How to Set Up & Grow Your Music-Teaching Business

If you’re reading this article I assume you are currently a music teacher—or would like to be. And if you want to become a music teacher, we’ll assume that you can already play.  However, if you’re still practicing to get to that point, then hopefully this article will be all the incentive you need to reach your goals!  Assuming that you can already play rather proficiently in most of the popular styles, the real question is how do you translate your skill into an income?  This article shows you how.

Taking Steps to Become a Full-Time Music Teacher

If you’re lucky enough to be able to do this full-time—because you’ve already established a regular roster of students, or have some money saved up—working as a full-time music teacher can be a great gig.  However, if you can’t do this full-time, you might want to consider switching jobs, if feasible.

Before I was teaching full-time I worked at my local music store.  The store was a great place to meet new students and get my name “out there.”

I strongly suggest that once you have some money saved up—make the switch to teaching full-time, even if your schedule isn’t completely filled yet.  When you do this, you’ll be at a considerable advantage: you can accommodate potential students on any day of the week.  For example, I work Monday thru Saturday, 10AM to 9PM, so I can fit in even the most demanding student.

Along those lines, I’ve found Microsoft Outlook to be great for scheduling.  I even use the iCloud Calendar inside of Outlook because it syncs via Bluetooth with my iPhone.  For invoicing, I use Excel spreadsheets.

The Problem with Teaching at Students’ Homes

When I first began teaching full-time, I made one mistake that most teachers make: I agreed to teach students at their homes.  While it was convenient for them, I didn’t realize that I was shooting myself in the foot.

In the end, I was spending hours stuck in traffic, way too much money on gas—and ultimately, stressing myself out—because I wasn’t maximizing my time.  Once I made the decision to only teach in my own home studio, however, I never looked back!

I strongly encourage you to teach from your own home—even if that means less work at first.  If you can take bookings back-to-back in your home office you can make more money—and use your downtime to promote your business, too.

Looking back, it’s unbelievable how much time I wasted teaching at my students’ homes!  I’d spend about 10 minutes finding a wall plug, getting situated in a chair, tuning up, perhaps taking a few moments for a bathroom break. After that, the student would often make an impromptu request to be taught a new song—if I didn’t know the tune I’d spend another 5-10 minutes learning it on the fly.  Before I looked up, half the lesson would be over!  Meanwhile, I was being graded by how much they could learn in that hour.  It didn’t take me long to realize: I give much better lessons at my place—where all these hassles are under control!

Get Your Gear in Order

Now is a good time to get your home office rockin’.  When I started years ago, I made the mistake of not having all the right gear—and ended up wasting time, money and energy.

To start, you’ll need a computer with high-speed internet access to download, stream and play audio files.  Also, you’ll need a professional-quality computer sound system (I use the Bose Companion 5).

Additionally, you’ll need to have some additional instrument-specific equipment.  For guitarists, for example, it’s important to have a good teaching amplifier: I like Peavey’s Vypyr 15-watt model amp because it doesn’t disturb my neighbors too much, yet the sound is still top-notch.  Tuners and any other pedals are great; they make the entire experience more professional and accommodating for students.

A great website for buying top-flight gear is www.guitarcenter.com.  They sell quality equipment, ship anywhere and are really affordable.

Get Your Studio in Order

Nothing screams out amateur-hour more than having a messy, unorganized place of business.  People judge you for how you keep your place, and this impacts your business.  Don’t make this mistake.

Always make sure your home office is always clean and orderly.  Additionally, it always helps to protect yourself—particularly if you are a guy teaching women and / or children.  If students are coming to your place alone, it is absolutely essential to set-up a video camera and record all lessons on a DVR.  (In most states, it is legal to record only visual—but not audio records—without the other party’s consent).

I installed a 24-hr camera recording in my teaching office and a monitor that reminds students that they are always on camera: they are constantly reminded to be on their best behavior.  If there is ever an accusation of inappropriate behavior, it’s comforting to know that you have a true version of events recorded and saved on the DVR.

Money & Payments

When I first started, I was really flexible with payment terms—trying to be a nice guy, and make it easier for my students.  Big mistake.

Before all else: make sure that your lessons are paid in advance.  Today I ask students to buy prepaid packages of 5, 10 or 20 lessons.  I also use a staggered pricing system that gives a greater discount for larger packages. Before each last ‘paid’ lesson, I email my student and remind them to bring a renewal check to their next lesson.

Also, always enact a cancelation policy.  Sad to say, but some people will try to see what they can get away with—particularly when they sense that you need their business.  They might cancel at the last moment, and then beg & plead not to be charged for it: never mind that you kept their lesson time and turned down other bookings.  While it’s not always fun to be the ‘tough guy,’ stick to your policy. Personally-speaking, I have a strict 48-hour cancelation policy.  If a student cancels within 48 hours they will be charged for the full lesson price.

