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The owner of the music school I teach at told me the other day that they got 400 new students in one day. (And as a result, are - obviously - in crisis). My first reaction was that he was obviously lying/exaggerating - until I saw for myself the way he had been advertising and the prices offered:

http://www.dealfind.com/los-angeles/californiamusicacademy/ (29 dollars a MONTH!)

and this..

http://www.groupon.com/deals/california-music-academy?dl=d47388

This school does a large majority of it's advertising via these above "deal" sites (those above are just one of many), in which people purchased a group of lessons at a grotesquely discounted rate, with hopes that after trying it out they will continue and sign up normally. Apparently, about half do, which makes it worth their while.

As a teacher, an artist, and an advocate of piano playing at a high level, I'm not sure weather I should feel advertising in this manner is a cheapening of our collective image as people who want to promote an image of integrity and discipline in piano playing, or if I should feel flattered and reassured that music lessons ignite such voracious interest from a mass, thrifty public.

I have taught several students who come in through these sites - and it's amazing. You get a type of client who you would NEVER get in a standard setting (ie. children from working class families, who own no instrument, whose minds were never crossed with the idea of taking music lessons before nor know anything about it, but since they saw they could get a set of four lessons for 30 bucks, decide to try it). You also, of course, get people who turn out to be fine students.

In any case, I thought that this could pave the way for a discussion, very least about newer and unconventional ways of advertising..
Someone at the MTNA conference said they did this too through Living Social. Since its just for four lessons, it sounds like a good strategy!
when i was 11, our neighborhood piano teacher moved away. My parents couldn't afford another and we only had one car that went to school with my father, anyway..

so, i stopped lessons... i really didn't have another lesson till 2008 or so, altho i took imaginary lessons from Bach and Chopin.

I was so devastated. I don't like the idea that this strategy undermines the income of serious teachers tho.. (if i were one, I'd be out in the parking lot handing out business card to those who want to move on).. It is VERY good that this opportunity is available to those who would never explore it.
Originally Posted by Opus_Maximus
children from working class families, who own no instrument, whose minds were never crossed with the idea of taking music lessons before nor know anything about it, ...


That would be me and my parents. Decades before groupon of course. But me nonetheless. When I was in second grade I went with a classmate to her piano lesson, and came home and suggested to my mother that I could do that too. I lived in a world of music of a completely different type (my mom's LPs of Broadway musicals and Christmas music)...but I had been very musical from the time I could remember.

But no one in my extended family had ever taken a music lesson. Ever. My mom was the first person in her family to even attend high school. It had never occurred to her for me to have lessons.

But they bought a $75 piano (the only one I ever owned until I was in my 40's) with a bench of the wrong height and keys that didn't work, and signed me up for lessons with the only teacher in our tiny rural town.

There are many things I wish had gone differently...chief among them that I had had a teacher who had ever heard that there was such a thing as proper posture and technique, and that someone had explained to my parents that proper instruction and a working instrument actually *matter* (Mom honestly thought it didn't. She thought that if I had 'talent' I would have just been able to play without these things...and that since I didn't just magically blossom into playing 'those songs on the Liberace album' overnight, that must be proof that I didn't have any special talent).

The one thing I'm glad I missed out on is a teacher who looked down his or her nose at me and my ignorant (an honest description, they were simply ignorant about serious music and its making) parents. Those blue collar families are bravely dipping a toe into a world they know nothing about, and they deserve better than a teacher who is going to have that attitude about them, iven if they are not able to continue for whatever reason.
$29 a month is less than $7.50 per lesson.

I don't dare write more. I would probably get kicked out of PW.
I would rather not waste my time. No instrument? No lessons, here.

However, I taught for several years at a studio where, after an organ was sold, the buyer had 4 complimentary lessons. We, the teachers were to help them get acclimated to all that involves learning to play their new instrument (stops, pedals, some music etc). In exchange, we had a new student 80 percent of the time.

At least they had instruments.

At least they put some effort into learning music on their new instruments.

Many upgraded after a year.

Win/win.

