Phil and Joel - Stormer Music - The Westies

Phil and Joel – Stormer Music

Music is a language that transcends barriers, crosses borders and provides a personal soundtrack in the good and bad times, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t like music. Two brothers Phil and Joel Stormer grew from teaching music from their parents’ house in the Blue Mountains to opening a studio in Blaxland before looking east and opening studios in Penrith and Parramatta where they are spreading their love for music and belief that music is better together. We recently caught up at their newest school in Parramatta to chat about business growth, the importance of community and the state of live music in Sydney.  

The Westies: When did you first start Stormer Music and why?

Joel- We started Stormer music unofficially from home, we were teaching at Mum and Dad’s place which is in Mt Riverview, I had a drum room set up in the garage and Phil had a guitar studio setup in the office and we just did it as a part time job. We’ve always loved music, having grown up around it and seemed like a natural progression to teach.

Phil – We grew up around music so we had a lot of experience, we had about 15 different guitar teachers from different music schools and our experiences through different music education for the better and for the worse got us  thinking about the kind of experiences that I loved and that Joel loved. We had a really great high school that was very supportive of music and they did some beautiful things like, great concerts to open up the possibilities for connection and community, actively supporting musicians and music, not just seeing it as the thing for people who don’t play sport.

The Westies: How were you seeing it be taught and what did you want to improve on?

Joel – The big thing for me was the inspiring nature of music. We both went to Blaxland High School and our music teachers there we so inspiring, they made music wonderful. I saw people in bands and thought that is awesome, I was always inspired to play, it wasn’t just something that Mum and Dad forced me to do (although there were times of that too). Inspiring people, that’s something we have tried to carry through the school and we continue to get people excited about music, it’s not a chore, it’s not something you just go through the motions of doing, it’s an exciting, beautiful thing.

Phil – We use four words to describe what we are trying to do with music which is Inspire, Empower, Showcase and Celebrate and those four words. We try to inspire our musicians, inspire people with music. We want to empower musicians by giving them the capacity to actually express what they are trying to say and have the confidence, support and technical skills to go with it. Showcase is creating a platform and opportunities to get out there and try things so they can show what they have worked on and celebrate it.

The Westies: You have grown from teaching in your parents house to having studios in Blaxland, Penrith and most recently Parramatta which are all quite different areas how do you see that reflected in the business?  

Phil – We have always tried for our studios to reflect their area and see what the students bring in and organically grow it. If someone comes in and wants to learn with us, we don’t say “well here’s the method – the Stormer Music way” instead we ask “why are you here, what do you want to get out of it? How can we help you? What are your goals? If you don’t have any we can help you. If you have something specific, great! Tell us everything” Whenever we come into a new city we are asking “what does the area want?”

Joel – We always feel that we are filling the gaps with what people are wanting to learn and also what needs aren’t being filled in the community. Blaxland a few years back, had a ukulele wave, all of a sudden we had people all over the mountains wanting to learn, so we made it work and found people to teach ukulele, the different studios have trended towards different things at different times so Penrith for example tends to have a bit more of a pop/rock contemporary focus with lots of singers. Parramatta is very dynamic at the moment while we are figuring out our place in the community. What we are seeing is a lot of classical instruments.  

The Westies: You have both  referred to community, how important is it to have that community element in your business?

Phil – Huge, one thing we say is “music is better together”, that can be an audience to a musician, it can be parent and child through the shared experience of a lesson, it can be you and your teacher, rather than just learning off a sheet of paper you have someone guide you through it. It’s a deeply communal engaging activity in that way. We are always looking for ways to try and get musicians together and not just musicians but people who appreciate listening to music, we are trying to get more people participating in music.

The Westies: How can people participate more?

Phil – Go and see shows, go and support local musicians, give the busker on the street some money, buy their CD. We want people to engage and feel that they can take ownership of music even if they don’t play or if they want to be professional and go all in.

The Westies: There are lots of restrictions in Sydney currently and it would seem that the opportunities for musicians are on the decline, how are you dealing with that?

Joel – There are obviously lots of issues going on with noise restrictions and venues finding it really hard to put on live music events. The way that we are trying to help that is by getting more people actively participating in music and hopefully that has a flow on effect. For example if you are learning to play the guitar you are going to be more excited about seeing some brilliant guitar player that’s coming through your town.

What we would love to see is music on every corner, we love it, we want it around in our lives as much as possible.

Phil – I am optimistic about the industry, I believe that our core value of wanting to empower musicians, is where the change is going to come from. Joel and I are just a couple of musicians trying to do something about the situation that we are in. We wanted a good music school so we are trying to make one. We want to see more gigs, so we are trying to get more venues to host music.

I really think that most people have a heart for music, it’s not a hard sell to say to someone “more music would be good” it’s about how we allow that to happen, how we facilitate it, how we can educate councils on how to make it easier, how to connect in with the right people and for musicians to step up too, they need to wear shoes to their gigs, they need to show up on time. I am trying to adjust it from my level because that’s what I can do, we are just a couple of guys but we are part of a movement.

The Westies: People would often think to take music lessons that they would have to have a skill level already, is that true?

Phil – People do respond to virtuosity but it’s not what we are looking for in music. I remember one of our concerts, we had a young girl get up and sing Leonard Cohen’s, Hallelujah acapella and you could hear a pin drop, she was 8 with an ok voice, she had been doing lessons for a year but it wasn’t about the voice, it was about the vulnerability. We have students here who are on the spectrum, students who have overcome physical disability and challenges, it’s that whole experience. Just because they can’t shred doesn’t mean anything.   

Joel – To be at the pinnacle and up on stage for everyone to admire isn’t everyone’s eventual goal. We’re all about people getting to where they want to be, if that’s being able to play a song for their own enjoyment, then that is what it’s all about. It’s not all aiming to be Mariah Carey.  

Photos: Katrina James

Interview: Katrina James