Teacher’s Forum

Building a Teaching Business

From Breaking Ground to Finding Students

by Jeff Salem

Teachers forum 1I’ve owned and operated my own teaching school, Jeff Salem’s Music Studio, for eleven years. Prior to that I taught percussion lessons at a local music store for twelve years. When I decided to branch out on my own, the decision was made after being on tour with a band for five months. When I returned home I wanted to start teaching again. My first thought was, “If I was just starting to learn the drums, where would I want to go for lessons?”

Location, Location, Location
My first step was to find a suitable location in an area that was close to a highway exit so that potential students wouldn’t have difficulty finding me. I also had to consider options of renting a commercial space or purchasing a larger house so that I could convert part of it into a teaching studio. My main objective was to offer a comfortable setting for students that felt like a home away from home.

I decided to purchase a larger house with my teaching business being run out of the basement, which has a separate entrance so that students don’t have to walk through my front door and living room to get to the lesson rooms. I looked for property that would allow for ample parking, and I made sure to get proper business insurance that allowed me to teach from home. There are plenty of other schools and stores offering drum lessons in my area, so I went about setting my studio apart from the competition by providing a much more comfortable environment for students and parents.

The mission statement at J.S. Music Studio is: “Teaching the art of music to all ages in an inspirational, motivating setting and style.” The purpose of this mission statement is to send out the message that I want every student who studies at my studio to enjoy his or her lessons as much as any other hobby. I want students to want to take lessons, rather than being told by their parents that they had to take lessons. To achieve that, I focused on making the studio feel as relaxed as possible, and I made sure to use state-of-the-art equipment.

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The Walk-Through
The first room you enter at my studio is a lounge for parents and students to hang out in prior to the scheduled lessons. This room includes a television and a classic arcade game machine for anyone to use while they wait. I included comfortable sofas, and I chose soothing paint colors for the walls. I hung various pieces of art on the walls to enhance the cozy feel.

For my teaching rooms, I felt it was important to have enough space to fit two drumkits (one for me and one for the student), and I did everything I could to soundproof each studio. In addition to two drumsets, my drum rooms include a PA system so we can listen and play along to recordings. I have access to the Internet, as well as an extensive collection of books, and there are options to record video and/or audio so that students can take a DVD of their lesson home with them or download it later from my server.

Building the Roster
After designing and constructing my teaching studio, my energy shifted to seeking out potential students. Since I’d spent ten years doing drumset clinics in various schools in my area, I had developed a nice rapport with many of the music teachers. I had also spent a lot of time facilitating drum circles at day care centers, corporate events, and private parties. Through those interactive programs, I was able to connect to a lot of potential students.

I developed a marketing strategy where anyone I met at my clinics and drum circles who might be interested in studying with me privately could come to my studio for a free introductory lesson. This was a great way to introduce students to my studio without their having to make a financial commitment. I had an overwhelming number of students take me up on the offer, so much so that I had to bring in additional experienced, reliable, professional teachers. The incentive program I used with the other teachers was that if the student decided to sign up for a month of lessons, then that teacher would get paid for the free trial.

The Curriculum
It was also important for me to develop a structured program so that parents and students could monitor their progress through the various stages of learning. I designed method books that implemented a similar level system to the color belts used in martial arts. (Check them out at drumkitmethod.com.)

The first book is the introductory level (white belt) for beginning students. We work through seven other books until the student reaches the final black level. Within each level, there’s plenty of room for students to branch out into learning songs and styles of music that excite them. That flexibility is essential in keeping students interested and inspired to continue moving forward. I suggest certain songs that I know students will enjoy learning that have similar grooves as to what they’re studying in their current book. Before a student can progress to the next level, I film him or her playing to one of those songs.

When students complete a book, they get a free drumstick with a color strip to indicate which level they finished, plus a video recording of their performance. I’ve found that the sticks and the videos provide a great way for students to share their accomplishments with friends and family.

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Expanding the Business
Within the first year of my teaching facility I had about fifty students between me and another instructor. As time progressed, some parents asked if I offered lessons for other instruments, such as guitar or piano. I didn’t have the intention at that time to expand beyond drum lessons, so I referred them to study elsewhere. However, I found out they weren’t signing up elsewhere. What they wanted was a one-stop shop where multiple kids could take different lessons at the same time.

The first step I took towards expanding was to have students and parents sign a request list that indicated how many more lessons I would be adding and what instruments they wanted to study. My initial list had more than ten students who were interested in taking guitar lessons, so I decided to add a professional, experienced, and reliable guitar instructor. When I interview potential teachers I’m looking to make sure they have a positive attitude, are confident, polite, and experienced, and have the patience required to teach students of all ages. Once the guitar program was up and running, interest for the piano and vocal lessons emerged, and I began interviewing teachers for those areas as well.

After trying many avenues to increase student enrollment, including placing ads in local newspapers and the Yellow Pages, handing out flyers and more, I found that my best results came from school performances, my website, and referrals from school teachers, current students, and parents of current students.

Having an informative website is very important. It doesn’t have to be flashy, but it must include your lesson policies and rates, photos, your teachers’ bios, contact information, and any other pertinent information about the services your school provides.

Yearly Wrap-Up
Towards the end of spring each year, I host a recital for any students who wish to participate. This allows the students, parents, and teachers to interact, and it helps build a solid community within my school. I hold the recital at a local music venue, which I reserve for a private event for the day, and I hire a backing band of professional musicians to play with the students. The recital is open to all students, friends, and family to enjoy and is a great opportunity for students to showcase all the hard work they put in over the past year. My studio also provides biannual report cards to indicate students’ strengths as well as areas that need improvement.

I’m proud to say that I’m now into my eleventh year of operating Jeff Salem’s Music Studio, and I have eight teachers (including me) and over 125 students. I owe this all to my wonderful, dedicated teachers and to the students who are committed to studying the art of music. There’s nothing more rewarding than witnessing progress in a student and experiencing the joy that learning an instrument brings to them.

Hopefully some of the ideas I used to get my business up and running will inspire you to start or improve upon your own teaching practice. Feel free to reach out to me via my website, jsmusicstudio.com.