Hustlin’ with Private Lessons

The school year is back in full swing, and with the brief respite of Labor Day behind me, it’s a long stretch of mind-molding from here until Thanksgiving.

Fortunately, the school year means music lessons, and music lessons—as one former colleague, now retired, frequently reminds me—mean money.

I don’t love money, but I certainly need it.  And love teaching music lessons, so it’s a happy way to bring in some extra bacon while also teaching kids (and adults!) to make music.  There are few things I enjoy  more than nurturing a love of music; if I make a few quid in the process, well, all the better!

The Lord has blessed me with an abundance—perhaps an over-abundance—of lessons.  At the time of this writing, I am sitting at twenty-six lessons a week across twenty-four students.  Scheduling has been a bit of a nightmare, but I think I have it largely figured out (of course, whenever I think that, some conflict arises and I have to play scheduling roulette—ha!).

Most of those are half-hour lessons (for which I charge $30), with two students taking half-hour lessons twice weekly.  I also have two students taking slightly longer lessons—one for an hour, another for forty minutes.  Two of those students are “free” lessons—I teach them in exchange for the family taking Murphy out while I’m at work, and for the host of other goodies with which they provide me (including fig preserves made from my very own fig tree!)—but probably twenty-two of those lessons are paying my standard $30 per half-hour rate, which is a very tasty ration of bacon.  The other two are the aforementioned “free” lessons, and the remaining two are $50 (one-hour lesson) and $40 (forty-minute lesson).

Some students pay for multiple lessons at once.  Those that do so typically pay for four ($120) at once, which makes sense—it’s a month’s-worth of lessons.  Occasionally, someone will pay for five ($150), and some parents just do two ($60) or three ($90).  I had the parent of a new student pay a whopping $300 for ten bass lessons (I actually waited to transfer that money from Venmo so I could make sure the parent didn’t just make a mistake by adding an extra zero)—the most lessons I’ve been paid for at once in a long time.  Another parent has a daughter who takes twice a week, with another daughter doing the forty-minute lesson, so I settled on an even $100 for that family.

But, assuming everyone paid their price for their lesson every week, and there were no cancellations (more on that in a bit), I’d be bringing in around $750 a week, or $3000 a month.  Holy moly!

Now, here’s the thing:  cancellations are common, and unlike many private music teachers, I do not have a cancellation policy.  With so many students and a very tight schedule, maybe I should adopt such a policy, but I find that constant reminders to both parents and students (I text and/or e-mail parents each Sunday, and I send e-mails to my on-campus students on the day of their lessons to remind them to see me, and I try to tell the students in-person when their lessons are that day) help with missing lessons.  Cancellations are usually due to illness or the like, too, and I have had so many serendipitous cancellations over the years, I figure I might as well show some graciousness.  Cancellation policies make me feel too much like a bill collector—which I sometimes feel like with getting parents to pay, especially via Venmo—and I’d rather not hassle people to pay for a lesson that did not happen.

Here’s the other thing:  the taxes are killer on these lessons—and, yes, I report every dime to the IRS, even for lessons paid in cash.  Because I’m self-employed, I’m paying the employer and employee portions of Social Security contributions.  I’m also not withholding any taxes, as I’m just collecting payment directly from clients.

As such, during a prosperous year (and 2022 has already been quite prosperous—praise the Lord!), my tax burden will be quite intense.  Fortunately, I can write-off my miles, which can really rack up when driving across two counties to teach lessons.

Also, lest you think yours portly is secretly squirreling away a fortunate playing guitar and piano and bass with students, let me point out that summer is a slow time, as are any holidays.  I was blessed with quite a few active students this summer, but revenues definitely decrease, especially in July.  The return of the school year brings a great deal of stability to the schedule, and parents are looking for things for their kids to do after school.

That’s all to say that I have yet to have a weekend in which I teach all twenty-six lessons.  I imagine it will happen at some point, but there’s a good probability of at least one lessons cancelling or rescheduling during the week.

Regardless, I’m still doing well, and am thankful for it.  With prices higher than the Kilimanjaro and the expenses of maintaining a house, a dog, and a girlfriend (just kidding, babe), these lessons go a long way in supplementing my main income—a full two-thirds of which goes from each paycheck to taxes (somewhat) and retirement (mostly).  My monthly bring-home pay from teaching is about a third what I earn from lessons now, but I also don’t pay the taxes on those lessons until tax season (although I might be earning enough now that I will need to switch over to reporting earnings quarterly—d’oh!).

As to how I got all of these lessons, I don’t know, but I have some theories.  For years, I sat at around ten students maximum, with that number never going any higher.  During The Age of The Virus, I was down to one student during the worst of it.  I think the biggest factor is that I am the Music teacher at my school (though we added a choral teacher this year), and as our student body has swelled and parents are looking for individualized instruction for their kids, they know I am the guy.

I suspect, too, that my style of teaching is a big draw—kids are at ease around me, and I teach them in a way that isn’t harsh or judgmental.  Something I have learned about teaching lessons is that your clients are buying you as much, if not more than, the actual ability to play an instrument.  Yes, I have to teach the kids something useful to improve their playing, but many parents and students just seem content knowing that they’ve got some time to jam with me.

Word-of-mouth referrals have helped immensely, too.  I’ve picked up quite a few lessons lately just because people have heard about me, or stopped by one of my front porch concerts.  I’m picking up more students in my town, which makes scheduling a bit easier, too.

Regardless, I am extremely blessed.  I know it could all be gone tomorrow—I don’t think it will be, but it would not surprise me if the day comes where I suddenly shed five or six students, all for different reasons (scheduling conflicts, relocating, graduating, etc.).

Best to make hay while the sun shines—and to make music, too!


6 thoughts on “Hustlin’ with Private Lessons

  1. A fascinating look at a ‘day in the life’ of our Portly.

    On my bucket list for after retiring, at the top of the list, was ‘learn to play piano’. The second item was ‘learn how to sculpt’. Sigh … I must have lost the list …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Audre! And I picked up another student last night. Shew!

      One of my students is a woman in her 70s in Lamar. She told herself that after her youngest son was born, she was going to take piano lessons. It took her forty-three years, but she started taking with me last month!

      If I’m ever down your way, I’d be happy to give you a few lessons, free of charge. It’s the least I can do for your contributions.

      Liked by 1 person

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