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Setting Your Teaching Fee

By Mike Sorrentino

Unless you are in the enviable position of being independently wealthy (good for you!) you probably are looking to make a portion of your income from teaching.  Let’s face it – gigs are harder than ever to come by these days, the music industry is a wreck, and teaching can be very rewarding and enjoyable.  It also provides us with the opportunity to give back to the community and further the art form.  One of the most frustrating things for a new teacher is getting their business of the ground in a way that is fun and profitable.  Let’s take a look at some ideas regarding how to structure your business so you can make the most of your time.

A long discussion of business structures is way beyond the scope of this article, so let’s assume that you are an independent contractor, or you work for yourself.  In this case you set your own policies, fees, hours, etc.  Since the focus of this article is on the business side of teaching,  I’ll ignore the questions of where to teach, what to use in the studio, etc.(for more information on those questions go to http://www.hudsonmusic.com/hudson/tip/articles/) Instead we’re going to focus on one main concept – getting paid.

Ask yourself this question: does focusing on money make me feel uncomfortable?  If so, honestly take a look at why.  It used to make me squirm.  But it wasn’t until I made money a primary focus in my teaching practice that I began to see any come in! Don’t get me wrong – my rates are not the highest around  (in fact they are probably a little too low for my area), money is never the only reason I take or turn down a gig or student, and I’m not rich by any stretch.  But I do value my time, and you should too.  There is also something to be said about a customer (your student) paying a reasonable but valuable price for the product (your time and expertise) that makes them appreciate it more.  So how much should you charge? Well…how much are you worth? An honest look at your marketplace should give you this answer pretty quickly.  Let’s look at some factors to consider.

Where are you teaching? I mean that question very literally – where (in the world) are you teaching?  Someone teaching in Omaha, Nebraska will charge a very different fee from someone in Buenos Aires, all things being equal. How do you measure up in terms of your own education and experience, as compared to your competitors? Yes, other teachers are your competitors.  Of course we are all friends, brothers and sisters in the drumming family, but we all provide a reasonably similar service.  In that regard we are all competing for the same dollars (Euros, pounds, yen, etc).  What teacher in your market has been teaching the longest? Who has been teaching the least amount of time? Use those numbers as a factor in setting your fee.  Do you have a degree?  Does your competition?  Does that matter? What about your facility? Do you have a state of the art facility that has a high speed internet connection, flat screen TV, and recording capability?  Or do you take a less is more approach?  Some teaching studios are impressive enough in themselves to warrant a higher price.  Perhaps you are a traveling teacher, one that visits homes or schools.  Do you charge for your time in the car, along with gas and maintenance, or do you absorb those costs yourself as part of doing business? Do you already have too many students than you can handle or are you trying to build a practice from the ground up? What do your peers and competitors think of you?  Is your reputation making you money or costing you money? Can it be fixed or enhanced?

It might seem like a lot of questions to answer, but I assure you that you will come to a much more accurate fee than just randomly picking a number to charge.  It will benefit you in the long run to take a few minutes (that’s all it really takes) to figure out these answers.  You will lessen the probability of selling your time too cheaply (which will cost you money in the long run), or losing business by charging too much. 

I always look at charging for my teaching this way: I get paid for my time, and the expense of keeping my studio in good shape and technologically current.   The instruction and drumming and all of that other stuff during the lesson I do for free.  Time is the only resource we cannot get back or replace.  It is not greedy or selfish or wrong to want to make the most of that valuable resource.  So how should you allow your customers (students) access to your time? Again, you must research your own marketplace, and draw your conclusions from there.  Should lessons be done at the same time each week, or on a floating schedule? What about when someone has to miss a lesson? Do you have a make-up policy?

After asking all of these questions, it seems only fair to answer them myself to demonstrate my own teaching policies.  Feel free to use them or not, to agree or disagree.  Only you can determine what is best for you.  Here is how my personal teaching practice is structured, taking into account some of the questions I’ve raised in this article, and their effects on my fee and polices:

Location – I live in Suffolk County on Long Island, a suburb of New York City. It is a very good market for students, with over 7 million people living here.  However, there is seriously strong competition for drum teachers and I am not even the only teacher on my block! Result: the market forces overall lower fees and looser policies. However, some affluent areas are not affected.

Experience – I have a pretty nice resume and I’ve been doing this for twenty years.  I’ve networked nicely with the local schools and colleges and get a nice referral business.  However, Dom Famularo lives and teaches fifteen minutes away as does John Miceli (Meatloaf), and Bobby Rondinelli (Black Sabbath, Rainbow, etc) lives right in my town.  And these guys are all my friends! Result: I’ll price myself just under those guys for the moment. 

Facility I teach in my studio that I built mainly for recording purposes.  I have an excellent recording rig that I use during lessons and I have high speed internet and great video capability.  For my area I am at the high end of the market. Result: increases my fee.

Reputation – I’ve played with some big time artists, and two extremely popular local bands, have a few gold records under my belt, and my students have gone on to many major music schools, recorded hit songs and played with successful bands of their own.   I have a nice reputation among my peers as a good player and teacher, and students generally tend to continue taking lessons with me for many years.  However, almost everyone who I consider my competition has similar reputations.  Result: even

The end result is that from my market research, for new students signing up this school year, my rate for lessons at my studio are $65 for an hour.  As my schedule with gigs, Hudson, etc, changes from week to week I can only devote two or three days a week to teaching.   I prefer two weeks between lessons, because my experience both as a teacher and student has shown me that unless someone is a serious student, there is not enough time to adequately prepare the material.  Because of a constantly changing schedule, I do not charge in advance, and therefore do not have to deal with make ups.  I do run the risk of someone cancelling last minute and losing money, but I was never vigilant about makeup lessons when I had that policy.  I wound up losing the money anyway! It just didn’t work for me.  John Miceli runs his business totally different from me and he is quite successful just one town away.  He has weekly lessons, charges monthly, and does make up lessons. To each his own, and I encourage you to find your own way.  I hope some of these concepts will help you to not only make more money, but to enjoy your teaching even more than you do now.

Feel free to contact me in the Hudson Music online community at www.community.hudsonmusic.com to let me know your thoughts, or to compare stories!

Mike

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