Opera singer Mahari Freeman had been teaching voice and piano for nearly a decade when last year she decided to add a new title to her career: business owner.
The Charlotte native founded La Voix Academy, a music school offering voice and instrumental lessons, both in-person and online. It now has five instructors who are professionals in their musical specialties.
Ledger reporting intern David Griffith spoke with Freeman about what motivated her to launch a business during a challenging year, what she’s learned in the process, and what advice she has for others looking to make a similar move.
The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Tell us about La Voix Academy, and what led you to start the business?
La Voix Academy (pronounced lah vwa) is French for ‘The Voice Academy’ and is a virtual and in-home music school. We offer virtual lessons to students across the country, and we actually have students in different countries now, in the countries of Turkey and Jordan. And then we offer in-home lessons to students in the South Charlotte area. We offer private piano, voice, guitar, and ukulele lessons.
We officially became an LLC in the beginning of 2020. However, La Voix Academy has unofficially been around [far longer] because I myself have been a private voice teacher and piano instructor for probably 10 years.
It didn’t really come out of me wanting to start a business, per se. We’d been teaching forever, myself and the other instructors, and I’d always wanted to have a music school. Becoming an official LLC was just kind of the next step that made sense. It began out of the passion for teaching and then just kind of taking steps to maximize our growth and reach in the community.
I myself am a professional musician. I’m an opera singer. And so part of the reason why I have been able to do what I do and perform and all of those things is because I had instructors who really just poured into me and taught me so much. I really wanted to create a place for students to have that here in Charlotte as well.
Q: What obstacles did you face when you created La Voix?
I have two degrees in music and not one in business. And I’ve actually never taken a business course, so that was probably the biggest obstacle. My brain is very arts-oriented and I’ve had to learn a lot about business as a whole, and entrepreneurship, and up my math skills and all of those things. That has definitely been the biggest obstacle, thinking like a businesswoman instead of like an artist only.
(It is) Definitely getting better as time goes on. Everyone has room to grow and learn. I think any business, no matter how far along, would agree with that. The best way to learn is just do it, and that’s what I’ve been doing.
Q: What were some steps you took to grow your company?
One of the first things we did was [delve into] advertising and how to really target that advertising in order to have the maximum benefit … so that has helped over the past year.
Also word of mouth. I am from Charlotte, went to Providence Day School, and the connections that I have in the community have been very helpful. Charlotte is a big city, but it’s small at the same time, and luckily, myself and all of the instructors who work at La Voix are respected instructors, and it’s definitely appreciated. We receive lots and lots of referrals, so word of mouth is very helpful as well.
Q: What do you wish you’d known when you set out on this path?
Starting a business is hard work. There is just nothing around that, which I think I expected but I just had no idea the magnitude of the hardness of the work. Which is fine, but I think I would have prepared myself a little more. Also, with my business, no one cares as much as me. It’s my project, and I’ve put my heart and soul and blood, sweat and tears into it. I’ve just had to learn that I’m always going to care 100%, give 200%, but as you work with different people, no one is going to care about your business quite as much as you are.
Q: What advice would you have for others looking to start a business in Charlotte?
I would definitely say “go for it.” I feel like if I can do it, there are certainly a lot of people out there who can do it as well. Don’t wait for this or that, just jump in. Another thing that has been really helpful is mentors, and keeping connections with people in the community. Really follow up with those relationships.