Keith Canova

Small businesses come in all shapes and sizes and such a variety of types of business. West Center took to the road to speak with Keith Canova, an entrepreneur located in Ukiah, California.

Keith Canova

WC: Tell us who you are and what your business is.
KC: I’m Keith Canova, the owner and operator of Canova Records and Music School. We are a music school disguised as a record label. The concept for this school is kids come in for private lessons on guitar, keyboards, drums, bass, and more and the goal is to get students in bands and then get them in the recording studio where we will make a recording of them. This is also a live music venue. We do all ages concerts for the community ranging from jazz to metal and everything in between. This is a very popular place for the youth of the community.

WC: How did you get here and start your business?
KC: I came to Mendocino County after graduating college with a degree in writing. I came up here to write a book. I thought I would be here for two years and then head back down to L.A. with my finished project. In the meantime, I started working for the Ukiah Music Center in my spare time. Michael Coughenour, who also worked there, opened the Ukiah School of Music and he suggested I be a piano teacher for them. I laughed at that as I wasn’t trained but after some encouragement by Michael, I took on a piano student and I loved it. That led to me teaching more piano students and eventually guitar, bass, and drums. So that’s how I got started. 

WC: So you ended up doing something unexpected. How did you get to Canova Records?
KC: I got involved with the Trinity School, which is a school for kids who are locked down. They were looking for a guitar teacher so I started teaching there. They had a drum set on the campus and one of the kids played drums so I put the first band together. We played at their graduation and it was such a hit it gave me the idea to start grouping my students at the School of Music together into bands. The first band was a band of seven-year-olds who played Beatles songs. They played at the graduation and every mother came up to me to say, “This is fantastic. I’d love to have my kid in a band.” So, before long, we had 20 bands with 65 students and we’d do concerts wherever I could find a stage. And then I got the idea to record one of the bands on my laptop and we made a CD. One of the kids told me I should call the business Canova Records, and so Canova Records was born. 

WC: Where do you see Canova Records in the next few years?
KC: Now that things are going to open up, we’re excited. People are moving up from the city, real estate is booming, the City of Ukiah is putting in a multi-million dollar facelift to the town that’s really helping. We’re going to see a lot of growth here in the next couple of years and I’m hoping the school continues to grow. 

WC: What are some of the challenges you faced in building your business?
KC: I’ve been an entrepreneur for years. When I was in college I had a landscaping business so I’m no stranger to small businesses. I’ve had a small business since the mid-1990s, a web design business, landscaping, private music teaching, and this is the biggest business I’ve owned. I started the business in 2015 with very little capital and I had to take out a small loan. 2020 was our toughest year, like everyone else! We went to Zoom and most of the kids stuck with their lessons. We lost about 10 kids but when things started to open up again, parents were eager to get their kids into something live and in-person because school was still on Zoom. 

WC: How did you first hear about the Mendocino SBDC.
KC: I heard about them a couple of years ago and I wish I had contacted them at that time. But business was going well and it didn’t occur to me to ask for help. When the pandemic happened a friend of mine sent me an email about the grants that West Center was giving out to the business community. I read through everything and thought we fit the criteria so I applied for the grant and we were successful! The grant was so helpful. We were just opening up for in-person lessons and I needed to buy air filters, plexiglass, and masks and all the PPE that was required to reopen. I was very excited to receive the money, and the counselling! My advisor has been fantastic. He’s helped me with general business questions and he referred us to a social media/marketing specialist and she was great. We had a meeting with her and she made a number of suggestions about how to run our Facebook and Instagram pages, and gave us some advice on marketing and advertising. 

WC: Did you take the advice of the social media consultant?
KC: Yes! I ran some ads on Facebook and Instagram and we did get some business out of the ads. 

WC: What would you tell a business owner just starting out about the Mendocino SBDC?
KC: The SBDC is an invaluable resource. I wish I’d known about them when I was opening the business as I think it would have been a lot easier with their help. They are professionals and know what they’re doing. I’d highly recommend them for any small business. They are so eager to help and everyone is so friendly. We’re very grateful.

WC: What’s the hardest thing about owning your own business?
KC: For me, one of the things that’s been difficult is keeping organized. That’s one of the things West Center helps with: recommending what programs to use on the computer, tips for running an efficient business. Collecting money from people has been a challenge and their advice was to get more electronically oriented so we can collect money more efficiently. 

WC: What are the most rewarding aspects of running your own business?
KC: When we do concerts we always get moms and grandparents and others from the audience thanking me and that’s worth a million dollars to me. Another really rewarding thing is when we have concerts that are just filled to capacity with kids and teens. 

WC: What inspires you to keep going every day?
KC: A typical day here starts at about 1PM. We have bass students, guitar students, piano and drum students happening at the same time. It can be a challenge as the drum room isn’t completely soundproofed yet. Often there’s a recording going on in the studio as well. And there can be bands practicing. Through all the chaos it’s always exciting and what keeps me going are the kids of course.  

WC: Are you in band right now?
KC: Not now. I’m more of a solo piano player. 

And that’s a wrap!