Your Worth As A Teacher by Drew Niles
September 16, 2019
Designing Your Studio, Designing Your Life
I am beyond honored and grateful to be counted among you all, and I look forward to
seeing many of you in Denver!
One of the hardest things for me as a performer, and now as a teacher, is promoting
myself. Charging for my time, recognizing my own value and commanding respect for
my time and expertise, are all very difficult for me personally. As young performers,
we’re conditioned to be elated and grateful to be cast in a show, and that becomes
problematic when faced with a professional contract.
Graduating from the University of Michigan gave me a huge leg up in this area. I
encourage my high school students to look for programs that produce a senior
showcase in NYC for this reason. I was one of the lucky ones and had an agent before
even moving to the city, and it saved my life!
Now, as a voice teacher, I’m finding similar hurdles in my path, but no agent to come to
my rescue! Do I offer a discount because a student is also a friend, a teacher, low-
income, a parent of multiple children, a young professional?? It’s incredibly difficult to
remain strong and ask for what I’m worth. But I also recognize how enriching my
influence has been in many peoples’ lives, and that gives me a real sense of self-
worth. This has helped me to find my place in the voice world and grow my studio into a
thriving practice that brings joy to my life and financial support to my family.
Look For the Good
I encourage each of you to look at all of the good that you’ve done, and how you’ve
enriched your communities. This will help give you confidence as you
consider increasing your rates, and expanding your studio.
Starting out in the voice teacher industry can be scary, especially if you have previously
had a career in a different field, like myself. Look to your network of arts students
and colleagues, and you’ll certainly find love there to keep you trying and improving.
That love will extend and come back to you in the form of a growing studio.
What does your "Dream Studio" Look Like?
No two studios look the same and it is important to structure a business that works for
your life. Some only operate 10 hours a week or less. Others are full time, multi teacher
studios that also produce multiple musicals a year. I have worked at both types at
different points in my career and both can be successful.
At this point, I personally consider my teaching practice to be “full” at 30 1-hour lessons
per week. When I started out, I kept my rates very reasonable, and I used my success
as a performer in a local theatre to get started with that community, and slowly built
connections inside other theaters, schools, and organizations. I donated a couple of 6-
lesson packages for a kids’ summer theatre program, and the buzz from that alone
brought me at least 6 new students.
Once I arrived at my “ceiling” and couldn’t realistically accommodate more students, I
took the opportunity to raise my rates for new students. I was nervous about this, but I
was met with virtually zero pushback or hesitation.
It’s important to take into account several factors when considering what your time is
the local cost of living,
demand for voice lessons
How much are other teachers charging?
You may want to place your rates at or near the top of the scale. Too low, and your
value is placed in a similarly low level. Too high, and you risk pricing out. But if you’re
charging what’s fair and justified for yourself, prospective students will notice
and place a higher perceived value on your service.
What is your Niche?
Look at what you bring to the table. Are you particularly gifted at coaxing out a great
performance from an acting point of view? Do you have additional training and
resources like the Peak Performance training that John Skidmore offers? That, by the
way, is an amazing program that equips teachers to tackle many of the issues of anxiety
and self-sabotage related to performing and auditions.
I quickly recognized that there are several talented teachers in my market, but there are
services that none of them seem to offer. Many teach a 30 minute lesson and focus
solely on voice technique. My personal preference is a 1-hour block with each student
(except very novice or very young). I like to spend 20-30 minutes on exercises and
technique, and then I turn to a song to apply those concepts.
Beyond that are a few things that I take pride in being able to offer.
I spend a lot of time teaching my students how to create a story/scenario that is
relatable in their own lives. We discuss focus, and learning to deliver the song to
one specific person vs. scanning the audience or staring down a director.
I show them how to physically prepare their sheet music, how to enter the
room, what to do with hands (!!), what to do and say when addressing an
accompanist, how to introduce the song, etc.
I do a lot of printing of sheet music also, which you may or may not want to wade
A big component of success is organization. Automating a lot of the busy work such as
lesson reminders, billing and invoicing and advertising all take up a lot of time.
Having a personal website is a great tool, along with using social media (facebook in
particular) for marketing. But you may want to consider additionally using an online
platform such as wild apricot, jack rabbit, mind body, acuity scheduling or others to
handle the busy work.
I use Wellness Living, and it’s worked well for me. All of my booking and payments,
credit card processing, reporting, email/sms communications, tracking “at risk”
customers, etc are all done from that one site. These can take care of a lot of this work
for you leaving you free to develop your actual teaching and music skills and not drown
out your love of music that you are sharing with the world.
Keep At It!
You are all doing something truly noble and loving and are worthy of respect. Love what
you do. Do what you love. Respect will come as others feel your joy and passion for the
music and art you work to bring out in your students.
You are good enough. You are worthy. You are amazing, teachers!