But the effort of teaching non instrument owned lessons for next to nothing?

Count me out!
From the second site link:
Quote
Studies show that children who don't learn to play a musical instrument often try to eat one.

A unique argument for learning to play piano....
Originally Posted by Gary D.
$29 a month is less than $7.50 per lesson.

I don't dare write more. I would probably get kicked out of PW.

If the music school has this policy, then this is the school's business plan. They hire teachers in some kind of arrangement. I would think that if the plan ends up giving a yield of $7.50/lesson, that the teachers should still be paid their full $30 or $40 etc. by the school.

My work as a freelancer has some similarities. Sometimes I have private clients, which is like a teacher having private students in his/her own studio. Sometimes I work for agencies who offer clients my service, which is like a teacher in a music school. Sometimes agencies get new customers by offering "deals" - it will be cheaper, faster etc. Then they want me to honour the commitment that they made. But I'm the one doing the work for x number of hours using my expertise, while they take a percentage from the 10 minutes they might have spent making promises to the customer. I'm seeing it from that angle. Should teachers be expected to take a loss because of a music school's promised discount? Can this be the school's business expense to write out in taxes? Who bears what share of the burden?
The problem:

What happens after a month? $7.50 is absurdly low for private lessons.

In this area private lessons are more than three times that amount. If people can only afford $7.50 per lesson, what are they going to do next?

To me, starting off something at hugely reduced rate would mean that I would probably take advantage of that one month but then would opt out.

If I started out at discount, say at 60 or 70 percent, and I was told, up front what rates would be at the end of that time if I wanted to continue, I would probably be more likely to continue. I would have a month to think, "Wow, this something I really like. I want to continue."

So I don't think such incredibly lessons rates do anything else but "suck people". To me it's a gimmick, and it's based on the idea that you will hold onto a very small percentage of the people who start.

The others fall by the way-side.














Some of the most musical students I've taught enrolled with me because of a *special price* summer deal that I sometimes offer. It's not a ridiculously cheap price but much less than the normal tuition+enrollment that I charge. And for the 4-lesson course I don't require an instrument at home. I offer it either twice a week for 2 weeks OR 4 days in a row.

Many (but not all) parents will then sign their kids up for the coming Fall, happy that they were able to try out the lessons before investing more $$ and purchasing an instrument. I've actually had parents tell me that they would have never considered piano lessons for their child had it not been for the special summer deal I offered. Once they see that their child loves what we're doing in the lessons they are willing to rearrange their finances to afford to continue.
Originally Posted by ProdigalPianist
The one thing I'm glad I missed out on is a teacher who looked down his or her nose at me and my ignorant (an honest description, they were simply ignorant about serious music and its making) parents. Those blue collar families are bravely dipping a toe into a world they know nothing about, and they deserve better than a teacher who is going to have that attitude about them, even if they are not able to continue for whatever reason.
Regardless of what I think of the rest of the situation in the OP and its ramifications, I agree with every word of this.
This is not far from what fitness clubs, weightlifting gyms, yoga clubs, even netflix do: an introductory cheap lesson, that hooks a few who stay for the higher price, and rakes in the quick cash from those who would never stay long term anyway. $29 is better than 0.

A few people game the system, moving from club to club taking and dropping the introductory price; I've heard of people who got the cheap price for yoga for more than a year just by switching often enough.

It's just a different business plan from the typical piano teacher's, but it's not that uncommon.
For my online lessons (composition) I offer a free trial lesson: If they like it they pay for it and we carry on, if not they can't go away and no hard feelings.

The thing is that I'm always certain that the students that I approach me ARE Knowledgable about music and composition and they know the style I'm composing. I wouldn't have it any other way! And it's not a mass marketing ploy. Just a few posts here and there...

Now, in this instance... it just seems too... industrialized! Like getting generic flyers on the street and generic ads on the net and feel you're doing ok! It doesn't feel right!
A Wayne Gretsky quote seems appropriate here:

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

Get them in the door, show them what lessons can do for them, take $29 to offset some of the costs, and I only see a benefit for all parties concerned.

