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Tips to Surviving as an Independent or Private Music Teacher

Guitar Music teacherThe reality of choosing a career in music is not for the faint of hearts; unlike traditional career path starting with a 4-year undergraduate degree and resulting in a cozy 9 to 5 office job, being a musician offers a different reality. While there certainly are many work opportunities for skilled musicians, it can sometimes become puzzling to find gigs or contracts that will keep a roof over your head for more than a month at a time. Let’s face it; being a musician is incredibly rewarding but most of us end up turning to teaching lessons in order to supplement our income. Some of us may choose a safer path and apply for teaching jobs through music schools and extra-curricular elementary school programs, but a big majority of musicians go down the independent route, teaching out of their own studio or home – some teachers even opt to drive around to their students’ home.

Get started

Whether you’re an experienced teacher and have an established student base or are simply starting out, you’ll have to face a harsh reality; students won’t come to you unless you attract them. The same way no one is going to come knocking at your door to produce your record, no one is going to call you up to get lessons. So, how can you apply everything you know about promoting your music to your teaching business? It really isn’t rocket science – the same way you promote your band, music and upcoming demo, you’ll have to promote yourself as a teacher. Here are a few tips to get you started – assuming you already have a professional looking space to teach and are ready to schedule new students.

  1. Set up an online space. Whether it is a professional website, a WordPress blog or a Facebook business page, you’ll want to have a great looking online page to refer potential students to. Most of your students will probably be children and teenagers and you’ll be talking to their parents; you want to look professional, reliable and responsible, since you’ll be trusted with their children.
  2. Advertise on various websites. Don’t concentrate all your efforts to Craigslist or other classified websites; expand your horizons! There are many websites dedicated to listings of educators, teachers and tutors. These websites will usually allow you to create a profile, or contact card, and you’ll also be able to include a link to your website or online space.
  3. Network. When you first started taking your music career seriously, you probably started networking with other musicians and anyone else involved in the music industry, right? The same thing applies to teaching. Get in touch with other established local teachers, schools, parents, etc. It can be very valuable to get in touch with a music teacher at an elementary school; they can be a great referral and can give your contact info to an immense pool of parents and students.
  4. Be consistent in everything you do. Finally, no matter what you do to promote your business, be consistent about it. For example, post ads on Craigslist as often as it will allow you to – not just once every other week. You’ll want to keep promoting and be consistent about it in order to get the word out, make a name for yourself as a teacher and keep attracting new students.

The perils of teaching

Just like being an independent musician, being an independent music teacher is not easy. While there is a lot of work to do when it comes to promoting and attracting a stable student base, there are also many other factors to consider and pitfalls to avoid.

One of the main perils of teaching is that you don’t have much of a job security unless your students sign a contract and pay monthly. Every teacher can tell you that there are students who are consistently sick or out of town, for example. You can avoid those situations by drafting a contract stating that students will be charged for lessons if not cancelled x number of days ahead of time; however, many families and students usually sign up with independent teachers for the advantage of not signing contracts and not being held accountable to a business or company per se. Hence, you might find out that you can’t attract as many students with this particular practice, but it’s definitely worth the shot – be upfront with your students. This is your business, your profession, and you need to set ground rules for all your students to follow.

Another peril of teaching is that you can sometimes feel at the mercy of your students. This goes hand in hand with the problem of lesson cancellation. You might find yourself doing favors just to attract new students or keep existing ones; opening up a new day in your week, allowing people to reschedule too often, etc. While it might be tempting to think that this will help you gain or keep students, in the long run it will be very frustrating and might not even be to your advantage. Treat your teaching gig as a real business – you wouldn’t try to go to the store after opening hours simply because it is more convenient for you. Your students shouldn’t try to score lessons after your business hours either. By having a set schedule, you’ll offer a more professional environment and image and this can definitely be to your advantage as you start dealing with more and more students.

In short, teaching music can be a great way to supplement your income or even be a very rewarding career path should you decide to dedicate your life’s work to this profession. Just like any other career related to indie music, being an independent music teacher is a lot of work and demands effort, energy and time. However, by following the three tips on how to get started and by avoiding the common perils and pitfalls of the profession, you can certainly become a successful music teacher and enjoy the benefits of a steadier income.



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