In the Spotlight:
“What Do You Charge?”
MTNA Business Digest, Volume 2, Issue 1
The fear that the answer you give to this question will lose a desired prospective student may be the most important reason independent music teachers sometimes hesitate to charge a professional-level fee.
For the teacher still establishing a reputation, the need for a certain weekly or monthly income may well seem like the only priority. Nonetheless, it is always prudent to respond to that question with something like, “I’ll be happy to answer your question, but first, tell me about your prospective student (like name, age, prior study, activities, reason for taking lessons). By the way, how did you hear of my studio?”
Even this small amount of initial information exchanged and recorded can be most helpful in evaluating our response to a question about rates. It might warm the conversation to pretend that the question asked was not “What do you charge?” but actually “What is the value of music study with you?” or “What traits and attributes will an extended study of music in your studio help my children to develop?” Those are questions that truly help a first-time caller interested in you as a teacher.
It is always important to remind ourselves and our inquirer of the value of the relationship that we can provide a student. A weekly person-to-person mentoring session that provides an honest assessment of accomplishments and goals is our unique opportunity and responsibility. Self-discipline and the ability to honestly assess one’s own accomplishments are often the most valued outcomes of long-term involvement in our studios. The opportunity to tell the caller or writer what our studio provides and how our students progress can help establish mutual goals. Until we are able to offer our caller a clear idea of what we provide, how can they assess the value of our services?
When called about lessons, I believe it’s a good idea to ask for an email address and to provide a link to our website. We can ask if they have visited our website to see if our studio seems like an ideal fit for the prospective student. It’s a good idea to point them to the location of our studio policy and registration form on our webpage or offer to share it as an email attachment. They can then see all relevant policies, including tuition. We can also explain that the signed agreement provides a professional structure that will ensure progress and growth.
Before we return to the original question, perhaps we should reflect for a moment on our many responsibilities and the offerings we provide in addition to lessons: group classes, recitals, competition preparation, telephone calls and emails, judging, billing and administrative functions, and continual self-improvement through practice and professional development activities. What we charge covers far more than weekly lessons!
Another good thing to recall is our Schedule C—our deductions from gross receipts: the purchase price and maintenance of our instruments, professional development and travel, and the upkeep of our studio, hardware and software. Considering the percentage of our gross receipts that immediately go to taxes (self-employment, income and property), insurance, memberships and so forth, perhaps what we charge is not even income until we’ve paid for everything our studios and taxes require.
In her book, Do Less, Achieve More, Chin-Ning Chu wrote:
"How much you should be paid is not controlled by your boss or your customers, it is controlled by you. In the depths of your own mind, you have already decided what you are worth to others. You have to be clear on exactly what kind of real value you bring to the table."
The first step in earning a professional income is believing we deserve it. We should all strive to be worth what we’d like to charge.
Kenneth Lee is an independent studio clarinet teacher in Vienna, Virginia. He holds an Honors degree in Economics from Cornell University and is a former member of The United States Army Band (Pershing’s Own).