How to Unlock Your Music Career While Teaching Private Lessons

Andrew Vait

Jun 22, 2017

The path to education is different for every teacher. Whether you rely primarily on teaching to provide a stable income or want to supplement your performance or writing career with teaching opportunities, there is an art in balancing each pursuit.

My experience in education has led me to a very interesting career in music, where teaching has both informed my performance career and helped to finance my musical goals. Critical components to achieving this balance include:

  1. Clearly defining your music career goals,
  2. Establishing a teaching schedule that complements your career goals, replete with a straight-forward and fair private lesson policy — a topic I covered in a previous blog post,
  3. Being kind to yourself as a teacher and creator.

Mitigate Expectations

I moved to Seattle in the fall of 2007 after graduating from the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music jazz program in the Spring of that year. As I settled into the city I would call home for the subsequent 10 years, I contemplated my professional options and potential revenue streams from my cousin’s couch (i.e. responded to every Musician Wanted ad on Craigslist). I recalled walking through the graduation hall at University of Miami with a dizzying sense of freedom, purpose, and — of course — an obligatory and generous helping of naïveté. “How young — how foolish — I was those long five months ago,” I pondered, moving from one end of my cousin’s couch to the other.

Ironic to the headline and content of this piece, the only career standard I set for myself upon moving to Seattle is that I would not teach. I responded to those Craigslist ads; I showed up early to jam sessions, I asked to sit in with the house band at dive bars, I would only accept the best gigs in town. I waited for the call to join the next touring outfit out of Seattle, but that call did not come. At least, it didn’t come right away.

In a stilted demonstration to move off my cousin’s couch (upon my cousin’s loving but firm request) into the city that showed me no immediate mercy , I clandestinely answered a teaching ad at a music school in Fremont — you know, where the troll lives. I got the job and was set up with my first two voice students in January of 2008. I established a two-day-per-week practice — Tuesdays and Wednesday, as it were — to leave weekends open for touring. I have been teaching private lessons ever since.

A Routine That Works

I will be the first to admit that I went through the motions for my first few years of teaching private lessons. That isn’t to say that I didn’t help my students or that I demonstrated an outwardly negative attitude toward teaching, but I quarantined teaching as a means to an end; a temporary patch on my basic financial needs until my music career blossomed. I developed a resentment toward my professional path — I felt that my teaching was somehow inhibiting my performance career, but I couldn’t afford to quit teaching because, in reality, there was no performance career to support me.

I spent years relaying to my students what scraps I could remember from a few sporadic voice lessons in college. I was a jazz saxophone major at University of Miami and transitioned to jazz voice in my junior year. You could say my formal training was…scattered. I recognized a stagnation in my lessons after hesitantly exploring my anxiety surrounding teaching and, paired with the fact that I was still not touring with any regularity, I took voice lessons again for myself and made a commitment to my private teaching practice. Much to my chagrin, I began to enjoy teaching.

The Challenge Of Being A Better Teacher

Right around this time, my music career blossomed. My then-new indie pop project, SISTERS, quickly garnered critical praise and a dedicated local and regional following, and I started getting more calls for touring and studio work. As the demand for my musical offerings grew, so did demand for my teaching services.

In retrospect, I can’t help but wonder if my change in attitude toward teaching invited a holistic overhaul to the entirety of my music career.

I currently maintain an extremely flexible teaching schedule during workday hours because I can no longer commit to any specific day of the week. It took almost 10 years of structuring and restructuring to achieve this balance.

Mitigate Expectations (Again)

I still find myself daydreaming about that opportunity that will take me away from *this life* and catapult me into the stratosphere of tour buses surrounded by successful musicians and their celebrity friends. You could view this as a healthy dose of fallacy and ambition — the combination of which will keep you hungry and satisfied. I find it most productive at this mark in my life to remind myself that success in my music career is not mutually exclusive to an enjoyable and lucrative career in teaching. Each pursuit can — and will — inform the other, if you give them each the space to do so.

How have you found success in balancing performance with teaching? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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