After a long hiatus, I am happy to announce the release of our first eBook! Building Your Private Music Studio offers insight and suggestions in establishing, growing, and enhancing, your studio to increase impact and income. Numerous suggestions are strategies are offered for organization, scheduling, technology use, and avoiding the numerous financial pitfalls that can occur in this profession. For just $6.99, less than half the cost of one lesson, the eBook can be downloaded from amazon.com . Please click here to get your copy!
By Cindy Hallo
I was going to title this post “Time Management”…..and then I remembered I don’t know ANYTHING about that subject. Like at all.
I’m the girl that works two jobs, runs 40-50 miles a week, travels around the country for marathons, and sleeps no more than 5 hours a night. Free time is something I had back in 2005.
I think a better word for what I want to talk about is “Boundaries”. It’s very easy for people whose job doesn’t require them to be parked in a cubicle from 9 to 5 every day to extend the work day. This is especially true for lesson teachers – it’s like a game of Tetris sometimes to fit all your students in the allotted amount of time on the right days at the right school, during the right class period. Obviously the administration wasn’t thinking about our needs when they created the school day…rude!
Maybe other people learned this a little more quickly than I did, but I can’t tell you how many times my schedule come September would resemble a 12 hour shift on an assembly line. Student willing to start lessons at 7am? Sign me up. Stacking them four deep after school? Hellz yeah. Going to students houses in the evenings/on the weekends if I couldn’t fit them in during normal school hours? Of course! Before I knew it, I was working 10-12 hour days 6 days a week. An 8 hour day was like a vacation. When the drive-thru girl at Taco Bell knew my order by the sound of my voice, that’s when I realized how bad it had gotten.
This year, I’ve taken a step back and realized something.
I don’t have to take every student that crosses my door.
I know. I’m a freaking genius.
Turning down students does not make you a bad teacher, much like saying “No” doesn’t make you a bad person. This took me several years to understand. The first part anyway…I’m still trying to figure out the second part. It actually makes you a BETTER teacher when you realize how many students you can comfortably handle in your studio. Each student gets a little more of your brain power, a little more of your time. And you get to eat something besides Taco Bell for dinner during the week.
I’ve found myself spending more time thinking about the best plan of action for each student, following up on emails, making sure I bring the right music to school with me, etc. And I’m definitely taking better care of myself. I eat better, find more time to run, have more time to relax with friends and family, and sleep better. And I don’t think I need to tell any of you that a well rested teacher is a much better teacher.
Now I’m not saying drop all your kids and only accept a few each year. We’ve all gotta pay the rent. But I am suggesting instead of just blindly accepting any student that sends you an email, you take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Is there a lot of driving? Am I going out of my way at rush hour? Am I giving up something I enjoy to teach this lesson? How serious is this student? This might sound a little selfish, but teaching is a lot like being a parent (says the girl with no kids, so take it with a grain of salt)….taking care of yourself first makes you a better teacher.
And quit eating Taco Bell. That stuff will kill you.
Music studio teacher is excited to kickoff 2016 with a guest post from Dr. David Cutler. His new book, The Savvy Music Teacher is available here.
The Direct Link Between Income and Impact: Savvy Music Teachers
By David Cutler
On the surface, the suggestion that the best independent music teachers are those who earn the most money seems ludicrous. No obvious, mathematical correlation can be drawn between fiscal and pedagogical success. We have all encountered incredible educators who struggle to make ends meet, or financially comfortable ones who are mediocre instructors at best.
Yet I argue that there is indeed a parallel. When done right, impact and income are closely related bedfellows. Savvy Music Teachers (SMTs) find ways to make them both go up, in harmony.
How is this claim supported? It is difficult to devote 100% of attention to teaching excellence when tormented by problematic personal finance. Economic woes trigger a host of problems, inducing stress, strained relationships, and zapped enthusiasm. Individuals forced to take supplementary “day jobs” they despise just to get by, or those with unmanageable schedules and an unbalanced life, are unlikely to have time or energy to go the extra mile for students.
On the flip side, a sound financial model increases likelihood that teachers find the psychological space to offer their best. It provides a foundation for maintaining a studio, organizing meaningful activities, pursuing professional development, and tackling passion projects, in addition to fulfilling personal desires such as buying a house or raising a family.