I learned an important lesson as a college professor hearing auditions. 10% of the people who show up for auditions are really good, whether you have 10 people auditioning or 100 people auditioning. Therefore, it makes more sense to audition 100 - you get 10 great students instead of 1.

Think of the trial lessons as an audition on both sides. They get to see if they're willing to commit, and if they do, the commitment will be all the stronger for it. And you get to audition them; it's better than an interview. Instead of taking them on their word that they'll practice every day, you'll actually get to find out for certain.

Let's be clear - the deal offered at the OP's school is NOT a business model, it's a marketing tactic. If it works, then good, be happy. If it doesn't, then don't do it again and look for other ways to recruit students.

The arts are in desperate need of finding new ways to compete in the marketplace, why not try some of the things other successful businesses try?
On the student/parent side I can remember a time of not quite daring to wish to take lessons and sitting on the fence because money was tight and not to be spent on something you know nothing about. I might have taken this as an opportunity with little risk attached and then weighed the experience. Then I probably would have signed up for good. People with little money have to think three times before investing in anything so this kind of low risk could be just the open door that is needed. Otoh, does it attract people who don't think things through? - Piano requires a time commitment.

I'm still thinking of the repercussions on teachers who teach at such a place. Who is carrying the burden of the advertisement. Essentially it's a 75% pay cut. Say they land 4 hours worth of students to be placed with one teacher. Is that teacher to work for 4 hours in a given month for 25% pay? Or is it the institution that carries the cost of its advertisement? does the teacher get paid 100% his usual fee while the institution carries the loss? A teacher advertising on his own for his own studio will have worked out his budget.

I freelance and was the sole wage owner while raising a family. I've already described a similar situation we run into. There is some difference since the institutions actually rent out space which is limited, so they also carry a loss for what that space earns them. But I still wonder what the teachers' side of it - who takes what proportion of the loss due to the advert's promise?

When I first started out, the studio I worked at was run by a piano/keyboard shop. The first Chrstmas, the boss decided to offer 4 free lessons with every keyboard sold, and I was expected to do these lessons for him. 4 individual sessions, 1 hr long.

Being young, naive and in need of work, I dutifully agreed. In fact, the other shop staff had to muck in, boss included, to help out, as there were so many to do. I did pick up a good percentage of them as long term students, though.

Every year, he'd do this stunt, and every time I'd suggest to him a way that we could trim the offer down - eventually just one lesson was given with each sale, and they were given as group lessons over the course of a single Sunday.

I was never short of students, but I still resent the way he felt it was ok to give so much of my time away as an incentive to make sales in those early years. I literally got nothing for that time, save for the possibility of acquiring the student once the trial period was up.

Nowadays, I run a small studio with another teacher, and every September we send some flyers round a few local junior schools, offering a free trial keyboard lesson. This has proved invaluable to us as a way of maintaining our numbers.

We always get replies from a few parents who were thinking about starting anyway, and our offer tipped the scales in our favour. Some of them will have been waiting for our letter, because friends at school had recommended us. Some only try it because it's free, but turn out to be good students. Then there are the inevitable few who dip their toes in, but don't like the amount of commitment it takes to learn an instrument. Of course, there are always a few who only come for the trial lesson because it is free, and have absolutely no intention of starting!
One has to assume that the teachers were hired previously under contract that details their pay scale. So any marketing tactic used by the school to get more students would have had to be considered feasible financially by the school. Either that, or the teachers themselves would have had to agree to such terms. If people agree to teach for pennies, for whatever reason, you can't really say much about it.

I find nothing wrong with this tactic to get more students. I'm sure at some point the families are told what regular lessons cost and that it's clear this is an introductory rate, and at that point if they cannot afford it no one can make them pay for it. They would simply stop. The benefit is that even if the student can't afford to stay, they were at least exposed to playing when they might not otherwise have been exposed to it. Perhaps then the student would be inspired and would find a way to get a teacher. You never know.
Morodiene, I can't know what types of arrangements teachers and music schools and stores that offer music lessons have. In my field, when I subcontract with agencies I find a lot of assumption and ignorance. There are some differences. For one, the school/store is providing a regular teaching space which affects them and their profits. On the other hand, if that room is empty for x hours because no teaching is going on, then the room is an expense (rent) not generating profits. So even at 25%, this mitigates the loss. But what about the teacher?

