How my startup is breaking cultural barriers with world music

Someone once said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change.” I have found so much truth in this simple message through my passion for music. All over the world, people are missing out on enjoying the parts of other cultures that they might truly enjoy, if they would ever change the way they look at them. Whether, it is based on color, lifestyle or historical events, people avoid opening their lives to the culture of others even though it could be something that could bring great joy into their lives. My startup Liederlernen.de is working to break down the cultural barriers between Israel and Germany through the use of music, in hopes that people everywhere will do the same.

Before I launched my world-music startup

As an entrepreneur, I have been involved with and worked for several startups. I enjoy the process of creating new businesses and seeing them grow, however, it is the value that the businesses can add to people’s lives that keeps me motivated.

In 2013 I was part of co-founding negina.co.il, a site that teaches music to Israeli people through the use of Israeli music. Prior to the start of the business we realized a trend in the musical world: most people are learning to play music online by learning to read musical notes and playing one of two ways: (1) using classical music or (2) using popular Western World hits (either classics like the Beatles or current hits like Rihanna).  We wanted to provide a way for Israeli people to learn to play music by using Israeli music. The site has been a huge success.

DJ - world music

The meeting of two cultures and two world artists leads to the start of a business

Several years later I had a chance meeting with Alex Schlager, a Berlin born musician, while playing in a jam session in Tel Aviv. After several jazz standards, a few drinks, a we started chatting about about life, music, and art. This accidental meeting was the beginning of several other musical meetings and through these the conversations at these meetings, we grew an appreciation for each other’s music and culture. These were things that were unfamiliar to us before our meeting.

As a musician I had a growing interest in learning to play the new music I was being exposed to, mostly modern German music, but quickly discovered there was a lack of music sheets and online tutorials. Using the resources we had used to create negina.co.il, we set out to establish a site that provided these materials, and a place where Germans could go to learn the music from their country. Liederlernen.de was born and it wasn’t long before we had over 2,000 German lessons and music sheets for users to choose from. Our Israeli located startup site quickly became the largest online database of German music. The site was well received and quickly grew.

Sharing our musical and cultural experiences through trial and error

While I was happy with the growth of both negina.co.il and liederlernen.do, Alex and I really wanted to introduce others to the excitement we had experienced when learning the music and culture of the other. We wanted people to see that by being open to new music from another country they could really open their eyes and see a whole new culture that they just might enjoy.

One rainy day we got the crazy idea to switch the music from the Israeli site homepage with the music from the German site. This was a complete disaster. People were upset that the sites were filled with music that they didn’t know. We quickly learned our lesson and switched the music back, but we still wanted a chance to expose musicians to the beauty of other cultures through music.

We decided to try a more strategic approach. We sent an email out to our mailing list with a list of three songs. We promised them a 6 month free subscription to the site if they learned to play the three songs and sent us a video as proof. The mailing list for the German site was sent Israeli music and vice versa. We began to see success. Those that accepted the challenge also showed an interest in understanding the meaning of the words behind the lyrics. They showed an interest in finding the original music to listen to. Their interest was piqued into the world of another culture!

Portland music studio - world music

Why go through the trouble?

You might be wondering why the hassle? Why do we nag people? Why doesn’t everybody just stick to their own culture? Well, we believe that music has the power to connect people. We believe that by getting to know the other culture, and actually being a participant in its rituals (in this case by playing its music), we can be less judgmental of the other. It can make us more likely to accept the differences, and even appreciate them, instead of being afraid of them. Instead of wrinkling our noses when we hear music in a language we don’t understand, or when we see a foreigner with the “wrong” color skin, eyes, or accent, walking in the street, we can choose to be curious about the differences between us. We can choose to explore it, celebrate it, and understand its beauty, rather than staying away from it.

The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” In a world where all of our differences seem to be keeping us apart, music can be that missing piece that helps bring people together. There is amazing music out there, and culture to explore, but too often we don’t bother to check because it’s less convenience to explore in a language that we don’t know – yet the trouble is totally worth it.

My advice to you is this, explore the world of music. Don’t be afraid to go outside of what you know and what is familiar to you. There is a whole world of music waiting to be found and enjoyed, learned and played. When you try to go into a new market, a new culture, you need to listen less to your own personal experience and instincts, but rather be open to and listening to the people. Explore, don’t assume that you know anything about the culture.

I’ll leave you with the words from the U2 vocalist, Bono: “Music can change the world because it can change people.” I allowed the music to change me and hope that it can have in impact on the world.