“In these unprecedented times…” “The world is a strange and challenging place right now…” “When all this is over…”
The world has permanently changed and the music profession has to change, too, or we won’t survive.
The global pandemic has royally sucked for us musicians. At a stroke, we lost all our gigs. We had to convert our studios to remote teaching, and the transition wasn’t easy.
What comes next? We don’t know. All I know is that we have to adapt, and that for now at least, remote teaching is how we keep our incomes.
Unlike a lot of teachers, I was already teaching private students remotely before the pandemic. I’m privileged to have a university salary, but universities are taking a global nosedive and we can’t count on their even existing in the future. It’ll be a long time before we fill up concert halls again, too. What started as a side hustle may be the way of the future.
When governments worldwide told people to go home and stay there, I shared my experience of remote teaching for fellow musicians who were panicking that they were about to lose everything. Today, I want to share how you set up a remote music teaching studio business. I figured this out through trial and error over the past several years. If I can do it, you can do it too.
- Low-tech by inclination, or too broke to buy new gear? No problem. Check out “Remote Music Lessons for the Low-Tech Teacher.”
- Willing to upgrade your technology? Read my article for Strings with my tried and tested recommendations.
- Unsure about videoconferencing services? There are several good ones. I personally use Skype and Zoom, with a slight preference for Zoom because of the enhanced ability to adjust audio settings.
- Need more detailed advice? I love pianist Hugh Sung’s article on remote teaching for any technological “comfort zone.” He talks equipment, settings, and everything else you need.
- The beauty of remote music teaching is that it doesn’t matter where you live, or where your students live. Your local work may have dried up, but if you have a product people want, you’ll attract students. I teach students on five different continents, and I love it.
- Figure out who you want to teach. I usually only teach adults remotely, but if you want to teach children you will have to communicate expectations clearly with their parents. When I teach children under 12 remotely, I insist that the parent is in the room with them to help with technology and “interpret” if the child has trouble communicating.
- You might be panicking that everyone is too broke to afford lessons right now. True, most people are hurting, but not everyone is. What’s more, people are experiencing a deep yearning for creativity. They may have an instrument sitting silent in the corner that they haven’t played for years. Or maybe they always wanted to learn to play and have finally plucked up the courage. No instrument? No problem, dealers will still ship them, even for rentals.
- This is always a struggle for some people (*cough* me *cough*), but you can make it work with a little careful planning. I highly recommend using shared Google Calendars with your students, not least because of its ability to adjust for time zones.
- Speaking of which, learn your time zones. This beautiful map says it all. In a pinch, you can Google “What time is it in Berlin?” (Google accounts for things like daylight savings.)
- Scheduling, as always, is at the mutual convenience of teacher and student. I live on the West Coast of the USA, so I reserve earlier morning times for students in Europe or on the East Coast. Later in the day, I teach students in Asia and Australasia. It works.
- Teaching back-to-back lessons? Use Zoom’s Waiting Room function. It eliminates awkwardness like you wouldn’t believe.
- Tendency to run late? Time to nip that in the bud. It might be more acceptable to be a little, er, flexible with face-to-face students, but you don’t have the same relationship with people you’ve never met in person. Set timers and alarms, and hold yourself to them.
- How does payment work? You can send and receive money anywhere in the world in seconds with the many apps that exist specifically for the purpose. PayPal and Venmo are the best-known in the USA, but there are lots. With most of them, you have to wait a few business days for payments to appear in your bank account, but if you can’t wait, you can get the money right away for a small fee.
- Should I charge less than for face-to-face lessons? Up to you. I charge at a discounted rate (80%), because when I started teaching remotely, it was a new thing and many people thought it wasn’t quite as good as a face-to-face lesson. (Now that I’ve done it a lot, I don’t agree, but I’m doing the discount for the time being.)
- Do I need to declare the income on my taxes? Yes, no matter what country you’re in. Read this excellent post from New Music Box for more information.
- Ask to be paid in advance, whether you charge by the lesson or monthly. If the client is in a foreign country and doesn’t pay for services rendered, you have zero recourse.
“Now that everyone’s teaching remotely, I won’t be able to get any new students!” That’s not necessarily true — you just have to sell a product that people want.
- You need a website. Panicked at the thought? Use an all-in-one service that takes care of the domain name, templates, code and so on. I use WordPress for this site and SquareSpace for my other site. They are both easy to use, as are many other services.
- Flat broke? Skip buying a domain name or any fancy extras and use the free version. The only major difference is that your URL will contain the name of your website service (i.e. “yourwebsitename.wordpress.com.”) A simple website is fine as long as it is informative.
- Speaking of which: make sure clients can find you on Google. The text on your website should contain words like “remote music teaching,” the instrument(s) you teach, and a clear way for them to contact you.
- What makes you special? Your website needs to tell them that. Skip the giant bio, just have a couple of paragraphs with the career achievements you’re proudest of and why they should choose you for their Zoom teacher.
- Your site should have a photo. Doesn’t have to be a professional one, a selfie will do, but it needs to be non-fuzzy and show you with your instrument(s) and preferably looking pleasant and approachable. Don’t worry, we all have bad hair right now.
- Social media: I know it’s fashionable to say you hate social media, but I don’t care and I love them all. If you haven’t already, join Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. Follow people who are doing the things you want to do, click “like” on their posts, leave comments, and take the time to interact and make friends. Join social media groups and threads for music teachers, students, amateurs, and fans. It’s not enough to swoop in, self-promote, and swoop out — you have to build and maintain relationships. When you gain people’s trust, that’s when they will feel comfortable contacting you for lessons. Plus, you make some treasured friends.
It’s OK. It’s an overwhelming time. I didn’t know what to expect at first when I started teaching remotely, either. But honestly, once I’d figured out my Zoom sound settings (see the links above), the hardest thing was teaching beginning students to tune their cellos, followed by teaching a freaked-out student who’s broken a string how to put a new string on. Luckily, there are many great YouTube videos out there that you can send students before they start lessons so that they know how it works.
None of us were expecting this, and we’re all feeling anxious and odd right now. But if there’s one thing we musicians do exceptionally well, it’s adapting. We’re going to make this work.
Are you new to remote music teaching, and panicking? Or are you an experienced pro with advice to share? I love to hear from readers, so please leave a comment, or head to my Facebook page to join in the discussion.
© Miranda Wilson, 2020. No part of this blog post may be reproduced without permission of the author.