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Music Mentor Group: How to Build a Successful Music Business

By Sean Wales | Studio Business

Jun 14 2017
successful music business

Today ​we have a really exciting guest post from four music entrepreneurs. They created the Music Mentor Group (MMG), showing how every teacher can create a truly successful music business.

These teachers now own businesses with hundreds of students and multiple teachers. Many piano teachers don't study business at university, so these marketing gurus are here to help.

At the end of the post, you will also find a ​free download, which will help you take your business to the next level. 

The Music Mentor Group are also designing this month's Inner Circle online course all about Studio Marketing. If you'd like more information on how you can access this course and heaps of other online resources, check out my piano community here. ​

A Successful Music Business Model 

Everyone’s musical journey is markedly different...and the same goes for our business journey. Our individual experiences help mould us as a musician just as they influence our choices and ideas as a business person. Just as no two musicians are exactly alike, music businesses can be as diverse and creatively shaped as the people who build them- and you never know where the next step might take you!

Debra Perez

Debra Perez has been teaching piano, mentoring teachers and helping others build group piano programs for 20+ years. Her two music schools in South Texas are focused on creating positive and enjoyable group piano lessons for students of all ages. Debra is also founder of Pedagogy in Motion, LLC, a publishing company that provides piano curriculum and group training for music teachers.

Although my 10 years of music study in college taught me many things, I started down this part of my career without any business training at all. Consequently my business model started by me simply responding to what I recognized as a need in our community to reach adult beginners. And my passion for teaching in groups was how I felt this could be accomplished and be enjoyable for all. It all began with just one teacher (me), no designated classroom (I used a music store showroom before and after hours) and a very unattractive poster in the window.

Quickly the classes began growing and I realized that the same intensity and dedication I exhibited when earning my music degrees would be needed if I really wanted to create something that reached more people and would make a difference in my community. I needed to study and learn all about business!

Along this new journey I answered these important questions and brought clarity to my mission:

  • why is it important to me to build a music business?
  • who are the customers I want to attract and what is important to them?
  • what type of lessons do I want to offer?
  • what characteristics are important in the teachers needed?
  • how can I continue to be profitable?

Now fast forward several years to our current status: two locations, six classrooms, multiple teachers, 40-50 classes per week, two administrative assistants and our own curriculum designed and tested within our program.

I am pleased to report that despite the many challenges along the way and my lack of business knowledge in the beginning, I remain passionate about what I am doing and even more excited about how we are bringing the benefits of playing music to so many people. Onward!

Kathy Rabago

Dr. Kathy Rabago holds a DMA in Piano Pedagogy, as well as a BM and MM in Piano Performance. She founded Velocity Music Academy in 2010, an active music school in Texas that employees 18 teachers with an enrollment of 250-275 students.

As I sat down on a Sunday evening to organize my thoughts for this blog post, my phone dinged, informing me of a new student that just registered for a fall group piano class. This gave me a chuckle – a subtle and gentle reminder of the growth that I have achieved in my business, not only in outreach and in number of students, but in systems and organization.

Seven years ago, when I opened Velocity Music Academy, my plan did not include automatic registration with text messages sent directly to my phone. However, I did have a plan, and that plan stemmed from years of dreaming and decades of studying. Like some piano teachers, I had a successful home studio with an extensive waiting list, as well as an adjunct job teaching group piano at a private university. I loved every minute of it, yet there was something burning inside me that wanted more.

At that time in my life, having two children under the age of five did not mix with an academic career, so I wasn’t pursuing that route. What I was dreaming about was a role as an entrepreneur that would allow me to expand my current reach into the community, yet give me the flexibility I needed with my young family. So I took my hand sketched studio plans, contacted a commercial broker and a contractor, and got to work.

My current business model is one that is centered around private lessons, with group and pairs lessons as additional offerings. My business is located in a commercial building, with other community oriented businesses (a gym, a veterinarian, a chiropractor, etc.). I designed the space and had it built from scratch using a local contractor. We have six private teaching rooms (each with one or two pianos), a larger multipurpose room with four digital pianos and a drum set, and a waiting room. Not one square inch of the space is wasted.

The teachers who work for my studio are employees, and I currently employ 18 teachers, one part time administrator in the studio, and one part time virtual administrator outside of the studio. We maintain an enrollment of around 250-270 students, with additional lessons offered at our satellite studio, located in a private school. We teach piano, guitar, violin, cello, voice, drums, flute, and harp. The majority of our lessons are private lessons, and we run about two or three group piano classes as well. During the summer, we teach ½ day camps for children, as well as private lessons and additional group classes. The majority of our inquiries come through our website, which is something that I designed and maintain myself. (Taking website design classes in grad school paid off!) My income stream at my business is also diversified through music sales, a small number of guitar rentals, and online music theory courses that I have designed.

I truly have designed my dream career. I get to use my DMA pedagogy degree to its fullest by guiding our newest teachers, I get to continue to teach some amazing students, my own children are integrated into the musical community through their own lessons with our cello teacher, and I get to continue my love of all things technical through our web design and online course creations. Being involved in a large studio lets me do things bigger than myself – from chamber music and duet rehearsals with music students of all levels, to showcasing our students into the community with multiple performances and teacher/student groups.

