Many professional musicians find teaching to be personally fulfilling and an important part of their annual income. Sharing your love of music with someone else is incredibly rewarding and a way of giving back for the great teachers who inspired us to follow our own path.
Teaching the content is easy, but I think many of us struggle with the business, marketing, and organizational aspects of being a self-employed private lesson teacher. That’s why I reached out to Andrea Miller, founder of MusicStudioStartup.com, for advice. I’ve learned from reading her posts and think many musicians would benefit from subscribing to her newsletter, whether you are starting a studio for the first time or have been teaching for decades. Here’s our conversation:
Finance For Musicians (FFM): I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts on starting and running a music studio. You’ve got a unique story, please tell us about your background as a musician, piano teacher, and in business. How did this all come together?
Andrea Miller (AM): My interest in entrepreneurship developed long before my interest in music! I was always starting businesses as a kid. I started piano lessons when I was seven and started teaching in high school. That’s also about the time I decided the first business I would start after college would be a music school.
I paid my way through a double-major in Entrepreneurship and Piano Performance by teaching and running a house-painting business. My senior year was an especially busy one. When I wasn’t practicing for my senior recital, I was wrestling with my music school business plan, trying to find a way to make it work without having to go into major debt.
There was always a tension in college between the music and business worlds. The two finally collided when I had to reschedule my senior recital at the last minute because I was invited to compete in a national business plan competition the same weekend.
I launched my music school a few months after graduation and hired my first teacher that same year. Soon we had over 100 students and five teachers in our thriving community. Four years into growing the music school, a move to the East Coast led me to pass the music school off to a new owner and revise my entrepreneurial path.
I opened a home studio in my new town and began consulting for startups and business owners in a variety of industries. In 2016, I decided to bring my entrepreneurial focus back to the music world full-time. Today, I coach ambitious music teachers who want to accomplish big things in their careers!
FFM: Musicians are certainly taught how to be great performers and teachers, but most schools aren’t preparing their students for the business side of music, such as having your own private studio. What do you find are the biggest initial challenges facing someone who wants to start a studio?
AM: Unfortunately, I think many fantastic teachers start off on an unsustainable path by under-pricing their services. They don’t have a clear picture of their long-term financial goals and responsibilities or are afraid to charge what they need to to make it work.
FFM: A lot of musicians resent the idea that we have to market and “sell” ourselves. As artists, it seems maybe a bit degrading, or at the very least, it’s uncomfortable. How can musicians open themselves up to think more like an entrepreneur and embrace marketing? For creative people, why does this seem so difficult?
AM: I encourage musicians to think about why they’re uncomfortable with marketing.
Afraid of coming across as “salesy?” Look for a promotional style that fits your personality. Timid about putting yourself out there? Make mini goals each week to practice and grow in this area. (It’s kind of like learning a new instrument!)
FFM: If someone is new to a town, what would you suggest for them to get established as quickly as possible? If you are trying to pay your bills, you can’t exactly wait three years to get your studio up and running.
AM: Set up a website and get involved in your neighborhood. Actively participate in community events and introduce yourself to the local play group organizers and school music teachers.
FFM: As teachers get more students, the administrative tasks outside of lesson time can become quite time consuming, with scheduling, billing, and communicating with parents. I know some teachers get really burned out on this part of being a self-employed teacher. Any suggestions for this, maybe tools or apps that help a teacher save time and be better organized?
AM: I love a good system! Use an automated system for billing so you never have to worry about not getting paid on time because you forgot to send the invoices.
Write canned email responses for new student inquiries so you can respond quickly and don’t waste time writing the same email over and over.
Establish routines for important tasks that you have to do manually (every Saturday morning I spend about 15 minutes processing receipts and doing my bookkeeping).
Schedule time to zoom out from the day-to-day tasks and establish long-term goals (Ex. If the admin side really isn’t your forte, what would it take to hire an assistant or outsource one particularly arduous task?).
FFM: You’ve got a lot of great resources on your website and you also coach people to start, grow, and better manage their studio. Tell me about what you do for your clients and who would benefit the most from your services. What sorts of concerns can you help teachers address and solve?
AM: We cover a lot of topics in coaching, but ultimately I help teachers build financially-viable studios faster. Most teachers don’t realize that running an unsustainable studio when they’re young can have huge long-term costs.
Right now, if a 25 year old teacher decides to max out his Roth IRA this year only, his $5,500 investment will be worth about $82,000 when he retires. If he waits until he’s 30, he loses five years of potential investing and his $5,500 investment is only worth about $59,000 when he retires. If he waits until 35 the value of that $5,500 investment drops to $42,000.
The ramifications of building a sustainable studio early on are huge!
FFM: There’s no substitute for getting an early start on saving, so thank you for pointing out how important that is! What qualities do you think are most important to be a successful lesson teacher?
AM: From a teaching perspective, you have to actually care about the students. If you don’t care about them, they won’t care about what you have to say.
From a business perspective, I think focus is one of the most important qualities. There will always be more things to do than you have time for and you have to be able to look past the distractions to work on the important things.
FFM: Suggested book or resource for studio teachers?
AM: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
FFM: I think most teachers have had teachers who inspired them. Would you like to give a shout out to any people who made a big impact on your life?
AM: I’ve had three teachers who each inspired me in different ways. My first teacher taught me how to motivate and inspire students. My second teacher taught me how to foster a love of music in my students. My third teacher taught me how to coach students to reach a higher level of musical mastery. I’m thankful for all of their influences!
FFM: Thanks for your insights! Where can readers connect with you?