by Nicole Douglas, owner of Nicole Douglas Music Studio
There are many different types of music teachers—those who teach private lessons full-time, those that run their own studios, those that work for others, those that teach at a school or university, and those that teach as a side job. And that doesn’t even get into the variety of types of lessons. Some teachers only teach group lessons, some only teach private lessons, some only teach theory lessons. Some don’t teach live but rather teach via pre-recorded lessons. Some only teach live but do a mix of online live instruction and in-person instruction. Regardless of the circumstances, if you have control over setting your prices, here are some best practices to consider.
One common strategy is to decide how much you feel your time is worth and price accordingly. If you teach a 30-minute lesson, remember you probably spend at least that much time each week lesson planning, purchasing materials, invoicing and collecting payment, tracking progress, and helping the student or parent during the week with any questions or struggles they are having. And that’s just the time spent on that individual student. Consider all the professional development time: attending trainings, webinars, conferences, and local association meetings, plus travel time. Each year, you also spend time reviewing your financials, filing taxes, researching new equipment and software, and revising studio policies. Whether you teach online or in person, all these things take time. Add up how many hours you will be working and decide on an hourly rate that you feel is fair. You can use that hourly rate to calculate how many lessons you will provide in a month, semester, or year, and divide by the number of payments you’d like to receive.
If you decide to price all your 30-minute lessons the same regardless of in-person or online, make sure the value students receive is the same. If you are teaching online, you can’t afford too many technological failings that keep the student from progressing or your students and parents will not be willing to pay the same rates. If you use games and apps with in-person students, find creative ways to implement those in your online teaching.
Supply & Demand – Competitive Pricing
Next, take that rate and look around at what others are charging for similar services. Does the rate you came up with align with your competitors? For in-person lessons, this means looking at local music school tuition and independent teacher lesson rates. For online lesson rates, research some of the most popular lesson sites like Thumbtack or Tonara Connect. If the rate you came up with is higher than what others are offering, take time to consider what you are offering that others can’t. What are your strengths? What do you estimate those differences you are offering are worth? Make sure you highlight those strengths in your promotional materials to help others know the value they will receive by scheduling lessons with you.
You can also look outside your profession to gauge what the market can bear. Besides music lessons, what else does your target audience invest their time in? Does your rate align with what parents and students are paying for in regards to other types of lessons like dance, art, or sports? If not, what do these activities offer that you also offer? Use that analysis in your promotional materials to help parents and students see the value you can provide beyond just “playing an instrument.” It is definitely a balancing act between supply and demand, between how many options there are out there and how many people are looking to invest in those options.
Before settling on a rate, you also need to consider what your costs will be. This depends greatly on where and what types of lessons you will teach. In-person lessons could be taught from a rented studio space or from your home. If you travel to/from a studio or students’ homes, factor in the fuel and wear and tear on the vehicle. Also, include costs associated with running your business—your website, Internet service, phone service, and the phone itself, plus a computer, laptop, and/or tablet. Don’t forget software subscriptions, association dues, any festival fees or competition registrations, and professional development costs. If you teach online, while you might save on travel costs and renting a recital space, you will be spending more on equipment, software, and internet service to teach with good quality video and audio. Will you also be enrolling online students in the online festivals and competitions, or use the exam methods like ABRSM or RCM? Will you be mailing lesson materials and incentive programs to your students, or paying for online subscriptions to publishers’ materials to be able to share them with online students?
Estimate your monthly, quarterly, or yearly costs and decide if the rate you’ve come up with can support those costs and still give you a living wage. Don’t forget to account for normal decreases in income due to the nature of service businesses—students moving or deciding on an alternate activity, lessons you have to cancel for personal reasons, etc.
Finally, look at it from the end in mind. If you could make your ideal salary, how many students would that mean you would need to teach each week? Is that something you can picture doing? Or do you see yourself being able to train a few teachers and running your own music school? If you have a marketing strategy in place that is working for attracting online students, you could hire teachers from all over the world to be a part of your brand.
As the saying goes, “Don’t place all your eggs in one basket.” To reach these financial goals, it will likely take diversifying your student base to include different ages and locations so you won’t experience too great of a loss of income if all your students graduate and move away to start college at the same time. If you are teaching online, consider how to attract students from several locations so if one area is greatly affected by power outages, you can still teach other students.
Also, this is why it’s important to consider all the strategies above and not just use one. By looking at your lesson rates from several different perspectives, you increase your potential to stay in business for years to come.