Guest Author

Guest Author

Hello, friends! As a teacher of over 10 years and a musician for 20 years, I feel like I’ve seen nearly all aspects of the business. Teaching, performing, record sales, composing, recording, music videos, YouTube blogs, you name it. As musicians, we can have many different goals for the present and the future. Some of us just want to strum a guitar on the front porch, some of us want to do this for a living and have it be financially successful. It’s the latter group that I want to address. To those of you that have the dedication, patience, talent, and drive to look at music as a possible career and not just a hobby or pastime.

Over the years I’ve discovered a very disturbing truth about being a musician, and it’s something that each of us must face and know how to deal with to be successful. That truth is that musicians are one of the most poorly treated occupations in the country. Don’t believe me? Let me ask you this:

As a musician, be it a teacher or performer, how many times have you been asked to play a show “for exposure” (a.k.a. for nothing)?

How many times have you been asked to play a show for a bar tab or a payment so small it barely covers the cost of gas to the venue?

How many times have you been in a “pay to play” situation, the worst of all? As a teacher how many times have you been asked for a free “trial lesson”?

My guess is you can answer yes to at least one of these questions and much more just like it, and it may have happened to you many times. I know I can answer yes to all the above. Now let me ask you this: Have you ever asked a plumber if they will fix your clogged sink for free and then if they do a good job you’ll pay them next time? Have you ever walked into a restaurant and asked for a free meal and then said if it’s good you’ll tell your friends and help them get exposure? Have you ever gone into a business that was struggling and offered to pay half price since you know they are desperate?

I feel confident you have never done any of these things, as a matter of fact, if you did the response would be anywhere from a smack in the face to a visit from the police! So why is it that musicians get this honor? Why are musicians looked down on in such low regard that the above treatment is common practice where the same treatment to any other profession would be considered incredibly rude? Well, I have a theory…

The stereotypical musician to a lot of people out there is someone barely getting by, desperate for work, etc. Or sometimes people view musicians as hobbyists only that want to have fun and have no real aspirations. These views are so common that I think people who are otherwise very friendly and caring will do business with musicians in a very denigrating way, and they may not even realize they are doing it! The other reason this happens is that musicians themselves can also fall into this mode of thinking and convince themselves that they aren’t worth very much, or that they should play free shows or charge next to nothing for lessons. It’s a vicious cycle that we need to break!

Allow me to share with you a couple short stories that illustrate both points (these are true stories):

A band is contacted to play a fund-raising show/charity auction for a few hundred people at a nice hotel ballroom. After a discussion about the show and the expectations the band gives a quote to the organizer at a discounted rate since it is a charity show. After a pause of silence, the organizer says that they were hoping the band would volunteer their time. The band’s representative then asked:

Are you paying for use of the ballroom? The answer: “yes”

Are you paying the wait staff that are serving the food? “yes”

Are you paying for the food and the cooks to prepare it? “yes”

Are you paying the auctioneer to run the auction? “yes”

The band then responded: “Ok now that we have established that you are paying for literally everyone and everything involved with this show, now let’s talk about what you are paying the band”.

The organizer was shocked, not because of the attitude of the band, but because they clearly hadn’t thought of it this way, they agreed to pay the band their original quote by the end of the call.

Another story about how this mentality can affect musicians as well:

A good friend of mine teaches piano, she is talented and a good teacher, and has played piano since she was a child. She told me one time that she was having a lot of trouble getting people to pay on time, people doing “no call no shows”, not taking their lessons seriously, showing up late or at the wrong time entirely, etc. I was very confused because I rarely run into these problems, and we live within a few miles of each other so I knew it wasn’t because of location. I thought: could it be that guitar students take things more seriously than piano students? That doesn’t make any sense, what could be the difference? Well, I figured it out: She was charging almost nothing for her lessons, about 1/3rd of what I charge. She was doing this because she felt like she couldn’t charge more, that somehow she isn’t worth it. She fell into this thinking that musicians are somehow not worth as much as other professions. By charging so little she attracted people that weren’t serious about their lessons, the casual students that are looking for a deal, not a great teacher. Since I charge what I know I’m worth, I get serious students that treat me with respect and I do the same in return. I love my students! They are my friends and customers, and I do everything I can to make them happy and satisfied with their lessons. However, I also know what my time is worth after 20 years of experience and education, and I feel it’s very important for a variety of reasons to charge that amount.