Is there a more direct correlation? There is if you do things right. In order to increase impact, SMTs are known for employing teaching tools and strategies that expand beyond the average studio. As a result, their offerings are differentiated in innovative and meaningful ways, which translates to more students and higher fees. In addition, they offer a variety of products and services beyond lessons that enhance learning and revenue. Independent music teachers looking for a raise have an opportunity: imagine new, valuable musical experiences. Connect those initiatives to a sound economic model and, voila, both earnings and value rise.
When writing The Savvy Music Teacher, I had the good opportunity to interview more than 150 independent teachers from across the globe (many are profiled in the book). Typically, I would contact them with a particular angle in mind: curriculum, policies, tuition model, studio management, etc. During these talks, however, the conversation often strayed in wonderful ways, exploring peripheral issues that were also parts of the model. We discussed challenge, opportunities, frustrations, and solutions.
As a rule, instructors with inventive business models matched them with creative teaching approaches, and vice versa. For example, music teachers who generated substantial incomes were more likely to integrate improvisation, technology, and multiple musical genres than those who didn’t. That was a fascinating lesson. It seems that creativity is a transferrable skill. Those who master it benefit in a host of ways, creating simultaneous wins for themselves, students, and communities.
Income and impact; money and meaning. These terms may not be synonymous, but for SMTs, they are closely related.
DAVID CUTLER balances a varied profile as a jazz and classical composer, pianist, educator, arranger, author, speaker, and director of the world’s premier experiential arts entrepreneurship workshop The SAVVY Musician in Action. His books The Savvy Musician and The Savvy Music Teacher help musicians build a career, earn a living, and make a difference. Cutler serves as the University of South Carolina’s Director of Music Entrepreneurship.
Fellow music teachers, have you ever wished there was someone you could approach for specific advice on maximizing the earnings and efficiency of the niche market of private lesson teaching? Look no further! I give you your new career guide: David Cutler’s The Savvy Music Teacher.
Having just finished this book, I was extremely impressed with the author’s ability to relate and expound upon the daily struggles of private teaching combined with the provision of various strategies for financial and personal improvement. At times I found myself turning pages with the excitement of a Harry Potter novel!
The book outlines a clear goal: Become the most impactful music teacher possible while earning a yearly salary of $50,000 to $100,000. Is this really possible for us private teachers? I can say, without hesitation, that if you were to aggressively implement David Cutler’s strategies into your financial model of music teaching, you would be well within this figure.
How many unorganized or un-savvy music teachers do you know living week to week, with no concept of their financial future, or present earnings? This sad situation can even sometimes lead to musicians leaving the music field entirely. If this describes you or a teacher you know, this book will be a lifeline for changing your views on earning and managing money, as well maximizing impact on your students.
Even if you consider yourself a highly organized teacher without any more room for financial expansion, this book will outline additional financial avenues you may have not considered, or overlooked, that will enhance your current earnings.
The book is divided into two halves. Part one outlines seven distinct streams of income available to private music teachers. It then outlines detailed steps on how to integrate these into your life, or how to expound upon them. These numerous streams include:
Additional (miscellaneous services)
If you believe you are already implementing these elements into your small business of music teaching, you will be surprised by the many avenues available you may not have considered in each chapter. Specifically for me, I always see a significant drop in earnings during the summer months. I’m teaching as many students as I can, but it is never enough. This book proposes a detailed process on establishing summer camps, and clearly outlines the large financial benefits this type of event can have on your summer earnings.
If you feel many of these categories are not realistic to you, you may be surprised at how easily you will be able to generate extra income from the author’s suggestions. True, not every teacher may be able to integrate every stream into his or her lifestyle, but even getting just a few streams of music income going besides private teaching can really have a positive effect on your bottom line earnings.
The second half of the book is dedicated to setting up your studio, filling your studio, time/life management, winning the money game, your financial picture, and career blueprint. In a field that can easily be isolating, these chapters are gold. How often can one receive free financial advice specific to the private lesson field? These chapters are even more valuable than the first half because they help motivate music teachers to plan for the future of their business, and not live in the now of lesson check to lesson check.
