Music in Developing Markets – Two Brothers Expand Innovative Maestro Music Center to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan

erbil downtown

Leave it to the Lebanese to bring innovative music education to developing markets. Just as music evolves, music teaching must evolve with it – and that’s what Maestro Music Center is doing very well.

Establishing a strong foundation in Beirut, Lebanon, two brothers that developed a modern music teaching method are branching out. With an office in Dubai and now a fully-fledged music center in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, 2022 is looking good.

To all music entrepreneurs, we recommend you take notes. First we will explore how Maestro is redefining music education with real examples of current students and second, how they are expanding their project to new areas of opportunity.

Maestro Music Center present in Erbil, Dubai and Beirut
Maestro Music Center present in Erbil, Dubai and Beirut

Maestro: music center, drum academy and an independent project

In short, Maestro is an umbrella of three projects run by two creative Lebanese brothers, Mitch and Patrick Abdo.

First, the Maestro Music Center is a music school that they started in 2017 in Beirut. Second, is a innovative drum academy called the drum path, run by Patrick, which we have already covered in a previous article. Third, there is Mitch Abdo, his independent music project featuring his avant-garde take on Arabic pop (article to be released later in January).

It’s easy to tell that these guys are 100% dedicated to what they do. The brothers have been slinging music one way or another since the early 2000s. That’s considering education, event management, entertainment management, music recording and even musical instrument import. But what makes Maestro special as a music center?

Maestro Music Center Beirut
Maestro Music Center Beirut

The Maestro method – how they teach both young and experienced

In a nutshell, they train people in modern music making, teaching modern vocal coaching, electric guitar, drums, keyboard, DJ and music production.

“We share characteristics of a classic model of music education, such as exams. We do the same, however the exams are level-based and can be completed in the amount of time available to the student. This means a more dedicated person will advance faster, while someone with a busy working life will progress slower.”

Mitch admits that a customized curriculum is certainly more hectic for the school, so why do it? “Yes, it takes more effort and takes time to customize for each student. However the music scene is changing and growing fast.”

“The idea of genres is shifting. Every student comes from a different spectrum of how they grew up with music.”

“We don’t only teach students to play written music, we also teach them to create, to be able to improvise on stage.”

Another reason Mitch explains is that people get bored – especially younger students. “Kids of 6 years old today are able to answer questions that we would have only been able to answer at the age of 12. Kids are maturing much faster. You need to show them the value of the experience of music education, optimize their learning abilities and such.”

It’s a conscious method that embraces the fast changing world of today. And Mitch has case studies to prove it.

Marvin Doumit when he first started
Marvin Doumit when he first started

Case study number 1: DJing without music theory

Mitch speaks highly of his student Marvin Doumit. “He is very gifted and approached us a few years ago. He mentioned that he loved music, yet he was not able to find the right instrument to learn.”

Apparently DJing was the objective, but Marvin wasn’t comfortable with music theory and note reading, also known as sight-reading. “Many people get scared from this aspect of music. He told me ‘forget music theory, let’s learn how to DJ.’ After I taught him, sure he was able to mix seamlessly, but then told us it wasn’t enough.”

Marvin was 12 when he learned how to mix and now at the age of 15 he is onto music theory lessons. The result today is that Marvin Doumit has music on Spotify, Anghami and elsewhere.

“It’s obvious that you can’t learn to mix sounds if you don’t understand how a keyboard works. Many people do it, but it’s skipping an essential part of music making.”

As per Mitch, Marvin is a great example of how music was presented to him in a wrong way at first, before coming to Maestro. It’s also a testament to how music doesn’t have an age restriction.

Philippe Aractingi at Maestro Music Center
Philippe Aractingi at Maestro Music Center

Case study no. 2: Teaching music to the professionals

Mitch cites another example of one of his adult students, Phillipe Aractingi, an award-winning music director that worked on feature films, documentaries and Netflix productions. He was happy to hear that the Maestro approach was so different from the one he was raised on.

“Philippe took a very customized class to be able to express emotion through music and harmonies. These are elements that you would not typically find in a traditional music class – perhaps the same can be learned through 6-7 years of college after connecting the dots.”

As with Marvin, music was not presented to Philippe in the right way either at first. However, with Maestro he started learning how put notes together and is currently pairing them with his own lyrics. He said that now he has the tools to create, he may release soon.

“The happiness and progress of our students, plus the word of mouth, is a sign for us that we are on the path to become one of the top schools of the Middle East.” That’s where Erbil comes into the story.

Maestro Music Center Erbil
Maestro Music Center Erbil

Expanding Maestro Music Center to Erbil

For those not from the Middle East, opening shop in the capital of the independent region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq is not evident. In the Arab sphere however, Erbil has stood out as a center of development and business. Many brand it as a new Dubai.

“Erbil is an opportunity that popped in front of us. The city didn’t have a proper opportunity to shape music in a modern way. That being said, there’s a lot of history and talent in the Mesopotamia area.”

The Arab music scene has been dramatically shifting in the last few years towards a Western way. On the other hand, people in the West are using more oriental sounds as they look for inspiration.

“Iraq is a place with a lot of potential. Meanwhile, Erbil is very developed compared to the region. Four to five months ago we conducted a market study and found that it fit Maestro. We currently have a soft launch with the grand opening happening in January.”

New gear at Maestro Music Center Erbil
New gear at Maestro Music Center Erbil

Overcoming obstacles in new markets

The music business is not an easy one these days, nevertheless in risk adverse markets. So how does Mitch overcome obstacles opening shop in Kurdistan?

“Since it’s a developing area, information about it was not available. But coming from Lebanon makes it relatively easier since we share many similar aspects in how things are done. We managed it delicately through legal inquiries and market studies in order to reach the best formula to open our music center in Erbil.”

“Second, with the lack of digitalization, everything takes more time.”

“Despite this, we love the city, it’s alive and vibrant. In addition to the nightlife and luxurious services available, the people are very kind.”

“It’s really nice to scope new markets – you really never know how it’s gonna turn out. It could hit below expectations or it could be very positive. We’re banking on the latter, because we would love to leave our mark here for many years to come.”

Patrick Abdo with his student on drums
Patrick Abdo with his student on drums

Managing a music center through delegation

Delegation is how management between the school and its branches is optimized. Maestro assigns highly qualified teachers in their area of expertise to lead each class. Expertise can be found locally or flown in from abroad to carry on the mission of the team.

Luckily Mitch has the best partner in crime – his brother. “My brother Patrick started teaching long before I did. It was his initiative to group all this talent together in one place in Lebanon.” Mitch and his brother cover each other when one is travelling. At the same time there are many instructors involved, each with their own specialty.

“The choice of instructors is meticulous, as they need to share the same vision. It’s a core value at the school. The moment you compromise on that you start losing your focus and we would be like any other center. There is the commercial aspect of course, but there are the main criteria, which is the center of focus and that is offering the expertise in the best tailored way possible for the students.”

For those interested, Mitch also noted that they are currently accepting applications for piano and drum teachers in Erbil.

“We are focusing mainly on Erbil right now. With max scheduling it’s big enough to hold 400 students. That will be the main focus for the next few months.”

Maestro Music Center for the young and old
Maestro Music Center for the young and old

Maestro Music Center Socials

Written by Luc Rouffaud

Luc Rouffaud is the founder of Underground Sound and has six years of experience in the music industry, particularly running a music publication and marketing events.

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