So what should you do? What is it that I’m suggesting? I’m suggesting that you, as a professional musician, start demanding what you are worth and stand by that decision. Now you may be thinking: if I charge a reasonable rate for teaching I’ll never get students because there are so many teachers out there charging so much less. Or you may be thinking: If my band starts asking to be paid for shows or a higher rate we’ll lose shows to other bands that are willing to play for free!

Sure, those things are possible, but let me ask you this: Do you think the people at Apple are afraid of losing business because they charge more for phones than other companies? Believe me, they aren’t afraid of that at all. They know they have a good product on their hands and they charge what they believe it’s worth, and they can barely keep their phones in stock. Millions of us are willing to pay more for it when we could have gotten a cheaper phone instead. The same goes for teachers, bands, and everyone else! So maybe you will lose a few students with increased prices, odds are high that you will be replacing them with students that are much more serious and dedicated. So maybe your band won’t be able to play the local dive bar anymore because they won’t pay your rate? The nicer resorts, restaurants, private parties, etc. will! So I say demand what you are worth and stop getting taken advantage of!

Now this doesn’t mean you just raise your rates and sit back and expect huge success! Make yourself the best! I don’t mean the most talented musician in town because honestly, that isn’t really necessary. What is necessary however is being the most professional! Have a nice, quiet, spacious, clean, welcoming lesson room. Offer your students an in-depth learning experience that they can’t get anywhere else. Be knowledgeable and able to answer any question, know your stuff! Be that band that is always on time, always dependable, always practiced up, and always a great show. Make yourself different than everyone else, go above and beyond and offer things that other bands or teachers don’t offer. Treat your customers with the utmost respect, treat them like family. Make your band or your business the best it can possibly be and people will come!

This also doesn’t mean you should NEVER take on a free show or a student at a discounted rate. I’ll play a free performance for a cause I truly believe in, but it would be of my own choosing not because I was made to feel like I must. I would be happy to give a discounted lesson rate to a young student without much money if I felt like they had a real passion for music, but again, this is my own choosing, not pressure from someone that doesn’t think I’m worth what I charge. Being a musician is an incredible gift that very few people have. If you are a good teacher on top of that, or a hard-working reliable band, then you are even rarer and valuable.

I hope this inspires you to rethink the structure of your business, band, teaching studio, etc. I can’t guarantee success of course, but it’s hard to imagine a negative outcome from all of us as musicians believing in ourselves and knowing that our profession deserves just as much respect as any other!

 

Marc Miller is the owner of Sound Theory Studio in Tucson, AZ with 20 years of experience composing and performing, and over 10 years experience teaching guitar. Educated at Berklee College of Music (Master Guitar Certification) with have several albums to his credit in many different genres.

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This past month I gave a piano masterclass in Jakarta, Indonesia. How? Read below – this post will hopefully inspire you with ideas to help your students (and bring more students to you).

Back in May, I had a dilemma that many teachers face: our piano students leave town for the summer. I could teach my remaining students until the fall rolled around, but what if I mixed in a little adventure?

I brushed with the travel bug last year, but I had never been to Asia. I started thinking, how cool would it be to visit and teach music somewhere out there?

It never hurts to check. I was enticed by Bali, so I chose to look into the city of Jakarta, a short plane ride away.

Steps to Teach Music Overseas

  1. Created a spreadsheet and Googled Indonesian music schools.
  2. Made a list of ~20, with links and contact info.
  3. Crafted a short email, stating that I wanted to teach a masterclass and/or teach lessons while I was visiting.
  4. Cut down my already short email by half, to be clearer and to-the-point.
  5. Sent this to each school.

Within the week, two had enthusiastically responded. I chose to work with Rosa Mistyca, the super sharp and talented owner of Ensiklomusika, based in Jakarta. We Skyped once to confirm that, yes, we’re both real people. Rosa agreed to promote my visit to Jakarta residents (a ton of work on her part). The deal was – I’d give one presentation for teachers looking for tips on teaching, and one masterclass where I teach individual students for ~25 minutes each, with their families and other students in the audience. Over the next month, we coordinated dates and suddenly I realized: Oh this is really happening. Can’t back out now.