This book is completely inspiring and a must read for lesson teachers in any capacity. Whether you are teaching one night a week or full time, you will be inspired to teach better, smarter, and create higher earnings after completing this book. Personally, I have been planning many, many expansions to my studio from reading this book and am confident my earnings will rise as a direct result of reading this book. To purchase a copy click here
So, what’s your real job?
This is a question I am asked all too often by both my parents, students, and sometimes fellow school staff/administration.
The financial elements of being a freelance music teacher and performer often present a unique lifestyle that most non musicians really have no concept of. Frequently I am even asked (as a saxophonist) when I am planning on joining an orchestra full time…
My response (much to the shock of the onlooker) : Never.
This is just one of many examples when the career path of a freelance musician can not be confined to a neatly wrapped package.
Being freelance is hard to explain. Are you a school teacher? Well Kind of: I teach just saxophone though, to one person at a a time, without an assigned classroom…… Also I am not on the payroll, and I receive no benefits…… But I do have a parking pass and a badge!
We private teachers straddle the line where we may be issued a badge by a school district, yet must identify ourselves at the front desk each time we enter the building!!! (This is one of life’s greatest mysteries!)
Your students are your employer and Its best for you if they know that.
Music is a noble art; we are trying to reach an abstract goal that really has no mountain top or concrete ending point. Often times in our creative ways, I think its easy to assume that everyone we associate with knows about our quest for great art!
Unfortunately students and or parents sometimes do not understand the years of schooling at a university or conservatory, the thousands of hours of practice, the hundreds of performances, hours of our own private study, immeasurable costs of instruments, music, supplies, music, other miscellaneous musician costs, and the continual development of our craft just to reach the point where we can have financial security in our chosen field of employment. They more likely assume you are someone who played in high school band and now teach a few kids as a hobby. Sigh,….
So, at the start of this year when I sent out my billing policy I simply informed my employers (parents) that this is what I do. I nicely and professionally explained that this is my sole form of employment and my daily job.
Since then I have been paid on time by my students much more frequently than before! Perhaps parents now simply feel bad for me assuming their child is my sole source of income, or perhaps they have gained a deep appreciation for my life long quest of art. But either way, I’ve been sending a lot less emails asking for money! Anyone else out there have any tricks for explaining your occupation?
The beginning of the school year always seems to bring a lot of drastic and unplanned changes to my teaching schedule. Although we frequently spend hours ( or at least I do) obsessing over the most efficient teaching schedule to maximize the number students, and minimize travel, something always seems to come up in the first week. Many times this week I have received the following emails:
“Our student has quit band, we forgot to tell you”
“Our student no longer wants lessons”
“We have moved to another school”
“We can no longer afford lessons for our student”
If this were to occur in the middle of the school year, it would definitely create a gap in my daily teaching schedule at least for some time, but, luckily the beginning of the year is a great time to re load when it comes to your studio.
I have found emailing the parents of beginner students is usually a successful strategy when it comes to filling in holes in your schedule. Usually beginners are quite excited about instruction and this can provide a smooth transition in your schedule, so you do not miss a week of work at that specific time slot. Additionally you may try coming into their band class and doing a short performance to drum up interest.
Also, in the beginning of the year I like to avoid telling a student I cannot fit them in the schedule until I have a concrete understanding of what my schedule looks like. For me, this usually takes about one or two weeks. Often times when students drop you can reexamine your schedule and find moving a few during the school day lessons around can often times erase any gaps that can pop up, and simultaneously allow you to create time for students you were not sure would previously fit.
This week I would like to continue with a brief review of another app I find quite helpful in teaching lessons. It is called Tunable and is just 2.99 in the App Store. With the multitude of tuner apps available, I like this program for a few important reasons.
The interface of the app gives the user an engaging experience. The tuner line runs the length of the screen vertically. If the tone is sustained,the line will remain straight.If there is unintentional variation, there will be waves and bends within the straight line. If vibrato is added the waves in the line will oscialite at the rate of vibrato.
The actual pitch tuning exists in both left and right quadrants of the screen. These will expand outward to the edge of the screen when the pitch is most in tune. This is a more engaging visual representation of pitch accuracy for many of my students.
