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.