Be sure to type and print out your policy for all students to see.  I have my new sign-ups sign the agreement and initial my 48-hr cancelation policy.  I retain the signed copy for my records, hand them a hard copy, and even email them a version. Remember, the more professional you are, the better you will be treated by your students.

Always do your best to book your lessons back-to-back.  It’s good business for your students to see you teaching other students.  Doing so helps enforce the idea that they are not the only student you have—and will do much to improve their attitude.  If your student senses that you are an extremely-popular, heavily-booked teacher, they will be more respectful of you and your time—and more diligent in keeping up with their payments!  If they don’t have that respect for you, your bottom line will suffer.

I can’t repeat it enough: Excel is a great program for invoicing & billing.  I can get specific breakdowns on different billing plans, attendance (if they were a no-show and got charged for it, etc.) and more. It’s not something that I liked doing initially—but now that I’ve gotten serious about my billing & invoicing, I actually make more money, and enjoy teaching even more!

Promote Your Business

For many music teachers, this is the difficult part…for years, I was a great teacher—with lots of students, but was having problems growing my business.  That’s when I realized that teaching music lessons is a two-part process: you have to work as a teacher AND on growing your business.

With that in mind, start getting proactive about growing your business.  Print business cards, flyers and posters.  Book a photo-shoot for yourself.  Create a website.  Film a few YouTube videos of your playing.  When a new student is inquiring about your lessons (and comparing you to other teachers), you want to put your best foot forward.  Make the decision easier for them by showing them how much you have it together.

Also, always think one step ahead: type up directions to your home, and put them in document form, which you can easily attach to an email.  Also, the YouTube videos you’ve made that showcase your talents can easily be included in an email—and will hopefully seal the deal (!)  Include a picture of yourself or a link to your website, blog, or social media site (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)  The more information you can give potential students, the better the results.

Leverage Free Online Resources to Promote Yourself

When I was first starting out, I was a little intimated by the web.  I had no idea how to start a blog, or upload videos.  But trust me, these things are easy to do—and if you’re not doing them, you’re losing money!  Google, YouTube, and WordPress are three great places to start.

At Google, create a business address and immediately get some friends to review your lessons.  This helps tremendously, and costs nothing.  Get at least one new review per month, so your page is always current.

Start a blog at WordPress and update it regularly.  It’s a great way to stay in touch with potential students, grow your business and present yourself as expert.

Check out YouTube and create a video of yourself—and then upload it.  Embed some YouTube videos of your playing, and upload new YouTube videos regularly.  Check out other teachers: figure out what makes a good video, and do the same.

Creating regular videos makes you a better teacher—doing so forces you to make your ideas more understandable and teachable.  Also, your teaching improves when you have a repertoire of preplanned lessons / videos for a range of students: if you’re having an uninspired teaching-day you can switch on ‘autopilot’ and rely on video (use the lesson verbatim, and email the student a copy, too).  Videos inspire students, and that’s good for business:  when they improve faster because of the video, they’ll stick with you longer, and refer friends.

Always use a good camera: I use a Logitech 9000 in HD, and it is relatively cheap.  This little bit of investment goes a long way.

Get Offline & Get Outdoors!

The powers of the internet may make some teachers focus on online marketing.  It also helps to shut off your computer and get out in the real world to promote yourself!

Network at your local music store: sit down, try out a few instruments, and let everyone that works there hear how good you are. Always be polite and professional to everyone so that your reputation remains stellar.  Don’t be shy: set up a commission system with sales associates, rewarding them each time they refer you a new student.

As a side note, I give almost 100% of the money from my first lesson with a new student to the salesman who referred me (a lot more than most teachers give).  It pays to be generous.  In fact, most teachers have NO reward system for referrals—and they suffer for it (!)

What’s Next: Making the Move

If you’re like me and you love playing & teaching music, you’ve probably already asked yourself: why not get paid to do it all day?  With some dedication—and by using this article as a guide—there’s no reason why you, too, can’t become a full-time professional music teacher.

Remember, there’ll always be people out there who want to learn how to play—so there’ll always be a need for talented teachers—just like you.

7 Easy Steps to Teaching Music Lessons Online

When I was asked to write this article, it gave me the final impetus I needed to grow my teaching business.

In recent months, several of my students have moved interstate but wanted to learn music online.

I was hesitant because, as a singing and piano teacher, I wasn’t really sure how I was going to make this move, especially for singing, because it is so interactive and personal.

Now I’m ready to experiment and I thought it would be interesting to have some company.

So please join me as I detail the steps I have taken to set up my Skype teaching business and please feel free to benefit from my mistakes or copy the methods which worked!

Step 1

Set Up Your Teaching Business

If you haven’t already set up your teaching business please read this article as it goes into great detail and outlines what you need to have in place before you take the next step of launching yourself worldwide as an internet teacher.

I also recommend you have a substantial amount of one to one teaching practice before you commence Skype teaching, as you will need your experience to help cover the distance which may be caused by giving Skype lessons.