The format of this app creates a video game like experience with goals and animations beyond the traditional tuner. Additionally, it includes a metronome and drone feature. For only three dollars, this product is definitely worth considering to add to your musical app arsenal
As we enter summer lesson mode I sometimes depart from the traditional repertoire and allow my younger students to play something “fun”, which to them is a pop song or a work from a movie soundtrack. Usually, this takes some planning ahead and often times transcribing skills. Also, you have to have a working knowledge of popular music which I do not always possess.
Recently I discovered the chromatik app, and this has revolutionized my access to music of this nature. This app is free to download and requires a free account to utilize. Once you do this you are allowed access to sheet music ranging from pop, rock ,country, movies, etc. Most of this is in concert pitch, but this is not a big problem in a private lesson setting.
Additionally, the app has a classical library where you can search solo pieces in the public domain by instrument. This is ideal for the occasional student who forget his or her music.
Also, the app offers a real book function that simultaneously plays chord changes. This is a great feature for a student who does not have access to Aebersold play alongs.
I am thrilled to have discovered this app and it has made summer lessons more enjoyable for all my students. I highly,recommend it!
This school year may not quite yet be over, but I am already considering my teaching schedule for the coming school year. I am extremely obsessed with creating the most efficient schedule possible to both maximize income, and reduce travel. Here are my top three considerations when coming up with my teaching schedule
- Directional planning: I like to go as far south as possible first, and then continually work my way back north to my house through as many stops at schools as necessary. Obviously, you will need to tailor this to your location. The idea being if you are leaving early for before school lessons you can get there with minimal traffic, and then end your day as close to your home as possible-to cut down on afternoon rush hour delays. I avoid doing the following at all costs: Driving south to School A, diving North to school B, then driving back south again to School C. This creates a longer commute home at the end of the day, wasted time that could be allocated to teaching more lessons during these drives back and forth, and increased consumption of gas
- Prioritize with Rate: Not all my schools have the same set rate per lesson. Also, some charge a monthly fee for facility use. I put the schools with the highest rates on Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday. School is rarely closed on these days. The most common day school is closed is Monday. There is one Monday each month in the school year where the building is closed. Friday comes in second place with at least one Friday closure or early release every other month. If my school charges a facility use fee, or has a lower rate I put these students on Mondays and Fridays. This way if I am going to be losing potential earnings due to school holiday, I minimize my losses
- Scheduling of Fridays after school: It is difficult to maximize the number of students when Friday after school Is consumed by marching band performances. To counteract this I either teach at a middle school or a private school, which has no marching band, on Fridays. It is difficult to maximize your studio potential when Fridays after school hours are being lost to football games. This strategy has given me the best result for weekly Friday after school teaching.
A few years ago I ditched the bag I was bringing to all my lessons, and went paperless. This has been a revolution for my teaching,, and I thought I would share some of the benefits. I bought at 32 gig iPad with cellular data capability for this occasion. My school wifi accounts were so restricted it was impossible to use the internet for the purposes of teaching music. So, some type of mobile device is obviously required for this. Preferably something with a screen large enough for you or your students to read music from. The good news is this purchase can be one of your many tax write offs for the year.
Communication increased significantly for me once I went paperless. I could respond to emails in between lessons during the day, rather than dealing with fifteen to twenty unread messages later that evening.
My amount of paperwork decreased dramatically. I was able to do all my scholarship paperwork using a type on PDF app. I was acquired the necessary student signatures via the pen function of this app, and then emailed completed paperwork to the band directors. This has become a major timesaver at the end of each month.
I used google documents to upload my weekly teaching schedule, as well as to edit the document with who has and has not paid for their lessons that month.
Google drive also became a valuable asset for me. I uploaded pdfs of the material I work with my students on to my google drive. Then, when a student forgets his or her music, its right there on the iPad. With the cellular data working on my iPad I was always able to call up these files when necessary.
Additionally I was able to play recordings for my students via the iPad from my own music collection or YouTube. This also works well for play along backing tracks for jazz studies, or playing a drone for tuning.
Lastly, I used this device to record students performing, with their permission. Students could listen back and determine how they are playing a passage.
With the iPad I was able to eliminate bringing my hard copy schedule, notes on who had/hadn’t paid, solos, etudes, and monthly paperwork. Additionally my drive home was enhanced by using the Waze app for real time traffic info and better driving routes to avoid rush hour congestion. Now, all I need is my horn, iPad, and a pencil when teaching lessons.