From Surviving to Thriving: Mindset and the Ability to Earn a Good Income
Jennifer Walschap, NCTM
in collaboration with Katherine Pomerantz
MTNA Business Digest, Volume 1, Issue 2
Many musicians dream of a successful career, but lack the financial tools to support their creative vision. By working with money mentor and accountant Katherine Pomerantz, I learned that business and creativity are two sides of the same coin.
As a musician, it is assumed that we choose our careers for the love of our art and not to make a good living. We play friends’ weddings for free or teach their kids at a discount. We keep our prices low so that everyone can afford lessons, accept late payments and create scholarships when students want to quit. We work extra hours to make up missed lessons. We “go the extra mile” like this because we care about our students, and if we didn’t do these things then we would be failing them… right?
I used to think so.
In May 2016, I finally opened my multi-teacher studio, Imagine Music and Arts. It was a dream I had since grad school, and I thought that since I was living a dream it was okay that I was not making a great income. I’d always accepted that musicians had to live paycheck-to-paycheck.
But my reality was anything but a dream. I now had rent and utilities to pay, pianos to tune, teachers relying on me to give them their paychecks and a growing number of families depending on my support. I dreaded each month as the tuition we collected early in the semester drained from my bank account. I never knew if we would have enough cash to make it to next semester’s enrollment.
I was now a business owner. Not only responsible for educating and developing new music lovers, but also for other people’s jobs. I was terrified of failure.
But here’s the thing: I had always been a business owner. I was always responsible for paying the salary of one music teacher—myself. I had simply never confronted this responsibility before.
All my thoughts about “doing it for love” and not money meant I was afraid to ask for tuition, so I let missed payments slide. I was afraid to raise my prices or enforce my policies. I was in a state of people-pleasing and fear because I didn’t think I wanted or deserved money.
But my teachers and my students deserved better.
Enter Katherine Pomerantz. I participated in Katherine’s Chaos Money Mastermind in 2019, where I learned about the Chaos Money Framework and the concept of Money Mapping. Katherine developed these tools because she noticed that creative business owners like me were really struggling. As artists, we don’t value the same things as traditional business owners, so we don’t think like them. We need our own set of financial tools to help us succeed at business.
The Chaos Money Framework is one of those tools. It helps me understand my money and the story it tells about my business and my values. By reading and understanding this story, I can create a Money Map for my business. This tool is like a budget, but better. It helps me map out my income goals, how I want to allocate my expenses and what I want my future to look like. With these tools, I have the ability to measure and achieve my goals.
As I continued private coaching with Katherine and continued developing my Money Map, I was constantly challenged to reevaluate my concepts about money. Why couldn’t I earn more as a musician? Why couldn’t I create full-time positions for my teachers? Why couldn’t I offer health insurance and other benefits? Why couldn’t I ask for a higher tuition?
By deeply examining the role of money in my life and business, I realized that I was simply trying to people-please by keeping tuition low and always offering makeup lessons. This was yet another way my business was failing to live up to the dream I originally held. I became more confident and realized there were better ways to live my values and support my students and family.
For example, Imagine Music and Arts not only moved classes online during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also started offering parent classes. These group events became an unexpected source of community. Together, these parents not only learned to encourage rehearsal time and develop passion in their young musicians, but also found a new way of bonding with their children through a shared activity. The idea for this program came from my Money Map. Offering parent classes was a smart business decision—additional offerings increased my revenue and involving parents in their children’s lessons increased the likelihood of student renewals. The idea only worked, however, because it was born of my values and my vision.
Since 2019, I’ve quit a part-time job I used to supplement my income. I hired my first full-time employee and started offering health benefits through my company. I have not one, but two savings accounts to pay taxes and reach long-term goals like purchasing a permanent building for my studio. I’ve also raised my salary, and I cut my teaching hours. I’m paying myself more and I’m working less.
Am I rich? No. Do I have a better relationship with money? Yes. I am not afraid to ask for what I am worth and found my own ways to measure success.
And I’m here to tell you—you CAN make a good living in music. Money can be a way to communicate the value of your services and focus your business. If you change your mindset about money, you WILL find ways to optimize your income and THRIVE.
Want to change your own story about money and business? Visit https://bit.ly/MTNAmoneystory for your free Business Planning Workbook from Katherine Pomerantz.
Jennifer Walschap, NCTM, is the founder and director of Imagine Music and Arts in Norman, Oklahoma, where she teaches Suzuki piano. She received an MME degree in piano pedagogy from the University of Oklahoma.