Step 2

Install Skype and Other Software Programmes You May Need

Installing Skype is a very easy thing to do.

Go to http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/get-skype/ and simply follow the instructions for download on your computer.

I have decided to make use of some other programmes to give value for money and help me self assess.

These are:

  • Ecamm recorder, available at http://www.ecamm.com.  This software isn’t expensive but it enables you to record both sides of the Skype conversation on video or just voice call.  You can edit the recording as well.

    My idea is to send a copy of the lesson to the student so they can review it if they want to.  Also, I thought it would be a good way for me to assess my own teaching.  But please make sure your student is aware that this process is in place and give them the option to refuse recording.

  • As I am teaching singing, I have to think about the delay live accompaniment may cause, so I am sending my students backing tracks they can sing to that are in their key as well. This means I need to have a recording facility, which can produce tracks that will convert into downloadable MP3 format as they will be sent to the student via email prior to the lesson.

    Your student needs to have the facility to open these files and play them back or record them onto disk as well.

Step 3

You will need to be able to receive payment for the lessons you give.

The simple way to do this is with Paypal.

On their website, they have some different options for merchant services.

I chose the easiest, quickest and least complicated one, which was to email requests for payment.

Students can pay by direct deposit or credit cards when using this service and I request that payment is made prior to the lesson.

If you decide you would like to advertise your services on other websites and blogs, you could think about setting up a Clickbank account at www.clickbank.com .

This is a affiliate programme market place which means that people will advertise and sell your product (your lessons) for a percentage of each sale.

Clickbank manages the funds for you, the affiliate marketers and your students.  It is a more complex way of doing things but something you may wish to consider.

Step 4

Set Up Your Teaching Studio

In just a few seconds of meeting people or walking into a room, we make value judgements, therefore, it is important that your studio looks professional and tidy (as well as yourself) when you are teaching.

You need to take into consideration the view that your student is getting, so make sure your camera is angled and adjusted to give the clearest picture for demonstration and also make sure you have good lighting in your studio.

I rearranged my studio to suit Skype teaching and it has actually turned out to be much better for all my teaching and learning needs now.

Here is a view, in case you are curious.

Lisa Brown's Online Teaching Studio

Step 5

Get Your Paper Work In Order

As mentioned in Greg Arney’s article on setting up your teaching business, you need to have decided on your Terms and Conditions of teaching.

However, you need to consider other situations when teaching online.

What will your policies be on:

  • Payment – How much?  When to receive payment?  Refunds?  How will students pay?
  • Cancellation – How much notice should you receive?  Will you reschedule lessons?
  • Technical interruptions –  What will you do if this happens during a lesson?
  • Equipment – What software and hardware should your students have in order to interact successfully in skype lessons?

I have composed a Terms and Conditions document, which is emailed to students prior to lessons and which they then type their name on and email back to me.  This acts as an acceptance of the terms and conditions stated, so both parties are clear on what to expect.

When payment is received, I am informed by Paypal and I then send students another email confirming receipt of funds as well as their lesson time and date.

It is highly important you make sure you are aware of time differences and take these into consideration when booking appointments.

Step 6

Teach Your Lesson

I have discovered that teaching online requires creative thinking and some different approaches to normal lesson delivery because of some restrictions caused by the technology.

    • Skype is unable to transfer simultaneous audio

      Surprisingly, there is little delay when communicating on Skype.  I thought this was a great thing because I could then accompany my student until I discovered …

      When there is audio coming from both parties, Skype is unable to transfer both signals clearly at the same time, which means each of you experience cutting out.   Such a shame!!!

      However, here are some suggestions for combating this problem:

      1. Email accompaniment tracks

        You will have to make sure your student then burns these tracks onto a CD and plays them from a source outside the computer.

        This is because the tracks tend to be too loud when they are coming from the computer onto Skype and you can’t hear your student clearly enough.

      2. Consider different teaching strategies

        There are many strategies you can employ in your teaching so you don’t have to use play-along or accompaniment.  You can focus more on technical aspects, mentoring and sound production and get students to demonstrate their work in home recordings or play-along in subsequent lessons, when they are playing with a backing track.

    • Introduction and check student set-up

I would suggest you set up a Skype meeting with your student before you teach your first lesson with them.  This will:

    1. Help your student feel more comfortable

      Many people are shy and especially first-time students.  Introducing yourself to them on Skype will help break the ice so that your first lesson will run more smoothly.

    2. Check the student’s set-up

      You will need to check that your student has set up Skype correctly and everything is in working order.

      You both need to direct each other so that the camera is positioned to get a clear picture on both sides, and also make sure the student has received any resources you want them to use.

      If you are using written resources, they too will have to be sent to the student as when you hold up writing to the camera, it has a mirror effect.  It’s hard enough to begin reading music, let alone backwards!

Step 7

Self Assessment

Self-assessment of your teaching practice through reflective work is necessary if you want to engage in a high quality standard of teaching.