No Longer Just a Fantasy: I’m Really Going to Asia

I booked my ticket, got my shots, and started to prepare. I had never done any of this before. But after a decade of teaching and making music in NYC, I felt ready to share what I’ve learned, to challenge myself, and to embrace a little chaos and uncertainty.

I sat down, nervously started to write…and realized I knew a lot more than I thought.

Until you write down or present what you know in a codified way, it’s tough to know how much you truly know. This is why blogging and writing lesson notes to families are so crucial (Music Teacher’ s Helper lets you do this easily, by the way). It doesn’t just help them but gives your teaching clarity. Weak habits get broken. You start to see how to approach the problems students face but also why, at a deeper level, an approach is good or needs to change. Very powerful.

Still, I was intimidated. Ensiklomusika was counting on me, paying me, to prepare something clear and useful, in an unfamiliar context, in a foreign country. It would be nice if they all loved it, and loved me, but maybe they’ll think I’m a fraud. Then what?

A wise man once wrote: “the future is indeed terrifyingly unknowable when you can’t even focus on the present.”

So I focused on what I could control: my own effort, in that moment.

Weeks later, I arrived in Jakarta and spent some time wandering around the city.

After a few stimulating days dodging Southeast Asia traffic, I hunkered down in my hotel to work on my presentation.

The Presentation

I arrived, sat down at the piano, and relaxed for a few minutes. Oh wait, I know how to do this.

Soon, a dozen teachers from Jakarta filed in, with pens and paper, and sat down, waiting for me to begin.

So I took a deep breath, and began. I talked about rhythmic approaches, how to sight-read, and common problems students have. I shared stories about my students to show why rapport matters so much – students often stay or leave because of this alone.

Finally, I brought in a unique approach to helping kids, as young as four, read and play music from their first lesson. I’ve used Andrew Ingkavet’s Musicolor Method for close to a year and watched as referrals flew in, my roster almost double, and my confidence as a teacher grow like crazy. Andrew’s approach not only works, but kids (and even one of my adult students!) really love it. What an opportunity to show a room full of Jakarta residents something new, from the other side of the world!

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After two hours, the conference ended. The masterclass began soon after.

Again, this was new for me. I was to give each of seven students a private lesson…with their families, friends, and students watching. To take the searing spotlight off the student, I planned to address the audience at times, to include them in the learning process.

This means I had to:

  • immediately identify the problems that particular student (a student I had just met!) was facing
  • help her feel comfortable enough to listen to me and try my suggestions (with a watching audience)
  • throughout each lesson, I had to observe, frame, and simplify those problems to the audience in a way that 1) didn’t alienate the student herself, and 2) helped the audience understand some technicals without alienating them

masterclass-student-6-CROP-high-res

By the end, I was totally wiped out.

And who headlines the entire masterclass? A wildly talented student, Elnino, six years old, sits down and crushes a tricky Sonatina. This boy used every part of his body gracefully and played it passionately. Not like a robot at all. It was easy for him.

Elnino’s physical instincts were top-notch. I nudged the audience to observe what he does so effortlessly with his arms and body overall, to open their minds to how he’s intuitively solved his own physical problems, the same problems that plague other students.

What a reward, to present material that I love to new faces, and they were thrilled!

We finished, grabbed a beer, and Rosa forced me to eat a durian (a fruit that smells so bad it offends cockroaches). Then I hopped on a plane to Bali the next morning. What a trip.

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Takeaways: What I Learned by Teaching Teachers and Giving a Piano Masterclass

It challenged me to condense all my knowledge in a simple, actionable way, and to do this publicly, on the spot.

I learned to repeat myself, helpfully. For instance, unclear rhythms cause most problems for students. During the masterclass, I saw five students struggle with this. So I approached them with a similar solution, five times, and noted the common thread to the student and the audience. Everyone wins.