In the situation we have, an agency makes an arrangement with clients and then expects the professional to honour that commitment without asking him first. If someone says "I've made this arrangement, will you take the assignment." I can explain that no, I won't accept it. But I have seen colleagues who continually work with an agency, and in the middle of their work the agency has suddenly made a deal with the client changing arrangements mid-stream, and expects the professional to just go with it. So can this kind of thing happen in teaching? Like, what Ben describes seems to go in that direction.
My parents, though they were educated and intellectual, were almost the same way about music -- they had no idea what went into it and thought if I really wanted to do it I would just be able to get better. I'm sure they would have been receptive to understanding how to do it the right way if someone had explained it to them. But my teacher was a hack, and looking back on it I can see there was no way I could have learned to play the piano properly based on what she taught and the way she taught it.

About the amazing intro offers: yes, it's a gimmick and probably draws in some longer term students. But taking music lessons is such a long-term endeavor that how you start and how much you spent gets lost in the mists of time -- it's not like a home renovation where you pay $x for a specific thing; it's more like an ongoing maintenance contract.

ETA: I recently started teaching an adult cello student, after not teaching in about 15 years, and I didn't charge her for the first lesson. It was informational for both of us -- if I thought I could help her and if she liked my approach. I think if I ever go back to teaching more I will do this with every student.
Some more food for thought:

This thread is a good example why teachers need to think of themselves as a business with revenue, and that their salary is paid from that revenue.

Providing trial lessons at a discount is nothing more than a marketing expense. The teacher still makes their usual hourly wage, and the business writes off the difference as an advertising expense.

Now, if the business in the OP is expecting the teachers to teach trial lessons for $8/hour, then that's a horrible idea and the teachers are idiots for agreeing to it.
Originally Posted by Kreisler
Some more food for thought:

This thread is a good example why teachers need to think of themselves as a business with revenue, and that their salary is paid from that revenue.

Providing trial lessons at a discount is nothing more than a marketing expense. The teacher still makes their usual hourly wage, and the business writes off the difference as an advertising expense.

Now, if the business in the OP is expecting the teachers to teach trial lessons for $8/hour, then that's a horrible idea and the teachers are idiots for agreeing to it.


Exactly, Kreisler. Well said. smile
Quote
This thread is a good example why teachers need to think of themselves as a business with revenue, and that their salary is paid from that revenue.

Providing trial lessons at a discount is nothing more than a marketing expense. The teacher still makes their usual hourly wage, and the business writes off the difference as an advertising expense.


+1 precisely.

I'm surprised to have never seen a discussion here about the intrisic economic value of a student. eg. the average 6 year old beginner has a net present value of $XXXX. You might be surprised at how big this number could be. Just about any business that has recurring revenues based a customer relationship (think cable tv, netflix, amazon prime customer, newspaper subscriber, cellular customer, etc. etc.) makes these kinds of calculations. Once you have an understanding of the economics of the relationship, it is easy to justify a certain amount of customer acquisition cost.

Some thoughts:

1) How is this deal fair to the students who are currently paying full price? Should they just quit and then sign up again as new?

2) The deal is so extreme, wouldn't people of average intelligence immediately see it as a marketing scheme? Or a scam?

3) This deal won't help the blue-collar families, anyway, because the prices go up eventually.

4) Let's say some kid is like the yoga person getting deals from five different "yoga schools" within a year. After a year of these deals from "music schools," the net result is one very, very damaged piano student with a lifetime's worth of bad habits that cannot be undone.

5) Thinking outside the box or not, this deal just sounds plain dumb on so many levels. What kind of clients is the school looking for? It feeds on the ignorance of most people who don't understand how music lessons are supposed to work.
The school appears to be offering a limited number of "taster" lessons at a loss-leader price.