Teaching on Skype will take some adjustment of the way you normally deliver your material.  Your first couple of lessons could be challenging but with some problem-solving you will be able to work it out.

You will also have to consider whether moving your business online is going to be worthwhile as there is a little more work and organisation involved.

However, I feel that once you have made a routine of preparing, emailing and having standard contracts and stationery set up, it could definitely be a worthwhile practice.

I am going to give it a go for a while with a few students.

And so, in conclusion:

The disadvantages of teaching online for you are:

  • You will have to organise and think about your teaching practice in a different way to cater to this format.
  • It may be a little more work and be a little uncomfortable to begin with.

The benefits of online teaching for you are:

  • You can become an international teacher and expand your student base.
  • You can teach at odd hours if you want to.
  • You can become a trail-blazer in a field which will, no doubt, become more popular in future!  And
  • If you are smart, discover a new niche market because…

Some of the benefits for students are:

  • They don’t need to leave the comfort of their own home or office!

This would be attractive to people who:

  • clock up a lot of time working and don’t have time for to go to a lesson,
  • people in isolated areas without access to music teachers,
  • people who find travel difficult or who have limited access to transport, and
  • carers or parents who can’t leave their premises for very long.

Some disadvantages of learning online are:

  • The student misses out on some of the personal energy created in a real-life meeting, however, as they get to know you, this shouldn’t be a problem.
  • They will have to be more active in helping their lesson to run smoothly, making sure their set-up is in place and they have all resources at hand but I also see this as an advantage as it helps the student learn to be independent and resourceful which are qualities needed to pursue music.

I hope you’ve found this helpful and I’d love to hear about any feedback you may have.  So, please leave a comment below and good luck!

How To Create An Effective Music Lesson Plan

An important part of teaching is creating a proper lesson plan for your students so that they can get the best out of each and every lesson they take with you. Of course, your lesson plan will be centered around each individual students needs and goals, so you should keep this in mind when you are putting together materials.

Below I will describe a basic lesson plan that you can follow when conducting your lessons. This caters more to the hour lesson format as opposed to half hour lessons. I always find half hour lessons tend to feel rushed and reserve shorter lessons for young children.

Basic One-Hour Lesson Plan

 

Chat/Hello5 Min.
Warm-Up5 Min.
Review10 Min.
New Material25 Min
Improvisation10 Min
Questions/Good-bye5 Min

 

Now these are just generic guidelines to stick by. Depending on how much a student practiced or how many questions they have, reviewing the prior weeks material could take longer. If the student has not learned any scales, or you are not working on improvisation skills, you can skip that part and have more time for new materials. This is a great guideline for most music lessons.

The First Lesson

The first lesson is the most important lesson of all. It sets the tone for future lessons and can make or break someone’s enthusiasm for learning. When it comes to a musical instrument, the goal is getting the student to play something they know as soon as possible.

For example, if you have an older adult coming in to learn to play guitar, teaching them Mary Had A Little Lamb might not be the best place to start. You could try teaching them the bassline to songs like Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust or to Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water. A teenage girl might be happier strumming along to the bass line to a Taylor Swift song.

Getting the student excited about playing guitar and making them feel confident in their ability to actually play the guitar makes all the difference. Remember, every student that comes through your door is going to think that they are the worst guitar player in the world. Create lessons plans that allows your students to feel like they are accomplishing something every week.

Keep In Mind Your Student’s Abilities

When planning your students lessons, make sure to take into account the student’s current abilities. Say for instance, you want to teach a student to play Wild Thing on the guitar, or sing Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll, or play Mozart on the piano. What skills does your student need to have in order to start and understand the new material. If they are missing any, you need to fill in the blanks before trying that piece.

Throwing material at a student that is way above their level will only discourage them. Some students like big challenges, but creating lots of small successes is the best approach to keeping your students interested in learning and excited about coming to lessons.

Do Not Overload Your Students

You do not have to have you student rocking out like Jimi Hendrix, composing like Bach, or singing like Janis Joplin after their first lesson. Take your time and never overload a student with too much new material. Some students are too bashful to say that what you are giving them is too much. One of the top reasons students quit lessons is because they feel overwhelmed by the material.

Remember, a lot of students have busy lifestyles and as much as we would like our students to practice every day, most may only get to practice 2 or 3 times a week. It is better to have your students focus on learning and mastering one or two different techniques than tackling 4 or 5 different songs or licks. This keeps your students focused on what they really need to learn and accomplish.

Give Students Goals

After each lesson, give your students goals to aim towards during the week as they are practicing. When students have something to aim for, they can focus better during their practice time. Just telling a student to practice a song or learn a chord or melody really is not enough.

For example, when I work with my guitar students, we will often work with a metronome to measure speed. Each week we will take a look at their speed. After going through the exercises, we then selected a fast speed to aim towards at ther following lesson.

