments, and for semesters. In the first semester, for example, the school charges Sh45, 500 for music production and sound engineering, with the charges dropping to Sh40, 000 and then to 29, 000 in the subsequent two semesters in that order. Drum, saxophone, violin, guitar, music theory, voice coaching, piano lessons and graphic design all cost Sh33, 500 in the first semester and Sh29, 000 in each of the other two semesters.

For services that the company offers, a wedding full band costs Sh80, 000 while event photography will set you back some Sh45, 000. An emcee will cost you Sh15, 500, dancers Sh20, 500 and video coverage some Sh80, 500.

Students attend classes an hour a day, based on the agreement they have with their tutors. This means that there is no congestion in the school at any given time.

Mr Kamata can be proud that some of the finer music teachers have gone through his hands, and some of his competitors were his students and staff.

He says the perception of music in the country depends with the set-ups people grew up in.

“Some do not believe that music and music teaching could be a career that can develop someone. Some do not believe that I can make a livelihood from teaching music,” he says.

Future of music

The proliferation of music schools will, what with the production of so many students that are excelling in the art, improve perceptions of music in the country.

Mr Kamata also feels that since the percentage of those who are considered really successful in the music industry is small, many people choose other careers that assure success for a bigger part of the professionals.

“If only two per cent of people in music can be seen to have done really well, then it means that one has to be in the top two per cent for them to have chances of achieving success,” he says.

Many entrepreneurs are also likely to shun music as it is difficult to find a footing and sustain business.

Mr Kamata is looking to expand the school, feeling that the space they occupy now is very small. However, he is wary of such excitement, saying that expansion comes with its challenges, including increasing overheads, and that could be detrimental to business amid constrained resources.

“Expansion is not that simplistic. You could kill the business. That is one of the reasons some big businesses have actually been collapsing,” he says.

He has an entertainment management class, training about business using the experience he has gained in his. He says that there is no shortcut or formula that will make entrepreneurs avoid the problems that face businesspeople, especially in nascent ones.

“Start as soon as you have the idea and learn to survive while at it. In a few years, say ten, you will have a business that can take care of you. And you will also employ a good number of people,” he says.