2012 MARKS 20 YEARS FOR PROGRESSIVE MUSIC CENTER
Nationally Recognized Music Lessons Provider Started With Less Than One Dollar, A HandMade Flyer And Tons Of Determination.
Founded in 1992 as Progressive Beat, a drum and percussion only teaching studio in Greenville, North Carolina by local drummer and music fan Billy Cuthrell, Progressive Music Center was the combination of Cuthrell’s desire to make music a full time flexible job with enough income to help pay his way through college, and a way to get out of working on a farm in the summer heat. Cuthrell started the company with only seventy eight cents to his name and a handmade flyer while going house to house teaching out of the back of his car. Once he grew his student base large enough to consider an actual brick and mortar location Cuthrell rented a small broom closet at Pearson Music. Today, Progressive Music Center teaches thousands of music lessons annually in multiple locations and is credited as being one of the first music schools in the United States to offer a “Rock School“ format through their Rock Academy program.
In June 1996 Cuthrell had an idea to incorporate a “rock school” style format he called Rock Academy into Progressive Beat’s offerings where his drum and percussion students were placed with guitar, bass, vocal and piano students to form bands with other students from other teachers in the Greenville, NC area. Rock Academy was introduced as a summer camp option for both students and non Progressive students and considered a “never before heard of” concept at the time. The bands then rehearsed with the teachers for a week ending with a grand finale concert showcasing their talents. The Rock Academy program was well received and now 16 years later Progressive is still innovating the “Rock School” format with weekly Summer Rock Academy camps from June through late August and a year around Rock Academy program open to anyone.
In July of 1998 Cuthrell relocated from Greenville to Wilmington, North Carolina to open a second location in Wilmington. Cuthrell spent several years between Greenville and Wilmington developing the business model while writing music education articles for various national publications and playing in several semi-national and national bands.
In October of 2000 Cuthrell opened a new location inside the Music Loft in Raleigh, North Carolina. Teaming up with longtime friend and professional musician Dexter Horton, Cuthrell and Horton started building a student base while expanding into other instruments and bringing the Rock Academy program into the Raleigh market. In late 2002 Guitar Center bought the Music Loft business and started renovations on the building toward the end of the year forcing a relocation with only a few month’s notice.
Cuthrell sold the original Greenville location and closed down the Wilmington branch to concentrate on growing in the Raleigh market and moved his newly renamed studios, Progressive Percussion Drum Studios, Inc., into a new location on Glenwood Avenue in February 2002 with the help of then partner Heide Dorfman. It was during this time that legendary musicians such as Rick Latham (B.B. King, Edgar Winter), Jim Chapin (Harry Chapin’s father, Author, and drummer for Simon and Garfunkel) and drumming sensation Johnny Rabb started teaching classes at Progressive. Chapin was such a regular at Progressive that he began bringing other legendary drummers to town with him for clinics and master classes and had his own house key to Cuthrell’s home. Cuthrell reflects, “Jim was my mentor and I studied drums with him for years. He really put us on the map and brought a lot of attention to our efforts. Once he started teaching here we had a lot of validity and it reinforced that we were a serious place to study not only drums and percussion, but all types of instruments and music.”
In 2003 Cuthrell saw the need for more teachers and added instructors for guitar, drum and percussion, bass guitar and keyboard/piano. Adam Sturt, a phenomenal guitarist and teacher, was the first guitar instructor to come on board in the Raleigh location and has worked with Progressive ever since. Voice and saxophone teachers were added in 2004 and the name was changed to Progressive Music Center to incorporate the addition of the new instruments and teachers. No longer a drum and percussion only teaching studio Cuthrell saw opportunities to start new classes such as The Guitarist’s Night School, Audio Recording classes with top producers from the area and “How To” classes where students could learn anything from guitar repair to how a guitar string is made.
In August 2005 Cuthrell opened his largest location inside The Factory, a sports and entertainment complex in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and added a small retail and instrument rental and repair segment to the business. The Wake Forest location features fully equipped teaching rooms with a professional stage complete with a full PA system, drums, amplifiers and seating for 100 people and is used as a venue for Rock Academy band performances, concerts, clinics and master classes and local community events. The company focus remains on quality lessons for the name brand instruments that Progressive now sells and rents.
In 2006 Progressive Music Center and Cuthrell were featured in Entrepreneur magazine and in 2007 Cuthrell was featured on the cover of Music Inc. magazine. Recent expansions happened in June 2009 when the Glenwood Avenue location moved to a new building in a popular shopping district in Raleigh’s Brier Creek area.
Over the years Progressive Music Center has gained national attention as a source for innovative, fresh ideas and is seen as a leading company in the field of music education and music retail. In 2010 Cuthrell was a guest at the annual Breakfast of Champions event held to kick off the world renowned NAMM Show in Anaheim, California where he discussed Progressive Music Center’s past, present and future on a panel with legendary musician and entrepreneur Gene Simmons of the rock band KISS.
Progressive Music Center continues to be a destination spot for national artists visiting the Triangle. In September 2011, Rich Redmond, drummer for country artist Jason Aldean, stopped by for a day of meet and greets and private lessons in the Wake Forest location when Aldean performed at the Raleigh Time Warner Pavilion.
Moreover, Cuthrell writes a monthly column for Music Inc. magazine, is a past participant of the prestigious NAMM President’s Board, an Advisory Board Member to the Percussion Marketing Council, the largest trade group for the drum and percussion industry, and regularly speaks to retailers from around the world on industry best practices as a presenter for NAMM. This helps continue to shed the national spotlight on Progressive Music Center and their renowned teaching staff.
Cuthrell reflects, “Of all the things I am most proud of it is the fact that I have such great people working with me everyday that believe in music and our mission. Although she is not an owner now, Heide Dorfman continues to help guide our decision making and I may not have made it this far without her. Dexter Horton is a huge influence along with the long term guys like Adam Sturt, Charles “Chuck” Barchuk, Joey Stultz, Kyle Long, Erin Godbey, Lee Keatts, Andrew Davis and several others that made a significant impact on our growth and progress over the years”.
Cuthrell further explains that his philosophy on the core of the business has not changed much from when he started, saying, “The typical retailer is interested in selling lots of instruments first and then bringing in lessons to supplement those sales. I was more interested then, as I am now, in how to play the instrument and not what type of instrument to play. A good music education will help me sound more like Jimi Hendrix than a $5,000 guitar and amp, so we design and offer innovative concepts and programs to get our students excited about learning and sounding their best no matter what equipment they use or purchase. We start with the core of the student to get great results, not the core of an amplifier”.