Keep It Fun

You do not have to be a drill sargent. Keeping your lessons fun is an important part of being a teacher. Get to know your students and don’t be afraid to introduce appropriate humor. You may find that students like coming to lessons just to hang out with you.

What’s your make-up lesson policy and how strictly do you enforce it?

When I first started out as a musician I spent a few years teaching lessons. One of the most frustrating parts was establishing and enforcing a re-scheduling policy. It felt like scheduling the lessons sometimes took longer than actually teaching the lessons!

It was difficult to be tough with the parents because, first, tough isn’t really my nature – especially not back then – and, second, I wanted to keep my clients happy.

I ran across an article today from an economist discussing the economics of make-up lessons. It’s an article from several years back, but I thought it was interesting and I want to pass it on.

“Speaking now as an economist, I would claim that the reason is that items like clothing are “durable goods’ – meaning, they can be returned and then resold at the original price – whereas music lessons are non-durable goods – meaning, once my Monday slot at 3:30 is gone, my son’s teacher can’t turn around and sell it again. The only way she would be able to give him a lesson later in the week would be if she were to give up time that she had scheduled for her own private life; and that seems pretty unreasonable.”

Continue reading the article at Make-up Lessons From An Economist’s Point of View.

She makes good points, but there was discussion among my friends today about how practical her argument really is. Yes, her points are certainly fair and valid, but the reality is that music teachers need to be flexible if we want to keep our studios, right? How flexible?

What’s your make-up lesson policy and how strictly do you enforce it?

Start Your Teaching Business in 30 Days

Week One: Prepare

Day 01. Psychological hurdles. Are you comfortable calling yourself a teacher? If you don’t say, “I’m a private music instructor,” nobody will. Most of your students will have no experience with music. Would you enjoy helping them learn? Before proceeding, make the commitment to teach, and take pride in it.

Day 02. Clarify your goals. What can you teach? Who can you teach? How much do you want to earn? What percentage of your income should be from teaching? How much of your time will you commit to teaching? Sketch out some figures to get a sense of how these goals can be reached.

Day 03. Decide where you’ll teach. You can teach almost anywhere: community centers, local schools, colleges, or the student’s home. Perhaps there is a section of your own home that you could use. Make your teaching space as presentable as possible. Even a small section of an apartment with wall dividers can make a wonderful teaching environment.

Day 04. Decide on your initial rate. Call comparable teachers and ask for their rates. It is tempting to charge less than your competition to attract students. This is a bad idea. A low rate sends this signal: “I am an amateur. Because of my lack of qualification, I am charging less than a day laborer to teach music lessons.” Let others learn. Aim for median or higher. Be valuable.

Day 05. Write your lesson policy. What is your policy on cancelled lessons? How will students pay you–weekly or monthly? Will students pay in advance? Will you teach a first lesson free? How about a refund for unsatisfied students? If you’re skeptical, see below.

Day 06. Develop a “Unique Selling Proposition”. What is it that makes your teaching business special? Perhaps you will make recordings for students to take home. Maybe you will coach an ensemble and direct recitals for friends and family to attend. I offer a free initial lesson, and a satisfaction guarantee: if you’re not happy with your first month, I’ll refund the lesson fees. My colleagues think I’m insane. However, nobody’s ever asked me for a refund. This promise builds trust because it shows that I am willing to stand by my service. Remove the fear and doubt from the student’s mind and they will happily join.

Day 07. Determine your market. Do you live in a large city or small town? How many schools are in your area? How many music stores? How many potential students? Are your competitors doing a good job at advertising, or are they slacking?

Week 2: Get moving!

Day 08. Separate your teaching business. Your manager has Lady Gaga on the phone. She needs a player for her upcoming tour and wants to speak with you in person. Does “music teacher” create the best impression here? Probably not. Create a new entity for your teaching business. You might even consider creating a business name and keeping your own name more private.

Day 09. Create a logo. Go to eLance.com and sign up. The fee is $10USD. Post a project for a “Logo design for small business.” Soon, dozens of proposals will pour in, from $25-100. Look for a compromise between price and quality.

*Note: this section suggests you hire contactors on eLance for several jobs. You can “batch” these jobs into one posting to save money.

Day 10. Phone number and address. What contact info will you use? If you need privacy, get a PO Box and an 800 number. A PO Box can be written as a physical address. This will be handy later. An 800 number is extremely cheap, looks professional, and can be routed to any phone.

Day 11. Business card, flier and brochure. Remember when businesses advertised with brightly-dyed tree pulp? Nothing says “amateur” faster than a black-and-white advertisement with tearoff strips. You’re not an amateur; you’re a pro. Post another job on eLance for the design of a business card, flier and brochure. Make sure the files are delivered in a format you can make changes to, as future edits are inevitable.

Day 12. Website domain and hosting. You’re going to need a website; no getting around it. For convenience, I use GoDaddy, which sells domains and hosting. A domain for yourname.com will be around $10 per year, and $4 per month for hosting. Once you’ve registered, create a text file that says “Coming soon…” and save it as index.html. Use an FTP program to upload it to your server to make sure that everything is working.

