The COVID-19 crisis has turned our world upside-down in historical ways, bringing a storm of adversity to small businesses in Metro Vancouver. Many of these businesses are now in a critical fight for survival and the future is uncertain. Although re-opening measures have been announced by the BC government, Family Fun Vancouver would like to take the opportunity to introduce and interview some of the local businesses in our city. Let’s get to know each other! Welcome to the #SmallBusinessSaturday series.
Today we’re talking to Will Stroet, children’s-entertainer extraordinaire. He’s a JUNO-, WCMA- and CFMA-nominated musician, as well as a CBC Kids, Universal Kids and KidoodleTV star. As both an educator and dad, he’s well loved for his original rock, folk, and blues music with witty wordplay and catchy choruses.
Tell us about your business.
We are Pebble Star Productions and are mostly known for our brand, Will’s Jams. Our business is centred around entertainment and education for kids and families in English and French. Music for children (writing, recording, performance as well as TV through CBC Kids) is the center of the business. We began our business as a full time venture nearly 11 years ago when I took a leave from teaching with the Vancouver School Board. We are located in Vancouver, but my work (until recently) has taken me to every corner of Canada and, in recent years, to many parts of China as well. We are a husband and wife time and hire lots of musicians as contractors on a project-by-project basis. Our greatest strength is creating musical entertainment: writing, recording and especially performance.
What was the inspiration for starting this venture? Where did you get your first idea?
Our inspiration to start this business came while I was still teaching. I found myself writing songs for, and inspired by, my students. In particular a lot of French music aimed at French immersion students. In my last year of teaching, I was working part-time and I did nearly 100 performances that year in schools, festival and other events. It was clear there was an opportunity and a demand for what we had to offer.
I love the touring aspect of my work but also out of this comes my biggest regret. I have found myself away during many times when I would have really liked to be with my family. I’ve missed many holidays being on the road, and occasionally milestones for my kids. At this time I’m clearly not able to tour (by far the biggest part of our business’ revenue) and it has allowed me to spend so much more time with my kids – homeschooling, nature walks, riding bikes, reading. This has been the silver lining of living during COVID-19.
My greatest success is hard to choose. Definitely our series Will’s Jams with CBC Kids has been incredibly important for our business. Honestly the biggest success is seeing the impact my music has had in the faces of the kids I sing for. My work is incredibly rewarding.
What would a typical day look like for you normally? What about now?
Under normal circumstances my typical day is usually a performance day. Over the last 10 years I have averaged approximately 180 shows per year, some of those when on tour, and some performing closer to home in the Lower Mainland. The day begins loading up the Willmobile with gear and instruments, picking up the band and going to the gig. We sing for hundreds of kids in a school, at a theatre or at another event. Hang out a bit to say hi to young fans, then off for home or the next gig.
During the COVID-quarantine, my typical day starts with a morning of homeschooling with my kids. In the afternoon we focus on work and re-inventing our business. Live-streams, song writing, grant writing, or working on my online English and music course for kids in China.
Adapting our business to the COVID-19 crisis has been extremely difficult. We lost many, many bookings and don’t know when we’ll be able to resume this main part of our business. That being said we have found many ways to innovate and identify opportunities that may not necessarily pay off in the short run, but will hopefully lay the ground work for where we can take our business in the future.
If people are interested in supporting Will Stroet at this time the best way is to tune in to a Facebook live stream (Fridays at 1pm PT), purchase merchandise, hire him for an online birthday party package (such a great idea!), follow him on social media @willsjamsmusic and YouTube. All links and information can be found at their website www.willsjams.com
Introducing YVR Small Business Profiles is a Family Fun Vancouver series that will contain a random selection of businesses chosen at the discretion of the editor for interest and curiosity.
Looking for more tips on how to keep your kids occupied during the COVID-19 crisis? Find our best ideas, activities and inspiration here!