How does a music teacher pick their pricing?

I would like to take this chance to thank everyone who spared some time to take my Lesson Pricing Survey!  As my regular students may have noticed, the pricing of my lessons has indeed changed (though you can still get the original price lesson if you pay in advance) and the way I offer discounts/rewards for multiple purchases in advance has changed.

As part of the Small Business Management course I am currently undertaking, of course we have been looking at pricing; different methods of pricing, offering discounts and packages, etcetera.

Pricing one’s lessons is a really difficult task!  As teachers (and other small business managers who offer their time & expertise for money), of course, we want various things:

– We want clients (students and parents of students) to want to get lessons with us.  (Therefore, not scare them away with exorbitant prices).
– We want to not undercut other people in the same kind of business (i.e. if every other teacher is charging $60, charging $40 to appear cheaper and get more students is not ethical business practice!)
– We want our clients to value their time with us; and for teachers, that means if we don’t charge enough, students simply won’t practice enough/do the work!
– We want to be able to cover our costs of running a small business… as well as hopefully make some kind of profit and enjoy life!!

I had a fellow teacher (who is also a student of mine) contact me for advice the other day.  She had contacted parents whose payments for lessons was overdue, and received a reply which included this statement:
“… $1 a minute, wow, wish I could earn that much.”

…Well then.

First of all, I suspect that this person does not understand what it is to be self employed/run a small business.  I can’t help but wonder if they have a full-time job employed by someone else?  Do they get superannuation?  Sick leave?  Paid holidays?  Insurance, OH&S costs, travel costs, are these covered by their employer?  Because we don’t get any of those things from some magical higher power.
The costs of running your own business are high, the work hours are more than 9-5 (usually more like 9am-10pm), and you don’t get any benefits other than occasionally being able to work in your pyjamas (less so if you’re a teacher).
We don’t just work while we are teaching the student for that 1 hour.  We prepare material for them.  We type up lesson notes.  We find them new music to listen to.  We email and call and text and manage our calendar and our accounts.  We might organise a yearly (or more often) concert for our students.  We pay studio rent, we buy computer and sound equipment, we get it tested & tagged, we pay public liability insurance.  I’m not saying that being a full-time employee is not difficult/hard work; I’m just offering a contrast for those who may never have thought about what it takes to run your own small business.
And for music teachers – we also continue to study our craft.  We go to professional development events, get training, and often are performers as well, writing songs, paying for instruments, playing gigs late at night.

My friend was offended and felt like she had to justify her prices.  I have had a similar response from some parents, who have said they “questioned the price as being not the norm”.

Fun Fact:  The Tasmanian Music Teachers Association’s recommended fee for a one hour, one-on-one lesson with a fully qualified teacher is $66 per hour.  (In Melbourne or Sydney, the going rate is often easily around $70 or more.)

I charge only slightly less than that, because my pricing is based around “competitor-based pricing”.  I do not want to undercut other teachers by charging less than them.  However I also don’t want to charge MORE than other teachers because I am also aware that, from a “customer-based pricing” viewpoint, Hobart being what it is, my clients will most likely not be willing to pay more than $65.

The going rate in Hobart as far as I’ve seen with other instrumental & voice teachers is between $50-60 an hour.  If someone considers that to be exorbitant, I would consider that person to not really understand the value of the service a music teacher offers, and the expenses we have in running our own business.

And as for me specifically: I charge $65 for pay-as-you-go, $60 if you buy 4 lessons in advance, and $55 if you buy 10 lessons in advance.

Why?  This is a premium price for a premium service.  If you want to learn vocal technique that will get you fast results and no trial-and-error faffing about; if you want the best in voice coaching for yourself or your child; then the price should be a no-brainer, to learn valuable technique from a knowledgable teacher which will help you achieve your goals in singing and success in your music career.

In my recent pricing survey, I had a suggestion from an anonymous parent to offer a discount rate for younger students, as they have many extracurricular activities which can get expensive.  I understand that completely as I used to be one of these kids doing ten million extracurricular things!  I do wish I could offer something like this, but honestly I cannot afford to charge less than my 10 lesson discount rate of $55, for all the reasons listed above involved in running a small business.  If this means more casual singers who are just doing singing as a bit of after-school fun can’t continue… that is sad, but something which I am willing to risk.  Lessons with me are, I hope, enjoyable, fun, and musical; however, the information I am teaching about the voice is also of high quality and quantity.  I currently have casual students from the age of 12, as well as professional vocalists and current UTAS Conservatorium of Music students.  Casual singers are always welcome as my students, of course!  But I am still teaching the same information, which is very valuable and will give your child knowledge on par with my professional and tertiary-level singers.  If your child has aspirations to be a professional vocalist, then I believe this is essential learning!  If not… I promise we will still have a great time and their confidence in themselves will soar as they feel and hear themselves improving in their sound and their control and understanding of their voice.

So what is different about my lessons?  Here’s where I toot my own horn:
– I am Bachelor-level educated. (Bachelor of Music, and Diploma of Music Performance in contemporary voice)
– I am the only person in Tasmania (and one of only 7 in Australia) who has completed the Estill Certified Figure Proficiency Test and, as far as I know in Tasmania, the only one who has studied Estill Voice Training in depth.  I continue my study of vocal physiology and attend regular training to improve my craft, and intend to undertake the Certified Master Teacher training as soon as possible.
– And, if I may say so myself, I’m a pretty darn good teacher (as I have heard in feedback from students, parents, and the level of student retention that I have).  And I CARE.  I really WANT to be a good teacher.  I love teaching.  I am not jaded and disillusioned and just doing-it-for-the-money.  I want my students to improve, I want them to be proud of themselves.  I am a friend, a mentor, a counsellor for many of my students as well as a teacher.  And the same can be said for many other music teachers I know.

I also endeavour to add as much value to my services as possible for my clients!  Information about the different perks I offer for my regular students can be found here… and I am ALWAYS open to more suggestions about how I can add value for my students.

Please consider all of the above when looking at a teacher’s cancellation policy, too.  You are not just paying us that money for that hour, but for all the other hours of work we put into being the best teacher we can be for you/your child, and running our business in the way that will best serve you.  We have rent to pay, we need to eat, and you cancelling a lesson and not being able to reschedule later in the week is not our fault.  It affects us a lot more than it affects you.  Regardless of who you are buying lessons from, whether it is from me or another vocal tutor or an instrumental tutor, keep this all in mind! 

And remember that we love you!  We value you!  We appreciate that you have chosen us to teach you or your child music, and we are indeed thankful to have a job that we don’t hate.  Let’s work together for a culture of mutual appreciation between music teachers, students and parents, and enjoy the magic that is music together!

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