In 2009 I had the pleasure of hearing Beth Gigante Klingenstein, author of The Independent Piano Teacher’s Studio Handbook, speak on the question of “Who’s in Charge of Your Studio?” at the University of St. Thomas Summer Music Institute. The main message I took away from her workshop was that if we as studio owners are complaining about our wages or any other aspect of our business, we have only ourselves to blame. We are the captains of our own ships and we can remedy the situation by raising our rates, setting studio policies and enforcing them, and ultimately, by realizing our worth as teachers of music and art.
In 2002, Beth conducted a survey of Independent Music Teachers (IMT’s) in the Music Teachers National Association and found that the average IMT earned $29.00 per hour and had an average gross annual income of $17, 893. What I found shocking was her comparison of the independent music teacher’s salaries to that of other business professionals. The IMT income was lower than a pharmacy technician, janitor, receptionist, file clerk, and even a manicurist! Why are we underpaid? Beth offered many reasons:
• Traditionally female profession – historically, traditionally male professions tend to be paid more
• We are independent
• We do not raise rates often enough or by enough
• We think “per-hour” instead of annual income
• We think “part-time” instead of “full-time”
• We fail to realize the difference between gross and net income
How do we change this? First of all we have to recognize and acknowledge our worth. One of the most disturbing mindsets that Beth discusses in her book is, “I don’t need the income because I am being supported by my spouse.” This attitude is a detriment to our profession. Many teachers support not only themselves, but also their families on their teaching income. If some teachers charge artificially low rates, everyone in the profession suffers.
Charging appropriate rates is not only part of being a professional but has many ripple effects. Recently, a colleague of mine spoke on the topic of charging what you’re worth at a local music teachers’ function. She gave many heartwarming examples of how the independent music teacher can have a powerful positive effect on a young person. Many times we don’t even know our effect until years later, or possibly never. We form long-lasting relationships with our students over several years where we are able to focus solely on them in our individual lessons. Our influence has the power to change lives for the better. Our contribution to society is extremely valuable. In addition, she also gave a poignant example of a piano teacher who had the most expensive lesson fees and also had a very wealthy husband. This teacher could have existed with a much smaller income but she realized the value of her service and set professional fees. When asked why her fees were so high, she replied that she wanted to pave the way for younger teachers to be able to make a living. She was thinking of the future of our profession by setting appropriate tuition rates.
Raising your rates will also ensure more commitment from parents and students. Higher tuition will help get the parents to commit to quality practice. In my own experience when raising rates, I attracted the more committed student and I became a more satisfied teacher as a result. Our local music teachers’ association spearheaded a survey last summer for the organization and found that most teachers have frustrations when setting studio policies and rates. The typical teacher charged an average of $45.00 per hour and had an average gross income of $28,000.
However, she found no consistency in what teachers charge. For example, one of the newest teachers with the least education had some of the highest rates and a healthy number of students. If your studio is thriving and you are turning away students, it is time to raise rates. The survey also indicated that teachers did not seem to know what their net annual income was after expenses and taxes. Gross income is an individual’s personal income before taking taxes or deductions into account. Net income is a company’s total earnings or profit. Net income is calculated by taking revenues and adjusting for the cost of doing business, depreciation, interest, taxes and other expenses. This number is found on a company’s income statement and is an important measure of how profitable the company is over a period of time. When setting rates, one must take into account gross and net income.
I believe that the solution to our struggles in determining appropriate lesson fees is through discussion, research and surveys. We need to keep talking about it, continue educating ourselves and come together as a profession to summon the courage to believe that what we do is worthwhile and that we should be compensated accordingly. The work we do is VITAL! I encourage you to buy Beth’s book and read Chapter Five. I will include her questions for self-assessment to get you started in the process of examining the rates within your studio. Since it is summer, now is a great time to consider raising your rates, especially if you haven’t done so for awhile.
1 – Am I paid what I deserve?
2 – Does my income reflect the value of all that I do?
3 – Do I really work part-time?
4 – Does my salary fall where I want it to in comparison with other professions?
5 – Are my years of experience and level of education reflected in how much I earn?
6 – Am I compensating for the lack of benefits and for extra expenses when setting my rates?
7 – Can I support my family on my income?
8 – Am I afraid I will lose students if I raise my rates?
9 – Am I truly proud of what I do for my students and the service I give to my community?
As an independent piano teacher, I frequently compare my rates to other professional studios in the area. I expect that the studios with multiple teachers will be charging more because they have higher expenses and overhead than I do. As a studio business owner, you have the unique opportunity to set the standard for your community. Have pride in what you offer and go for it!