What is your musical background? Are you currently active as a performer or teacher?
TD: I did my undergraduate and masters degrees in Flute Performance at the University of Toronto where I’m currently pursuing my DMA. So, I’ve been around the school a bit! I’m also very active as a freelancer. Recently, I’ve performed as member of the Canadian Opera Company, the National Ballet of Canada, the Esprit Orchestra, and New Music Concerts. Outside of freelancing, I also maintain an active flute studio.
How did WhirlWindPress begin? How you came up with the idea?
TD: During my undergraduate studies, I also did a Minor in Composition. For some of my compositions, I needed to notate flute fingerings and extended techniques, so I designed a font that could notate any possible fingering on the flute. I put the font on my website for free and saw that people were downloading the font so I decided to start charging for access to the font. I saw that the number of downloads was increasing despite charging people for the font. So, I decided to completely ruin my reading week by designing fonts for any instrument I could think of and added them to my website and expanded into selling commercial licenses for the fonts.
They have been used by publishers such as Universal Editions, and composers such as Robert Dick and Maslanka. I have even collaborated on designing custom fonts for performers like Tilmann Dernhard which he used in “The New Flute” a rather substantial pedagogical extended technique book for flute.
WhirlWindPress is mostly known for selling stamps that are used as educational aids. How did you turn the fonts into stamps? Have you expanded into any other product lines?
TD: I used the existing diagrams from the fonts and converted them into stamps using a laser engraving process. I cut the rubber myself and mounted the stamps on blocks in the beginning, making thousands of them the first few years. I started selling on Etsy, eBay, and on my own website, WhirlWindPress.ca. My business really took off when I became an Amazon seller, as they are excellent at targeting my extremely niche customer base. I now handle over 10,000 orders annually, sell in 8 different languages, and have worldwide distribution. In addition to the stamps, WhirlWindPress has expanded to stickers, flashcards, and sheet music. I have published my own editions of sheet music with fingerings and performing advice. I now have over 140 products and retail distribution in stores such as Long and McQuade and continue to design new products.
Has your music education impacted how you run a business? Has running a business impacted how you approach music?
TD: I wouldn’t say music has directly impacted how I run my business nor has running my business improved my approach to music. However, there are definitely skills that are applicable in both fields. Quality control is a big part of being a musician and a businessperson. You need to balance efficiency and results. Also, the musician lifestyle taught me how to get started on a shoestring budget while being aware of profit margins. Being versatile and doing multiple jobs was a transferrable skill that came in handy. As a musician, we’re responsible for doing our own marketing, programming, production, and distribution. Running WhirlWindPress is quite similar. I have to do my own marketing, production, and fulfillment, which mostly I figured out myself through trial and error, much like in the practice studio.
What benefits have you experienced running your product-based business? What challenges and struggles did you encounter while getting started?
TD: Running a product-based business allows me to generate income year-round when the seasonality of freelancing and teaching comes into play. Summer is a time when many of my students go on vacation and orchestras take a break, so it’s nice to be able to live exclusively off either income-stream. Having both a business and a freelance career makes the musician lifestyle less precarious. In terms of struggles I experienced getting started, growing the business was a bit of a challenge. As the order volume increased, I needed to find more efficient methods of production.
Economies of scale is not a term you encounter in music school, but I had to develop more efficient processes to keep up with the rising demand while increasing profit margins. I had to run the business out of my apartment when I was starting out and to this day, I am a home-based business. I have to be efficient with ordering and shipping so I don’t live completely surrounded by woodblocks, stickers and boxes! There was a lot of initial effort and time spent designing each of my products, but the residual income from the initial investment allows me to sell these products for the rest of my life. Additionally, having residual income gives me time to develop new products. Not every product is an initial “hit” or sells high volume, but over time they definitely end up being worth the initial investment.
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This interview summary was written by Andrew Chan, master's student in Viola Performance