Changing Your Story: Private Lesson Fees, Part I

Most private music teachers will price their one to one lessons based on the average cost of lessons in their city or town. While this may be a good place to start, it is something that is in your best interest and the best interests of our communities to outgrow.

I am sharing this post, verbatim, from Cara Transtrom, an Independent private voice studio owner. We met through The SpeakEasy Cooperative founded by Michelle Markwart Deveaux.

Raising rates doesn’t work when you randomly decide to do so without doing the work of understanding yourself, your abilities, your path, your passions, and how that LEADS to rate raises.

Cara’s Words

“Colleagues, I want to share a thought about pricing that has helped me over this last year or two. As is true of many of us, I’m sure, the prices I need to charge for my services in my particular region of the U.S. means that I could never have afforded me (nor could my family) in my growing-up years, college years, or grad-school years.

As you can imagine, I’ve had mixed feelings about this.

So it has often been a struggle to continue to define what it means to take care of myself and my family financially while also fulfilling the passion I have for seeing that vocal education is accessible to those whose limited family resources don’t permit it.

These two things often appear to be in conflict, even though both realities are fully, 100% true simultaneously.

So over the last few years, I’ve been thinking hard about pricing as social justice. I kid you not: if we (mostly female) voice teachers continue to price our services at hobby rates, we help to ensure that the next generation of voice teachers will largely be privileged women who are partnered with someone who can pay all their bills.

So a choice to charge “hobby” rates (which will differ significantly from area to area within the United States, let alone internationally) is actually a choice that will eliminate the following folks from the next generation of voice teachers: large swaths of people of color, first-generation immigrants, some segments of the LGBTQIA+ communities, socio-economically-disenfranchised folks, and others who do not have the luxury of being entirely or almost-entirely supported by family wealth or by a wealthy partner. ”

Cate’s Comment

This may seem like a slap-in-the-face comment to those who keep their rates low to serve a certain demographic. But consider how this can affect anyone who wants to go on in the arts or arts’ education work. They need to work with someone who models both charging a livable wage AND passing it forward to those who can not afford them. After all, your wage has to allow for the on-going bare minimum expenses of self-employment taxes, business expenses, practice and research time and continuing education for the teacher. Otherwise, it is a hobby and you are undercutting those who don’t have a partner who supports them financially.

Cara’s Words

“My choice to charge rates that allow for a basic standard of human needs for me and my family being met, is a choice to help ensure economic justice for the next generation of voice teachers, artists, and teaching artists.

Grit, determination, passion, insatiable curiosity, talent, artistry, creativity, and a relentless desire to grow IS NOT LIMITED only to those with enough privilege to pay for the development of these things: it is instead our human birthright.

I cannot individually change all the world’s economic systems of (in)justice, but I CAN see that the legacy I leave behind for the next generation seeks to ensure that they will have a living wage as artists, teaching artists, or teachers.

We often speak within The Speakeasy Cooperative of pricing for generosity, (pricing in a way that allows us to quietly offer lessons and other services to certain clients in need on a sliding scale different from our published or “usual” rates).

But do we often stop to think of the fact that the way in which we price our services MAY BE ONE OF THE MOST POTENT, EFFECTIVE, AND VALUABLE WAYS THAT WE INSIST UPON ECONOMIC, RACIAL, AND CULTURAL JUSTICE in the communities, countries, and the globe in which we live?

We can and we do touch & change the hearts and minds of people with our performances and our teaching: this we take for granted.

But let’s also embrace the reality that we can and we will change the economic (in)justice that surrounds artists and teaching artists of almost every culture by the ripple effects of our own pricing and money-value choices.

Michelle Markwart Deveaux’s words:

Income + Intention + Impact = BeastyBoss. 

Our money does MORE than help us. 
Our rates are about impact in the world. 

Greed is an insatiable, excessive, selfish craving for more more more. (Jen Sincero) 

Let’s not confuse Greed and Money.

Comments? Thoughts?

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