Day 13. Create a website! Your first website should be simple. Create an email account through your host for name@yourwebsite.com. For design, you can use a graphical editor or free CSS templates. You can also have one built for you on eLance for around $150-300. For now, let’s get a template. Find one you like. Open it with a text editor and then with your browser. Put these two windows side by side and you can edit the code of the template, save, and then “reload” your browser to see the effect. Once you’ve set it up to look exactly the way you want it, save it, then “save as…” and create a new page. Make sure that the A HREF SRC=” tags in the template navigate to the file they’re supposed to be linked to. Be sure to create a few pages with relevant information, for instance the location of your studio, policies, resume and biography. Upload your website to the root directory of your server.

Day 14. Finish your website. Making a website is hard work! Be sure that all of the information you want is there, and that it looks good. Consider including a professional photo. It’s also a great idea to put your number and address in the footer of each page. Now that you’ve finished your site, you want it to be ranked highly on search engines. Make sure keywords such as your city, your instrument, and words like “lessons, teacher, instructor” are prominent in the page filenames, the TITLE tag, the H1, H2, H3 tags, and in the actual text of the page. If you live in a metropolitan area, be sure to use the name of your neighborhood or borough as an extra keyword; “Brooklyn Piano Lessons” is much easier to claim than “NYC Piano Lessons”.

Keep track of your ranking on Google and try to find out how to get higher on the search engines without cheating. A little Search Engine Optimization can have a huge impact for local businesses because the competition for keywords is often very limited. This keyword of mine leapfrogged 35 places in just one week because I worked hard to make a great website and get it listed.

Week 3: Promote!

During Week 3, you will actively promote your business. Instilled with confidence from your professional designs, you are ready to aggressively seek students.

Day 15. List yourself in every directory you can find. Search for directories and organizations that might give you a link. If anybody you know has a website or blog, ask for a link. There are many possible “paid” listings, but carefully weigh the benefits first. Dues-paying members of organizations like MTNA or MENC are eligible for being listed in members-only directories. Make sure to clearly insert your service and location, preferably in the title of your listing. Mine says, “Greg Arney, Guitar Teacher in Boston“.

Day 16. Write 3 Advertisements for posting to online classifieds. Write three persuasive advertisements for your business. Make each advertisement speak to a particular reader. If you write an ad for moms, 90% of readers will ignore it. If you write an ad for moms and teens, 100% of readers will ignore it. Try to make the advertisement useful and valuable, while clearly showing your intent to offer lessons. For instance, you could write about useful tips for getting your child to practice. You could write about some great ways to improve musicianship — or an article on how to pick out your first tenor saxophone. Upload your ads to Craigslist and Backpage, on a daily alternating schedule, every week. (3 times per week on Craigslist, 3 times per week on Backpage). Put live links to your website in the ads.

Day 17. Sign up for Google Local, Yahoo Local, Bing Local, Yelp, InsiderPages, MerchantCircle, YellowPages. These are local business listings. Use the same information in each listing. Bing will actually send you physical mail for proof of address, so don’t use a fake one. If you can think of ANYBODY you’ve given lessons to — even for just one day — ask if they can write a review for you on these pages. This gives you a small but worthwhile bump.

Day 18. Get indexed. Join Google Webmaster Central. Upload a sitemap, which you can make with this free sitemap generator and make sure to tell the 3 search engines to index your website. Search for “[Search Engine] AddURL”. Submit your website address to the “big 3″ (Google, Yahoo, Bing).

*A note about search engine listings: expect a lag of up to 2-3 months.

Day 19. Setup Pay-Per-Click ads. Set up PPC accounts on Google, Yahoo and Facebook. Start with a conservative ad budget and adjust until you are comfortable. PPC ads are worthwhile because you can display advertisements to local users visiting worldwide websites. One potential student of mine was looking for tabs of his favorite songs when he saw a PPC ad that said “Looking for guitar lessons in Boston?”

Day 20. Ask everybody you know for referrals. Think of yourself as a music teacher. Behave like a music teacher. There are probably at least a dozen possible students within one degree of separation from your immediate network. Don’t be shy. I teach lessons to a Professor from my college because I was willing to solicit students through my network.

Day 21. Print Boston Guitar Lessons Pick your materials, distribute them. Print your fliers, brochures and cards. Distribute and mail them everywhere you can think of. Put fliers up at colleges, schools, Laundromats and grocery stores. Mail brochures to “sister organizations” such as karate schools, yoga studios, dance clubs, community centers and sports clubs — anywhere you might find lots of parents or lots of children. Consider having customizable promotional swag made from your new logo. I ordered 1000 guitar picks from PickGuy. Leave your business card everywhere you go.

Week 4. Teach!

