Teaching music is a necessary part of almost every working musician's income these days. If you have a good mind for business (which you probably do if you already make your living via music), there are many benefits to starting your own teaching studio rather than joining up with another business. However, getting started can be tough work.
If you're up for the challenge, then you're in for a bit of work. It'll all pay off in the end, though! Here are my tips for how to go about starting your own teaching studio.
1. Figure out your teaching identity
First things first: your new teaching studio is a business, and you have to give that business some sort of identity. Many private instructors simply go by their own name, which is the simplest option. However, you may also choose to create a name for your new teaching studio specifically.
If teaching is your thing and what you really want to do, then this would probably be a good idea. It can really help with branding and gives your business a certain sort of legitimacy. For many freelance musicians, however, teaching is just one of the many musical services they offer. If you fall into this category, creating a new name and web presence for your studio can really increase your workload (basically like running two small businesses as opposed to one), so often, the best option is to just stick to your own name. If you are able to attain recognition as a player, your own name can actually be a good selling point when trying to attract potential students.
2. Decide on a location
Where are you going to teach? If your home space is clean, comfortable, and well enough equipped, operating your teaching studio from home is a great option. However, this is difficult if you live with roommates or in a quiet apartment with irritable neighbors. If this is the case for you, then the other option is to rent a space. Many music stores will rent rooms to private instructors to use for lessons. Though this is an extra expense, teaching from a location outside of your home can add a little more legitimacy to your business, and thus allow you to charge a higher rate to compensate for the extra rent.
Don't forget technology! Many teachers are finding students from all over the world through the use of video chat services. If you have the gear for it, this is a great way to bring yourself additional students.
3. Set your rates
Deciding what to charge can be tough. Though it's really up to each individual teacher, you can take examples from other instructors in your area to give you a basic idea of what music lessons typically cost, and go from there.
When deciding on your rate, there are a number of things to factor in. Your years of playing experience, years of private teaching experience, amount of music education, and demand all play a part. Don't be afraid to adjust your rates once you start getting a better idea of what your time is worth, and as you gain more experience.
4. Create your policies
Lay your lesson policies out clearly in writing so that you have clear agreements with your students from the very first lesson. What's your policy on lesson cancellations and makeup lessons? What forms of payment do you accept, and when does the student need to pay? Are there specific dates where you don't teach (such as the weeks surrounding Christmas and Thanksgiving)? If your rates change, are current students affected, or only new ones? These are things to decide upon and lay out clearly in order to protect both yourself and your student. The more you teach, the more things you'll find to add into your policies, so be sure to update them regularly!
5. Gather resources/materials
Nothing says "pro" like preparedness. Are you using any method books with your students? If so, have a copy of each at your studio so you can refer to it and as a precaution should your students forget theirs. Are there certain exercises or songs that you find yourself (or predict yourself) giving to almost every student? Rather than scribbling it out at the end of every lesson, digitize a clean copy and turn it into a handout that you can have readily available. Make sure your studio is also equipped with tuners, amplification (if necessary), a metronome, and plenty of paper and writing utensils. You can never be too prepared!
6. Make your studio unique
Now it's time to really get rolling. With the enormous number of music teachers trying to work these days, plus the plethora of online materials that are readily available for self-taught players, you need to figure out a way to separate yourself from the crowd if you plan on running your own teaching studio. Why should somebody take lessons from you rather than the guy down the street?
Of course, all of the factors that I mentioned above that you used to determine your rate can be cited. What else can you offer students? If you have recording equipment readily available at home, why don't you offer recordings of each lesson so that the students can refer back at their leisure? Do you have any specialized skills or styles on your instrument that you can teach? Do you teach multiple instruments? Are there other musical topics that you can teach (theory, composition, songwriting, etc.)? Can you offer any hospitality services (free coffee/tea/snacks)? Anything that you can use to separate yourself from the crowd will work to your advantage.
7. Establish a web presence
Now that you've got a solid identity, you can start setting up a web presence. If you're a freelance musician, this may be as little as an extra page on your website mentioning your teaching services and what you can offer. If you're starting a new business identity with its own name, you might want to consider making social media pages and a website specifically for your teaching studio. The easier your are to find, the more students you will attract!
It's time to start reeling in the clients. Once you have a good number of students, it becomes much easier to attract new ones through word of mouth. However, when you first get started, you'll have to work to get your first leads. Ads on Craigslist and other classified services are generally free, and make for a good starting place. You may also have some luck using Facebook or Google ads. Give it a shot, and if you find it helping, then it's money well spent.
Don't neglect the power of physical advertising. Printing out a little flyer and posting it up in music stores, coffee shops, venues, and schools can help your visibility in the community. Don't be afraid to reach out to your friends and family to see if they have any leads, either!
Once you'e all set up and have started with your first few students, your top priority is to teach great lessons. You've pitched your service with some success at this point – now it's time to deliver the goods. If you've got a knack for teaching, your students will often talk about it to their friends and family, and word will start to spread about your teaching studio.
If you're still on the fence about teaching independently or working for a studio, here's some advice to help you decide.
Dylan Welsh is a freelance musician and music journalist, based in Seattle, WA. He currently plays in multiple Seattle bands, interns at Mirror Sound Studio, and writes for the Sonicbids blog. Visit his website for more information.