Meet Drew Schweppe (IES Abroad Vienna, Fall 2010 | Ithaca College), Founder and Director of Informusic, the first all-in-one music history resource for smart phones and tablets. Read on to see how studying music in Vienna helped him develop his app, and why his biggest advice to students abroad is to “get lost.”
IES Abroad: Why did you choose to study abroad in Vienna?
Drew Schweppe (DS): I’m not sure at what point I decided that I would study abroad, or that it would be in Vienna, but it just seemed like something I had to do. I was a music composition major in college, and I couldn’t think of a better place to explore and discover musically than Vienna.
IES Abroad: What were some of your most memorable study abroad experiences?
DS: One of my favorite classes abroad was Gustav Mahler and Turn-of-the-Century Vienna. Bummed to be missing Thanksgiving back home, a few friends and I decided that we would spend the weekend retracing Mahler’s steps in the Alps where he composed a handful of his symphonies. We found our way to Mahler’s composing hut by the lake, did a quick survey of the surrounding area and realized that we were stranded in a snowy summer town with no way back to Vienna for about eight hours. We decided to go for a stroll during which time we met a woodsman who convinced us to walk four kilometers through the Alps and to have a beer for him.
IES Abroad: How did studying abroad in Vienna influence you, both professionally and personally?
DS: Studying abroad completely changed my outlook on just about everything. I was exposed to new ideas, concepts, and cultures through my program but even more so outside of the classroom. When you’re in a foreign country and don’t speak the language at a high level, you find yourself paying much closer attention to your own thoughts – you can’t really understand other people’s conversations on public transportation or on the street – it’s a very different and often challenging experience. Personally, I grew a lot and made some great friends who I still keep in touch with. I became more open to new ideas and easy going in general.
Professionally, I was living the history I had been studying in music history courses. I spent lots of time going to concerts at the Musikverein; drinking coffee in the cafés that Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, and Freud frequented; and started making connections between music, art, literature, politics, technology, and other disciplines. My daily activities abroad inspired me to find a new way of looking at music history and interactions between artists of different disciplines – this ultimately launched my career and company, Informusic.
IES Abroad: What led you to start your app, Informusic?
DS: I never set out to make an app per se. I was always fascinated with the idea of composers, painters, politicians, and the like hanging out. So, I started documenting when these interactions occurred just for fun. I continued going to school and recognized that there was a real need for an up-to-date technology in the music history field. After taking some classes about mobile technology I figured an app could be a great way to put all of the resources a music student needs for their classes in one spot while highlighting multidisciplinary interactions.
IES Abroad: What makes your app unique?
DS: In addition to being an all-in-one music history resource which includes composer biographies, program notes, sheet music, and audio examples, the Informusic app features interactive timelines that contextualize musical events with artistic, political, and technological events. We also have a great advisory board of PhD musicologists who ensure the quality of our content. Our flagship app, Informusic is our most popular platform, but we’ve also seen great interest in our ExamPrep, designed to help graduate students prepare for their music history proficiency entrance exams.
IES Abroad: Walk us through a typical day in your job.
DS: Every day is different. In the early days, the work day could start anywhere between 3–5 a.m. at which time I would hop on a Skype meeting with my development team in Eastern Europe. After that I usually check in with my content team to see their progress and discuss possible edits or additions to the app. Then I would reach out to professors or industry professionals to gather feedback and spread the word about what we’re doing at Informusic. Somedays I have to check in with our graphic artist, musical artists, and record labels who are located all over the globe. I allocate certain days to create marketing and social media campaigns and other days to develop partnerships or to work on content. A lot of the time I’m doing all of this from the road. I love it.
IES Abroad: What is the most valuable lesson you learned from study abroad?
DS: Get Lost. People tend to do things that make them feel comfortable. This can be very restricting. If you go to work or school then talk to the same people and take the same train home every night you have no idea what you might be missing. When you have the opportunity to experience a new place it is okay and ultimately very rewarding to feel uncomfortable and to be lost. I was encouraged to get lost on purpose whether that being getting on the ‘wrong’ street car home and finding my way back to explore new parts of the city, or trying new foods, activities, or ways of thinking.
IES Abroad: What advice would you give students who are thinking of studying abroad or interning abroad?
DS: Stop thinking about it, and just do it. Be safe and smart, but get lost. Become uncomfortable, and put yourself in social and cultural situations you normally wouldn’t. Find where the locals hang out, and become a regular at a few coffee shops, museums, or bars. Most importantly: do it all because you never know when you’ll be back.
IES Abroad: What’s next?
DS: We’ve got a lot in the works at Informusic, so you’ll just have to stay tuned! For me personally, I’m very wanderlusty, always looking to explore and get lost in a new city.
Interested in music-focused study abroad programs? Be sure to explore our best places to study abroad for music lovers! Check out all of our Alum of the Month profiles to see real examples of how study abroad changed the lives and careers of our former students.