Presence and Pricing

Are you teaching music lessons? How is it feeling for you? 

Musicians often teach as a supplement to their income, and love both the intellectual challenge and the gratifying personal connection with students.  I know I did. But also, low-paid weekly lessons are one of the reasons that musicians as a group remain underpaid and overworked. 

This week I’m thinking about presence.  The reason that musicians are so tired after a two service day is not because it is physically taxing to play our instruments, or not entirely. Rather, it’s because being engaged so fully in real time, precision work, like playing in an orchestra, requires a lot of mental presence. 

The reason that I used to be exhausted, just falling-down tired, after teaching 10 students on Mondays is not because I was doing anything physical. Teaching lessons is a lot of sitting in a chair and hopping up and down to illustrate points and moving back and forth between a chair and a music stand, but all inside one tiny windowless room.  There’s nothing physically tiring about it, at least the way I was teaching. (Classroom teachers are on their feet all day, AND bringing their presence. They are complete heroes, and I’m not comparing myself to them!)

No, the exhausting part is the mental and emotional labor of changing gears every 45 minutes to a new person with new needs.  Honing in on exactly what they need and listening with attention. Creating helpful information for them that is at the right level, that is appropriate to what they need to work on. Doing it in the moment, for exactly the person who is there.  That work requires a level of presence that is really tiring. 

I moved to zoom teaching during the pandemic, and now I do a combination of group programs and 1:1 sessions for my teaching and coaching work.  Everything is right at my desk and I don’t even stand up most of the time!  But I’ve come to realize that a full day for me is four zooms, tops. I can’t do more, because I wind up just vegetative for the rest of the evening. There’s nothing more that I have in me for my family, my email inbox, the oboe, a rehearsal I might go to that night. Three or four sessions a day is all I can offer at the level of quality that I expect from myself and the level of presence that my clients are entitled to from me. 

And that has been a real discovery. 

At this point, I just want to ask how this resonates for you. How many students are you teaching in a day?  How many hours in a row do you have with the full power of your presence, before it begins to wane and you have to dial back? How long a break do you need to actually be refreshed?  It’s really useful to know this for yourself. 

Confidential to my private studio teachers: We sometimes think that the more students we get into our studios, the more money we will make, and there’s a way that that’s true, but at what cost? And we think we can’t raise our prices because our students or their parents won’t stand for it – and that might be true, too – but the other side of that story is that if you can afford to take only a few students each day, you can give them SO MUCH MORE AWESOMENESS, and maybe that’s a greater value to everyone! 

In fact, this lens of PRESENCE is a good way to think about your pricing in general. In my Reed Business Workshops we do some math around the exact time it takes to make a reed, the time you can reasonably allot to the process, the profit you can expect per reed – and in this way, you can set your pricing so it works for you, and you can play with the numbers meaningfully as they change. 

When you are teaching or coaching 1:1, you need to consider how many people you can reasonably serve in a week, delivering the value only you can give.  Then, how much money this particular income stream needs to provide for you. And if the math DOESN’T work – if you would need to charge more than the market will bear? That is information to work with. 

Maybe you will decide to allow this income stream to be only a side hustle for now, while you gain experience and work on your skills, or while the other things in your life are overwhelming. Maybe you think about a way to add value in each session or between sessions, so you CAN charge more. Maybe you add a group component, or pre-recorded material, to protect your presence. The choices are always yours. 

If these are options you’d like to explore more, I have a limited amount of 1:1 coaching space available in my schedule right now. You could sign up for a 90 minute Possibility Session, and leverage my PRESENCE to help you brainstorm and strategize, or book a short discovery call to talk about how an ongoing coaching relationship might help you get your project off the ground! I’d love to help. 

And if this is not the right time for you to consider seeking support, it’s STILL the right time for you to do some math around the precious and limited resource of YOUR time and attention, and strategize how you can take care of YOURSELF within the business of YOU.

Because your artistry matters.

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