If it forgot to mention "subject to availability" on the ad., it might have a problem!

Questions to ask yourself:

Why are you working for this school instead of teaching privately?

Was the school flourishing, with a healthy waiting list?
What is "subject to availability" means?

Is that means if the school do not have opening then the school is not obligated to teach the students under promotional value?
ezpiano, you have the meaning correct.

The organization Opus Maximus worked for received 400 responses to their ad and now they have no way to honor it. Maybe they can handle 80 (just a guess). That means they now have to back track and tell the other 320 clients that they don't have enough teachers and rooms to teach them.

They would do well to figure out how many freebies they can offer (40? 80?) and then put in the ad that the offer is open to the first 40 to sign up.

As it stands now, the organization has a lot of angry people who answered the ad and find out they are not getting the deal that was advertised.
Originally Posted by Ann in Kentucky
As it stands now, the organization has a lot of angry people who answered the ad and find out they are not getting the deal that was advertised.

Sounds like the publicity stunt backfired!
Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by Ann in Kentucky
As it stands now, the organization has a lot of angry people who answered the ad and find out they are not getting the deal that was advertised.

Sounds like the publicity stunt backfired!

Of course, I'm guessing that there are angry people, judging from what the OP told us about the situation. But yes, I'd say it was poorly managed, and backfired.
My apologies for delayed responses on a topic I started.

A bit more info:

Yes, the crisis was that they did NOT expect such a large amount of people to purchase the lessons. Obviously he didn't take into account how much availability would be needed as meticulously as he should have, but the overaching point, that came as a surprise to him and me was the sheer interest there is in music lessons out there. (I was contemplating positing this in the "is piano study decking in America" thread). And yes - us teachers still get paid our usual hourly rate, even when the student bought a package of 4 lessons for 29 dollars. It is the school itself that takes a loss, but goes out on a limb hoping that the sheer amount of new long-term sign ups that will result from this marketing tactic will make up the difference. In their experience running these types of things in the past, about half do sign up.

From a sheer standpoint of business, it is a quite incredible tactic and has very evident effectiveness. The two issues I have with it are on a pragmatic level:

- Scheduling. They sign up for a "trial" period - usually 4 lessons. This means that the teachers need to clear a weekly slot in their schedule - but knowing that it will likely only last for a month. If you have a lot of these, it can put a damper on long-term planning and scheduling of regular students.

-Commitment: (ProdigalPianist's implication that I have an elitist "attitude" about this notwistanding), you find that sometimes you're dealing with a student who has no instrument at home, nor plans to buy one, nor sees or understands the reason for practicing. Given that this is simply something they want to "Try', that's OK - but since the very essence of a piano lessons are learning skills, reinforcing those skills by practice at home so that you can then use that foundation to build new skills - it makes teaching in the traditional manner rather difficult. The lessons inevitably turn out to be more of a music-appreciation type thing, or a basic introduction to musical concepts, which is perfectly ok, but would be more fruitful in a classroom setting or under the title of "into to music lessons" - rather than a piano lesson, where the job is to actually get them playing. And as AZN stated, it doesn't help too much anyways for those who can't afford it because the discount runs out in a few weeks anyway.

BUT... aside from those types of issues, the moral of the story is that the interest in music is overwhelmingly there, this can become evident when advertised in less than conventional ways to a less than conventional audience. This particularly situation (my school) needs to be a little more organized, but in a time when interests in the arts and music are SUPPOSEDLY at an all time low, this surge of interest can be reassuring.

Originally Posted by Exalted Wombat

Questions to ask yourself:

Why are you working for this school instead of teaching privately?

Was the school flourishing, with a healthy waiting list?


1. ) I can't find enough private students and need to make a living
2.) Yes.
Originally Posted by Opus_Maximus
My apologies for delayed responses on a topic I started.

A bit more info:

Yes, the crisis was that they did NOT expect such a large amount of people to purchase the lessons.

