On Music Teaching, Second Jobs, Balance and Diversifying

One question that occasionally comes up in a social or business networking setting is "Can you make a living teaching music?" After 12 years of self-employment, this has been a question I have been grappling with this year.

My answer: it depends. For music teacher Kristin Yost in the US, the answer is a resounding YES! She's the author of "How I Made $100,000 My First Year as a Piano Teacher". She has several factors in her favour off the bat though - she teaches in a highly affluent city in a highly affluent state. Combined with her sound business sense and voilà! A viable music studio.

However, what I am realizing, is that for many of my colleagues - myself included - the answer is NO. Secondary, even tertiary streams of supplementary income are needed to make it work.

"Why not," you ask? Private music teachers face limitations in terms of when they can teach. Most students come after school. Depending upon the business licensing by-laws in your area, they may be limited to only teaching part-time, which is hardly sustainable.

Music teachers also face limitations in terms of how much they can teach. Teaching is a wonderful, rewarding and exciting calling. However, it requires a lot of mental and emotional energy.

One colleague said, "By the time we calculate expenses and unpaid time for lesson prep, studio management, and all the extras we do for our students, we really teach for minimum wage." She went on to say, "Teaching piano is a wonderful career if you aren't the primary wage-earner in your family, but if you get sick, you can't teach and if you can't teach, you can't pay the bills."

Ivea Mark of said, "Piano teachers do it for the love of music and teaching and many struggle to make ends meet if they are the sole income earners."

At an event last month, I asked some of my colleagues how their year has been going. Like me, they are running under capacity this year. It's just the way the economy is.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I asked some of my colleagues in the Alberta Piano Teachers' Association what they found as far as teaching and getting a second job. This is a summary of my findings:

  1. Many who only teach piano have a spouse who works full-time (not self-employed).
  2. Several (like me) have picked up a summer job to pay the bills during the slow teaching months.
  3. More teachers than I expected work full-time elsewhere and piano teaching IS their second job.
  4. Some of those who mainly teach music have diversified their music services. Some of the things they have done to earn extra money include teaching other subjects, adjudicating, running workshops, performing at every gig they can get, accompanying and so on.

These are some of the jobs that some of my teaching colleagues have picked up to earn extra money:

  • Support staff at their local school
  • Barista at a local cafe
  • Concession staff at the Calgary Stampede
  •  School teacher
  • Administrative staff
  • Childcare provider

To these colleagues, they feel that they have achieved a healthy balance. They like the variety of not doing only music.

One, who now is a school teacher full-time and a piano teacher part-time shared this: "Way back when I used to teach piano only, I found it a bit lonely just being at home all the time, and just a 1-on-1 teaching situation, so I decided to recycle my education again to be able to teach in a school classroom setting. No regrets, but having the school teaching job now makes me appreciate my piano teaching even more than ever."

Evangeline Mably has worked at a local cafe. "If you can find one in your area, you might even run into your students," she said. "My students were so excited when they saw me "at work." LOL."

I started walking the path towards diversification when I stopped office temping and spent more time on my freelance writing at Suite101.com and set up a store on Zazzle. However, I learned that online writing is just as volatile as teaching music. I don't want to give up writing, so now I'm just looking at other things to add.

Like my colleagues, I do not want to give up teaching. However, a more balanced and stable lifestyle is what is needed. A balanced mix of teaching, my passive income streams and something that will bring in some extra money now. Time to start checking out the job search sites and tweaking my non-music resume.

Post Script

This topic continues to bring up some thoughtful discussion on the APTA discussion boards. Collen Lindenbach of Music and Play, argues that yes, you can make a living teaching music full-time. Like Kristin Yost, she teaches in commercial space and has several teachers working with her (she is hiring, by the way).

They offer a variety of private and group classes, such as Music for Young Children. Colleen stresses the importance of doing your demographic research, especially ages and finances in your area.

One common thread regarding those who teach music on a part-time basis. They unanimously say that their reduced teaching load enables them to offer a higher level of instruction. They have also noticed less teacher burnout.

Special thanks to my colleagues for sharing their thoughts and experiences on self-employment and how to earn extra money.