Day 22. Keep track of lessons. If you’re going to manage more than a few students, you need to learn to schedule. I use iCal. Lessons are color-coded black and designated by the student’s first name. If the lesson is “tentative”, I put a question mark after their name. I also keep a separate Google Calendar synced to iCal. This shows what hours I am available to teach. Students can visit the URL and see at a glance what times I have available.

Day 23. Track all income and expenses. Most students will have weekly lessons, so review your accounts every week. Note any payments you received and any lessons you taught. Make note of cancelations. Save all of your receipts and expenses so you can deduct them. When students have billing questions, it’s useful to be able to show them that you’re not doing it all in your head.

Day 24. Keep notes for each student. Jot down ideas during lessons. This habit helps avoid confusion, and makes it easier to create seamless lessons. Students should never be allowed to sense doubt or hesitation.

Day 25. What happens when they call? Be confident. Be a music teacher. Not only a music teacher, a great one. I bend my schedule as much as necessary to book the first appointment, because after they are sold they are more flexible. Scheduling is usually easier in person; getting the relationship started is the important part.

Day 26. First meetings. Be professional and prepared. Ask some questions to get to know the student. I have them fill out this form to let them know I am seriously interested in making sure that our lessons fit their goals. After a few minutes, start the lesson. It’s better to start with something too easy than something too hard. Get them learning and having fun. Be encouraging, but realistic.

Day 27. Build lasting relationships. If you promise a student some sort of resource, write it down and get it to them quickly. Don’t be afraid to send up a follow-up email after the first lesson–and keep in touch! Make it clear that you’re available if questions arise during the week. Support the student in whatever goals they have.

Day 28. Lesson materials. Create lesson materials. If you find yourself writing down the same information many times, make it into a handout. These can be from the web or your own. Eventually, you will discover your own teaching method, which your materials will support.

Day 29. Sharpen the saw. Your teaching business is booming now. You’re getting calls and emails from new students every week. You’re getting a return on your investment in branding materials. Keep at it. Never allow your skills or your senses to get dull. A student recently left the studio of a more established competitor and joined mine, saying the previous teacher seemed “unenthusiastic.” Apathy will cost you.

Day 30. What now? If you followed the steps in this tutorial, you probably already have a few students by now. If not, don’t worry: they’ll find you. Until then, what can you do to make your business more effective and get more clients? Who can you contact? What kind of promotions could you create? What kind of events could you co-sponsor? How can you create an irresistible incentive for people to provide you with referrals? There’s no end to what you can do if you apply creativity to your business. Spend time promoting, improving the visibility of your website, and advertising your service. Try new ideas. Take risks. Don’t rest until you’ve met your goals.

The Next Level – Getting Started As a Musician, Part 2

You’re out of the gate with your music career and now you are trying to get to “The Next Level”.  You’ve established yourself in one circle or another and you’ve come to realize that you deserve more money, recognition, and better gigs than you are getting now.

For starters, let’s refer back to my first article on “Getting Started”.  The first 3 issues need to be revisited: Honest Assessment, Gather Information, and Set Reasonable Goals.  Whether you are a part time musician looking to become a full time musician or you are a full time musician seeking to increase your gig schedule, we need to establish what constitutes “The Next Level” since it’s quite different for all of us.  Steps for getting to the next level are not a secret but they are uncomfortable and difficult to implement. There is no substitute for hard work and perseverance.  Very similar to getting started in the music business, there is also no single answer for getting to the next level.  Are you ready for “The Next Level?”  Assess your situation, gather some information, set a few goals and read on!

Practice More.  Is it time to update your playing?  Are you getting the same gigs with the same people because you are playing the same notes and licks over and over again?  Is it time to get back to some private study or find a new private teacher?  Try to cut down on the wasted time that occupies a larger than normal portion of your day and use it to get back into the practice room.  Talk to some accomplished professionals and ask what books or techniques they are working on at the moment.  Ask them what’s in their iPod and what they are listening to right now for motivation.

Increase your Versatility.  Are you playing the same job or same types of jobs because it’s all you can do?  Are you in fact limited to one style of music or one situation?  Maybe it’s time to explore some other possibilities. This is difficult because increasing your versatility may mean exploring some kinds of music or situations you are not familiar with and fall outside of your comfort zone.  For example, if you are world’s most undiscovered burning guitar player but you have one gig between now and Easter, what can you do?  How about get a lap steel or a pedal steel and learn a few country tunes?  How about making yourself available for solo acoustic gigs?  My point is that change is always fine, as long as it’s happening to someone else, right?  Time to look inward.

Learn to Read Music.  It’s 2008, it’s expected.  Formal training or no formal training, learn to read music.  It saves everyone time and money especially if you plan to do any studio work.  Reading music increases your value as a musician.  The more you read music the easier it becomes, don’t keep putting it off because it’s difficult at first.  Riding a bike was difficult and we all fell the first few times.  Get up, get back in the saddle, and figure it out.

