By Eli Clarke, Clarke Central HS (Athens, Georgia)
Since its inception in 2011, Freeway Music (FM) group has become nationally recognized, is the fastest growing music education center in the Carolinas, and has a partnership with a massive music store, Sims, where they feature rock bands in a showcase at least two times per year after rehearsing twice per week with featured performers.
“I’m passionate about Freeway because someone has to be, you always have to love a program as important as this,” Tony Lee, founder of FM, said.
FM began in 2011 in Columbia, South Carolina. Currently it has five locations, which includes Sims, Irmo, Lexington, Downtown, and Northeast, and serves as the fastest growing music lesson studio in the state, according to the FM website.
FM offers a wide assortment of programs, including private lessons, a rock band program, classes for preschoolers, an All Star band comprised of the best students at Freeway, and various opportunities for community outreach.
One of FM’s most important community outreach programs is the Friends grant, the result of a partnership with the Conner Foundation. The grant promotes “healing through music,” as stated on the Conner Foundation website.
The grant also helps support students who may not be able to afford tuition for music lessons. Freeway offers the grant as an attempt to support lower income families and help each child have access to music for healing.
“Every parent wants their child to study music, but no parent wants their child to be a musician,” said Lee when asked about when he became infatuated with music
One of the most unique parts of FM’s multi-faceted approach to music education is their donated concerts. The program has FM partnered with local businesses, hospitals, living centers, schools, and nonprofit organizations, which receive “donated concerts.”
Freeway also raises funds and awareness for local foundations and charities, including The Conner Foundation, The Palmetto Children’s Hospital, Harvest Hope, The Women’s Shelter, Pets Inc, Pawmetto Lifeline, Trustus Theatre, Girls Rock Columbia, The Hootie Foundation, The South Carolina Philharmonic. FM has gained fame and popularity for their unique approach and concepts of philanthropic music, which helps dozens of groups and promotes the community’s best programs. Quote
FM’s unprecedented rise to notoriety is accredited to the organization’s strong community presence. According to the co-founder of Freeway, Tony Lee, FM’s quick rise occurred because of the natural, organic growth.
“What would happen is we’d have people come in and say, ‘I love what you’re doing, I want to be a part of this,’ and they’d open up a location,” Lee said.
FM truly is unique in that without the incredibly tight knit relationships it has created, FM would not only cease to be effective, but also never had been created in the first place.
During FM’s inception, Lee says that the main problem he ran into was “making sure we do it right.” Because of Lee’s steadfast adherence to his idea of community first, FM became the mogul it is today.
As for the dedicated partnership with Sims Music, a respected music store first opened by Jerry Sims in 1979, Lee sees the partnership as essential for FM’s growth and success. Sims started small, but with the hard work of founder Jerry and his wife Debbie, the small business grew to immense proportions and has now been voted to be the premier music shop in the Carolinas.
The store offers every type of instrument imaginable, as well as repairs, help, and general music care. Inside of each FM location, Sims has a helpful kiosk in place for ease use.
“Justin Sims and I have very similar interests, we both want our businesses to help out the community as much as we can,” said Lee.
Sims Music and FM have been partners for about a year and a half, according to Lee.
Separately, FM and Sims represent musical powerhouses for their respective area; however, together they synergize, creating an eden-like haven for the budding musician. Because of the helpful tools offered by Sims, the FM program has expanded at an unprecedented rate from its inception in 2011.
Whenever a student enrolls in a program at FM, the partnership stipulates the student is automatically signed up for a rewards program that offers a discount at Sims, which gives students access to discounted instruments, pieces, tools and consultation.
“Nothing else matters,” says Lee when asked about the future of FM. “When you’re performing, all that matters is performing, playing the right notes, the right tune, and all I hope for with Freeway is that we keep playing the right notes.”