One word of advice that I would give to teachers just starting out is to embrace change and continue to dream. My simple sketch of my dream studio on a piece of paper turned into a fulfilling job. The next step in my journey? I hope to share what I’ve learned to others in the form of mentoring, workshops, and teaching. I’m looking forward to a time when entrepreneurship is a standard course offering for a university music degree!

Natalia Huang

Natalia Huang is the founder and director for Natalia Huang Piano Studio. With locations in New York, Connecticut, and Los Angeles, she strives to bring the best piano lessons both coasts will experience.

Having built my private studio to full capacity, I was honestly a happy camper back in 2008. Then I was pregnant with my first child. My main concern surrounded my daughter starting school: I will not be able to spend much time with her if I continue to teach into the evenings. I was also contemplating on moving to the suburbs to raise my family too. Losing my income was not an option, and the thought of renting a space (if I were to move) to continue teaching came to mind. In 2011, I decided it was time to rent a space. To offset the cost of rent, I needed more students...and more students meant hiring teachers. That’s how it all began…!

I made the decision very early on that I did not want to expand into a music school with other instruments. My knowledge of other instruments was limited, and I felt more confident offering just piano lessons. As for how I decided to open locations in where I did? I simply opened a studio in whichever town I was residing in at the moment. 

Of course, all of this was accomplished with a lot of work, and at times, sleepless nights. With over 200 piano students and a team of 15 teachers, it has not been an easy journey. But everytime I think about giving up, I am reminded of the wonderful community of teachers and students that I have built. I had also reached my goal from the beginning, which was to not have to teach (so that I can spend time with my children) in order to have an income, and to continue to make a difference in people’s lives through music. Can’t ask for anything more!

Forming MMG with Kathy, Robyn, and Debra is the logical next step for me. Throughout my interviewing of new teachers for my studio, I realized how little business help musicians receive. So much so that many of them have to give up their passion for music to pursue more “realistic” careers. With our combined knowledge, we hope to show other musicians that it IS possible to pursue a career in music without a “backup” job!

Robyn Harris

Robyn is the Founder & CEO of Musical Surprise, located in Surprise, AZ. Musical Surprise provides private and group lessons, music therapy services and ensemble experience to more than 500 students each week and has a full-service music store and rental program.

Strangely, I never thought of myself as a “musician” or a “business person” until the last few years or so...it was just part of who I am and what I did. Music has always been a part of my life from a very young age. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a small town, but in addition to taking lessons, opportunities to create and share music with others were always there- playing at church, accompanying the school choirs, teaching others, playing at parties, weddings, graduations...music was just something I always did in a lot of different ways.

Receiving my music therapy degree reinforced my belief that music should be available and accessible to everyone. When we moved to the Phoenix area, I happily worked as a contract music therapist for a few years in a variety of settings but I never really felt connected to the community that I lived in. I decided to try to get a few students/music therapy clients of my own and set a goal of getting 30 students/clients before I started letting go of some of my contract work.

To give myself a good chance, I setup a website for my new business and offered private lessons in my strength areas: piano, voice and guitar lessons and classes, preschool music and music therapy services as well as adaptive lessons for those with special needs. In six months, I didn’t have 30 clients, I had 60. Within a year I had another 100+ on my waiting list. Despite the economic crash of 2008, I had a viable business that was growing! I began looking for additional teachers to provide lessons in areas that weren’t my strengths and moved into a local business park to begin providing my services. On June 1st, 2008, Musical Surprise was officially open!

It’s been nine years (and not all of them easy!) but I now have 30 teachers providing lessons to 500 families every week in our 5,000 square-foot music center. We’ve continued to offer a variety of things to the diverse group of students and clients that we have, including lessons in all instruments for all ages and levels, group classes, performing ensembles, rock bands, preschool classes, music therapy and adaptive lessons. We even opened a full-service music store to provide everything that our students need. We also provide music instrument rentals to our local school district and rent out between 700-1000 instruments each year.

Not only are we a part of the local community, but we contribute to it in a positive way! Now, in addition to creating my dream studio, I have even more opportunities to share creative ideas and advocate for musicians by being a part of The Music Mentor Group. I truly believe anything is possible if you are willing to work for it!

Feeling Inspired? 

Are you feeling inspired after reading these fantastic success stories? Well, the MMG has provided this free PDF download which help you decide what your dream business looks like and how to achieve it. 

Conclusion

I hope you take something from the MMG's stories and ​have new ideas on how to make your own unique successful music business. 

If you'd like more business help from the Music Mentor Group, they have designed this month's Inner Circle course. The course will teach you all about Studio Marketing, from designing your own website to printing business cards and everything in between! For more information, click here. ​

What strategies are you implementing to grow your business? Leave your suggestions, struggles and stories in the comments section below.

Check out the Music Mentor Group's website here. 

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About the Author

Sean is one of Tim's former students and a University of Melbourne graduate. He studied a Bachelor of Arts, majoring Media and Communications and Italian, and is currently working as a journalist for the ABC in Horsham.