When Amber Nicole Dilger was growing up in the Ohio River Valley, she knew she wanted to be a performer. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in music education and a Bachelor’s degree in music at Ball State University and began a Master’s degree at Indiana University’s prestigious conservatory of music, but left to perform in Chicago.
Ready for a break from the city hustle, Dilger moved to Madison in 2007, where she launched a private voice studio.
“This is my 20th year as a licensed music educator, and I’ve been performing professionally as a singer and actor for a few years more than that,” Dilger says. “I am passionate about helping people find their voice and learn to be confident when communicating their story, and I specialize in helping people overcome performance anxiety.”
A member of the Actors’ Equity Association, Dilger knew Madison would have many fewer union jobs than Chicago and anticipated performing less and teaching more.
“I knew the move would mean downshifting my stage performing, but that I could continue to do concerts and focus on teaching,” she explains. “As an undergrad, I double majored in performance and K-12 music education, both huge parts of my life and things I love a lot. In Chicago, teaching was my side job, and performing was my focus; and moving to Madison let me dive deeper into teaching.”
Dilger says both disciplines feel meaningful to her in different ways.
“I feel like I can give back to the world with performing, and with teaching, it’s even more immediate,” she says. “I can see the connections I’m making, which is really powerful. I get all filled up. I love it so much.”
Dilger’s private studio in Madison thrived almost immediately, so she began brainstorming ways to grow her business.
“I was really excited about it and started brainstorming ways to bring it to the next level and connect with even more students,” she says.
She decided technology provided a unique opportunity, especially in Madison’s snowy winter climate.
“There are so many snow days in Madison that it’s hard to make up all the lessons in person, so I started teaching private lessons online, instead of rescheduling for snow,” she says. “It works really well for group classes, too.”
Dilger started thinking about growing her studio as an online platform for lessons and group classes. She wanted to bring on more teachers as independent contractors and connect them with students around the country.
“I wanted to find a way to connect to students no matter where they happened to live, and to offer them opportunities to study with teachers who are amazing in their specialties,” Dilger explains. “Using an online platform for lessons and classes opens up a whole new world of music education possibilities.”
Dilger sought out resources for help growing her business and found the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center at the University of Wisconsin – Madison (SBDC). Her first meeting with business consultant Linda Davis was in October 2017, and Songflight Studio, LLC, became a reality in 2018.
“Linda helped me take a rough idea for my business and grow it through the process of trademarking a name and logo, setting up an LLC, and figuring out all the little details that make the difference between a business that will be successful and one that will go nowhere,” says Dilger. “I am very grateful for the introduction she facilitated to the UW Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic, which helped me immensely with important parts of setting up Songflight Studio, such as trademark registration, LLC formation, privacy policies, and teacher contracts.”
Dilger meets with Davis about once a month to touch base on what Dilger has been working on, what has been successful, and what challenges have come up.
“Even at the most basic level, it helps to have an accountability check-in regularly with someone who is so knowledgeable,” says Dilger. “Linda has been invaluable in pointing me to other resources and connections to help Songflight Studio get started on a solid foundation and has been an amazing brainstorming partner and cheerleader.”
In early 2018, Dilger took the SBDC Business Tax Basics for Small Businesses class.
“In addition to learning a lot of valuable information, I was able to meet other small business owners, who have become valuable resources themselves,” she says.
Currently, Dilger is building Songflight Studio’s social media presence, using the Instagram account @songflightstudio to post motivational tips and tricks for practicing, learning, and performing. Songflight Studio’s Facebook page supports the Instagram account, and Dilger is expanding the songflightstudio.com website from a class registration-focused hub to one that can also serve to connect and inspire students.
“Linda pointed out the benefit of giving something of value to new visitors to the Songflight Studio site, and I am excited to offer a free monthly online open mic for everyone and anyone to have a supportive place to share the music they’re working on,” Dilger says.
Dilger’s long-term vision is to grow a company that is a trusted name in providing high-quality online music education.
“My goal is that when I am too old to personally be running the company, I will have a strong and solid business to pass along to a new generation of educational leaders,” she explains. “The SBDC has helped me set up Songflight Studio from the very beginning, with this end goal in mind, so that a clean and smooth business transfer will be possible. In addition to the nuts-and-bolts foundational things, my experience with the SBDC has shown me that there are great people and programs that exist to help out new businesses, and reaching out to others to learn from their expertise is invaluable.”