By Charles Erickson
STROUDSBURG – Big Bug Music is the base from which Brendan Fitzpatrick creates and produces music that is licensed for use in television programs. Every week he adds about 5 more compositions to his library, and he frequently hears his works when he’s watching cable channels.
The store also serves a more traditional role as a place where instruments are bought or rented, musical supplies offered and lessons provided to students.
“It’s been easier than I thought it was going to be,” Fitzpatrick said recently, after giving his last guitar lesson of the day. “I grew up in a family that owned a restaurant. This is not as labor intensive and nothing’s perishable.”
To make his living through music, Fitzpatrick, invested a huge part of his life in becoming proficient with a guitar. He reminds his pupils about the importance of regular playing between their lessons.
“The more they practice, the better they’re going to be,” he said. “That’s it.”
There are seven classrooms inside Big Bug Music. Two are on the first level, next to the retail area. The other five, along with Fitzpatrick’s production studio, are downstairs. Seven days a week, students enter the rooms to learn how to play a guitar, piano, drums, clarinet, flute, saxophone, trumpet, violin, cello and viola. Some are learning to sing.
The rate is $25 per 30-minute session. Most students opt for a single weekly lesson, Fitzpatrick said, but a few come twice a week and some pay for hourly sessions.
After being open for five years, the owner is pleased with the state of the enterprise.
“We teach a lot,” he said. “It’s a different business model. It’s all about the teaching here.”
Students average 11 years of age. Fitzpatrick does not have to tell them to refrain from glancing at their smartphones during lessons.
“I think the parents police that pretty well,” he said. “Most of them don’t come in with telephones anyway.”
Big Bug Music has two employees. They run the front counter while Fitzpatrick is downstairs teaching or producing music. He gives lessons on the acoustic, electric and bass guitar. Instructors are considered independent contractors, and Fitzpatrick has retained seven people to teach voice and instruments other than guitars.
Fitzpatrick began playing the guitar in 1986, just before he turned 17. He was working in a New Jersey restaurant when he witnessed a performance by a band called the Nerds.
“It was the first time that I saw a world-class guitar player in a bar,” he recalled. The band’s lead guitarist, Pete Oltmanns, later gave lessons to Fitzpatrick. To compensate for his relatively late start on learning the instrument, Fitzpatrick began a devotion to the guitar. He estimates he played one for 6 to 8 hours a day between 1986 and 2001.
“I practiced a lot,” he said. “I don’t think I had a natural ability for it.”
Not being a guitar prodigy allows the teacher to relate to most of his pupils. Fitzpatrick believes his ability to earn a living with a guitar is the direct result of all the time he invested in his playing.
“If you practice, I guarantee you’re going to learn to play the guitar,” he said.
Until about eight years ago, Fitzpatrick toured North America with his own blues band. They played at small venues mostly, and some festivals.
“It was really fun, for a long time, and then it wasn’t fun,” he said.
In 2002, he began writing music for television. Short portions of these compositions are used in various programs on such outlets as the History Channel, Animal Planet, Discovery and others.
“It’s over 10,000 placements at this point,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s about 15 a day right now.”
All TV music compositions, which are written under Fitzpatrick’s stage name of B. Christopher, are produced inside the store. He adds about 250 of them a year to his library.
“I stay at it pretty hard,” he said.
He never tunes in just to catch one of his creations being played on a television show, but Fitzpatrick said he often is watching a program for enjoyment when he hears something from his library. It makes him proud.
And Fitzpatrick still practices the guitar, every day. He plays for 90 minutes, partly out of duty and partly because he still loves it.
“I don’t know what else to do,” he said. “This is it. I just play the guitar.”
Big Bug Music, 934 North 9th St., Stroudsburg – 570-424-6040 – Open Mon – Fri 12 PM to 8 PM; Sat 10 AM – 6 PM; Sun 12 PM – 5 PM
Photos, taken by Charles Erickson, for use in his story about Big Bug Music in Stroudsburg: