If children really are the future, then we should damn well make sure they can carry a tune. This noble enterprise is being conducted in the Columbia area by Freeway Music, a private music instruction studio with three locations in the Midlands. Co-owner Tony Lee is a drummer and veteran of the Columbia music scene touring nationally with 90s rock act Treadmill Trackstar and currently appearing every Thursday at Speakeasy with The Tony Lee Group. One of the many things that defines Freeway Music is the quality of its instructors. As Lee states, “We try to get the best players in town, the best musicians to teach at our studios.” Names familiar to many in the Columbia Music scene such as Bobby Hatfield of The Sea Wolf Mutiny and Reggie Sullivan of the Reggie Sullivan Band are not only able to demonstrate the proper technique, but also provide insight into the business side of being a musician. Great teachers never cease being great students so with this in mind Lee sees to it that all instructors at Freeway are constantly learning and developing professionally. Lee is also quick to point out that while many of his instructors are part-time, it is possible to make it your career and perhaps even open your own Freeway Music one day.
Lee’s business partner Don Russo has taught for many years and is currently one of the most sought after guitar teachers in South Carolina. His teaching prowess soon led to the creation of his own studio in Blythewood to be called Freeway Music. A meeting at a music store soon developed into a business partnership, which resulted in Lee opening the second location in Forest Acres. The goal was simple, get away from the retail-oriented, bottom-line driven structure that plagued the industry. Without focusing on moving merchandise they were able to focus on the student’s needs as a budding musician. This student-centered approach has allowed Freeway Music to grow into a third location on Broad River Road in Irmo. “This is not a one-size-fits-all type of business,” says Lee. “We try to nurture an interest.”
In addition to offering private instruction, Freeway Music also incorporates a strong community outreach program designed to not only expose the students to life outside the confines of a rehearsal space, but to also improve the quality of life for those in the community. This is accomplished by hosting numerous showcases and recitals for such organizations as Agape Senior Health and Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital. One particular component of Freeway that is very interesting is the On Ramp Scholarship. This is on-going fundraiser to help raise money for families that can’t afford music lessons or current students that are having difficulty paying for month or two. While donations are accepted anytime, the faculty hosts a showcase once a year in which all of the bands and musical projects instructors are a part of outside of Freeway come together for a one night to jam and raise money for the scholarship fund. Freeway Music is planting deep roots in the Midlands and ensuring that the community will serve as fertile musical ground for generations to come.