BUT... aside from those types of issues, the moral of the story is that the interest in music is overwhelmingly there


Another moral of the story is that if it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.

An organization trying to accomodate 400 new students, maybe has 4 teachers who can fit in 10 additional students. Even at best it's likely to take a full year before everyone gets their low priced month of lessons. If some actually continue lessons, then many will never get to collect on their low priced lessons. And that's just looking at each teacher having 10 openings, and not even considering if it is a time that works for the family signing up.
This story about 400 responses is simply proof that people like free stuff. What will be more useful information is to know next month (when freebie is over) how many of these new students signed up to continue lessons.
Originally Posted by Ann in Kentucky
This story about 400 responses is simply proof that people like free stuff. What will be more useful information is to know next month (when freebie is over) how many of these new students signed up to continue lessons.


Ann, I think you are kind of missing the OP's point:

[emphasis added by me]

Quote
It is the school itself that takes a loss, but goes out on a limb hoping that the sheer amount of new long-term sign ups that will result from this marketing tactic will make up the difference. In their experience running these types of things in the past, about half do sign up.
From a sheer standpoint of business, it is a quite incredible tactic and has very evident effectiveness



Setting aside for the moment the discussion of scheduling difficulties and trial lesson content, what I'm hearing is that there is an untapped appetite for piano lessons within a market demographic that is usually bypassed by traditional means of filling studio timeslots.

There is a long history in this country of families with very modest means making financial sacrifices for the benefit of their children, so I don't know why we should be shocked that this might be true as applied to piano instruction. Reminds me of stories about dirt poor farmers holding their children out of school to work the farm, then finally relenting, at some financial sacrifice, after seeing little johnny's taste for book-learinin' has been whetted by the local school marm. smile


Originally Posted by JimF

There is a long history in this country of families with very modest means making financial sacrifices for the benefit of their children, so I don't know why we should be shocked that this might be true as applied to piano instruction. Reminds me of stories about dirt poor farmers holding their children out of school to work the farm, then finally relenting, at some financial sacrifice, after seeing little johnny's taste for book-learinin' has been whetted by the local school marm. smile

Jim,

My only concern would be for those who CAN afford the intro lessons but who will never have enough money for the "real rates", if you get my drift...
A large part of the business aspect of any venture, music teaching included, is a numbers game. It's called a sales funnel: of all the people in your locality, a certain percentage are looking for piano lessons. Of those people, a certain percentage will come across your name (advertising, word-of-mouth, whatever). Of THOSE only a certain percentage will call you, etc, etc, etc until you convert (another sales term) them into paying customers.

When the school used groupon, it was messing with the fundamental structure of that funnel. Priced that low, those four piano lessons are definitely not a serious commitment, in much the same way that if I buy a $0.99 app on the Apple app store and it turns out to be a dud, I don't feel like I've been robbed blind.

Quote

...the moral of the story is that the interest in music is overwhelmingly there...


Yes, and I actually don't think it has ever diminished. But what I think the experiment with groupon is going to teach the school is that while it has been able to bring in a staggering number of "new students" the overall quality of student will be low. I would be surprised if more than a couple continue lessons.
Originally Posted by JimF
[quote=Ann in Kentucky]
From a sheer standpoint of business, it is a quite incredible tactic and has very evident effectiveness



OK. I admit I was missing the point on purpose...as it sounds gimmicky. A supervisor placing a freebie ad, and then freaking out over the unplanned for responses. Hmm. Teachers assigned to teach kids with no piano etc. Ugh.

But if it is working for them, then great. Word of mouth referrals is working great for me and I have fortunately not needed to advertise. Huge discounts seem to be working for others. Yet they don't manage to keep students very long as the freebie ads seem to be rolled out regularly.

I briefly worked from a music store, and got a certain type of referral. They inquire about lessons for little Jaeden, but "That's too much" was the response I'd hear when the fee was discussed.

I'm just saying that there are some people who value lessons enough to pay for them. Endless offering for freebies will not change people's values.

But if it's as rosy as the OP describes then I suppose his school is looking to hire 10 more teachers.


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