The experience gave me more confidence as a teacher. It gave my work visibility, legitimacy, and a bridge to a whole new set of relationships on a different continent. As a busy teacher in NYC, I know that relationships, and ultimately businesses, are built and sustained on trust. I managed to create a pocket of that within an entirely new part of the world.

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Want to try something like this? You never know, all it takes is a quick email. Plan ahead now before next summer comes – Ensiklomusika continuously accepts foreign teachers during their visits.

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Brett Crudgington runs a private piano studio in Brooklyn, NY for over 20 students. He studied jazz as a teenager and spent formative years in college working with John Kamitsuka on classical music. It was here that he learned Abby Whiteside’s physical approach to the piano, how to make music that emanates from the core rather than the fingers. He actively brings a wide range of pedagogical tools to his lessons, including Andrew Ingkavet’s Musicolor Method.

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music teacher technology

Written by Nick Cesare

What do you do when you’re looking for a service of some kind? I know that I almost always do one thing: Google it. I was looking for a Greek restaurant in my area last week and the first thing that I did was go to Google and type in “Greek food near me.” The second thing I did was check out what people were saying about the options on social media. Finally, I chose the place that was the best mix of local and highly rated and went there for lunch.

We do it so readily for food (and pretty much anything else), so it makes sense that when parents or adult students are looking for a music teacher in their area the first place they go to is the internet. Putting up flyers isn’t good enough to attract students anymore. The music teacher of the 21st century needs to have a strong online presence. Whether you’ve been teaching for 30 years or you’re on your way to becoming a music teacher, here’s how you need to be getting online.

Get on Social Media

There’s a lot of social media out there and it’s tough to know what’s important to have and what’s just fluff. In my opinion you’ve definitely got to have these things.

  • Facebook. Create a page for your studio, not necessarily for yourself. Here’s where you can keep students updated on musical happenings in your area and post about your own upcoming performances.
  • Next you’ll need a Twitter page. Follow and tweet at other music organizations in your area. This will help you gain visibility and followers. Whenever you tweet anything make sure that you append the now famous # to it. For example, #viola will get my tweets to show up whenever somebody searches for it. Great hashtags are relevant and roll off the tongue easily, like #MusicalMonday.
  • Another great tip is to retweet tweets that you like from bigger organizations (e.g. the NY Philharmonic) with lots of followers. People who read their page will be able to see that you’ve retweeted the content and that will lead them to you.
  • Finally, you’ll absolutely want to get yourself on Linkedin. It’s the goto resource for professionals these days and helps you to come off as a skilled musician.

This may all seem daunting, but it’s not as bad as it seems. If, like me, you’re not a natural social media butterfly, brush up on these social media tips and make sure that you link all of your social media accounts together, so that people who visit your Twitter are led to your Linkedin and Facebook pages and vice versa. This will give potential students and their parents an impression of you as an active professional who they feel familiar with.

Get Your Own Website

Thankfully the days when the web was dominated by opaque acronyms like HTML, CSS, and XML are long gone. It is definitely both possible and affordable to create your own website with either free or, at worst, inexpensive tools. Here’s a great guide to creating your own website to get you started.

Some awesome things that you can do with a website:

  • Make a newsletter to keep parents updated on student progress, recitals, and happenings in the world of your instrument. This helps parents feel engaged with their child’s progress, making them more likely to stick around. This is a great time to get your studio recital trailer out there.
  • Blog about music and your instrument. To current and prospective students alike this paints you as a well-rounded professional who knows their stuff. If you write good original content make sure that you share it on your social media accounts and encourage readers to do the same. With a little luck you can become internet famous, which is huge for getting your name out there.
  • Talk about students – anonymously. This is definitely not the place to vent about how Timmy forgot his music again or how Sally didn’t practice. Stay positive and anonymous with things like “everybody played great at the solo competition this weekend!” Or “it was great to see everyone at the Symphony concert tonight!”

Final Thoughts

One thing that I haven’t covered is online teaching. This is really a beast of its own that deserves more attention than I can give it here. I will say this, however: the tips that I’ve given are equally important in building both a local and digital community around your studio. The only difference might be in what/who you tweet about; whether you tweet about local or national music organizations and events.

Go ahead and make this article your first tweet! And good luck out there! Tweet at me with any questions or comments @cesare_nick.

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