Always be Prepared.  Are you ready for the “next level”? Whatever it may be? What happens if you get the call to audition for the gig of a lifetime?  Are you prepared?  I cannot stress the importance of doing your homework.  This can take on a bunch of different forms and it’s applicable to a lot of different situations, but it usually always comes down to learning the music.  Whether you are learning 3 or 4 tunes for an audition, or whether you just got a gig and you have to learn 3 decades worth of music, learn it.  Learn all of it, inside and out.  Don’t just be able to “get through it”, that’s not good enough.  Learn to “play it”.

Positive Attitude.  The music business is difficult, and it has politics like any other profession.  Sometimes the best players get the best gigs, sometimes they don’t.  An early mentor of mine always told me to worry about the gigs I did get and not to worry about the gigs I didn’t get.  The message is quite simple, but putting into play is a little more difficult.  Nobody wants to hire someone who is dark, miserable and has a poor attitude even if their playing is stellar.  Keeping a positive attitude and surrounding yourself with people who are successful, innovative and positive will increase your chances far beyond sitting in a coffee shop or bar complaining about the politics, unfairness and inequality in the music industry.

CD/DVD’s.  Do you have CD/DVD’s for sale?  Are you on anyone else’s CD/DVD’s?  Hopefully the answer is yes to both, if it’s not, get busy!  Are you promoting them or are they collecting dust in a closet somewhere?  Are you for sale on iTunes?  Nowadays there are many, many outlets for promoting music online.  Websites like CD Baby and Music Submit are filled with valuable information that is updated daily with information you need to get your product out there.

Increase your Exposure Online.  Sure we all have a website, a Myspace Page, a Facebook page, but is that enough?  What happens when you go to Google yourself in quotes?  If 1 or 2 websites come up, it’s not enough.  There are hundreds of websites, web rings, and link exchanges to join.  Increasing traffic to your website is only a start, especially if you have a CD to promote.  Reviews on other websites about you or your CD are also particularly helpful because they give you legitimacy.  Are you exposed in any other languages?  Do you have video’s on You Tube?  How is the quality?  What kind of comments are you getting?  I know I enjoy watching someone play in addition to listening to them play whenever possible.  Most of the time, video is a more accurate and complete representation of someone’s performance than audio by itself.

Increase your Exposure in Person.  How often are you actually out playing?  How often are you playing shows the public can come see?  How often do you go out to see others play?  Do you see what I’m getting at?

Web exposure is fine and extremely beneficial, but how often does someone get hired purely because of what’s on their website?  If you’re lucky, a website is where people go after they’ve seen you perform to find out more about you.  Make sure you are playing an ample amount of shows that showcase your playing in public.  Hang around afterwards instead of heading home.  On that same note, be sure to check out as much live music as possible.  You can greatly increase your chance of “being in the right place at the right time” if you increase the amount of places you visit.

Seek the advice of professionals.  Ask someone who is doing what you want to do how they got where they are!  It’s okay to pick someone’s brain a little, and even okay to steal and incorporate.  You can steal and incorporate a lot of things.  You can steal and incorporate music, marketing, and networking ideas in general.

Seek out Endorsements.  This is more difficult now than ever, but not impossible.  Endorsements in 2008 are more about marketability than playing.  It’s more about relationships with the companies and what you can do for them.  I have several friends that are not “big names” that do clinics for reputable companies.  They have good endorsements and their names get spread as a result.  They are all competent players and have excellent business skills.  Talk to reps at the NAMM show or visit some of your favorite companies online and try to gather some of the endorsement application requirements.  Don’t ever be afraid to approach a company’s artist relations representative to talk about your situation and your interests in promoting their product.

My last suggestion is a bonus suggestion and needs to be prefaced by a story because it comes from personal experience.  I was 22 or 23 years old and wrapping up my last year at the University of North Texas when I got wind that my absolute favorite local band was auditioning drummers.  I had been listening to this band for a year before I got to North Texas and all 5 years I was there.  I was very familiar with every single one of their tunes and I was ripe for the gig.  I practiced their music for the audition, but the truth is I knew most of it already since I had been listening and playing along to it in addition to attending their concerts for nearly 6 years.

I did more than the necessary homework because I had recently run into a string of bad auditions.  I had been denied a few gigs prior to this audition because I was young, ambitious, I hit hard, I overplayed, and I generally played too loud.  These are all very normal things for a young drummer mind you, but I was very conscious that this was obviously not working and not what people were looking for.  I went in to this audition very conscious of what was not working and decided to go ahead and use plastics instead of full on drumsticks for fear of being too loud.  During the first song, I really held back on the fills because I was very conscious not to overplay.  During the next 2 songs I was very cautious not to hit too hard because I was told many times prior that I was quite heavy handed.  After the final song I was careful not to let on how ambitious I was and how badly I wanted the gig.

At the end of the audition the band told me that they really liked my playing but they were looking for someone who was a little more ambitious, hit harder, played more fills, and generally played a little louder.

Be Yourself.  There is no sense portraying a false image, ever.