The Future of Music Education

What has been true over the last half century is that there has been a well-defined line between music academies and private studio teachers.

A private studio being a studio that is in a home or commercial space where there’s just one teacher seeing up to 50 students. A music academy being an institution that has 100, 200, or 500 kids and a central business that is a teacher or owns the business but she employs master teachers to work with the pupils of that academy. There has been a strongly delineated line between those two types of businesses. What I’m seeing right now is that the line is getting blurred.

Right now, that line is getting blurred and there is a new class of teacher that is emerging. The reason that class of teacher is emerging is because the gatekeepers that held the keys to advertising… are no longer the gatekeepers. Here’s what I mean. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to get your business in front of a lot of people you had to go through a newspaper. You had to buy space in a magazine. You had to go through a postcard mailing company. You had to buy advertising space on the radio.

And, what that meant was that there was a certain amount of talent required to create effective advertising that you knew was going to cause you to have more students. The fact that it cost so much to work with those gatekeepers and to get into some of these larger publications or to advertise at scale … what that meant was that if you didn’t have the money or the talent to do that kind of advertising, then you were kept out entirely. What that did was kept out teachers who weren’t ambitious to have a large studio or didn’t want to work on the skills necessary to create effective advertising.

These teachers stayed small. Whereas, someone who had a goal or dream to build a music academy… they either worked on the skills themselves to create great advertising… to take the risk to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a postcard campaign that they did not know if it would work or not… They had the gumption and ambition to go out and find those gatekeepers and raise the money to do that or to build their own talent so they could do it themselves. They created their own advertising and worked on their own personal skills to do that.

What’s happening (because of digital advertising) is that teachers are bypassing those gatekeepers, and going directly to consumers through advertising channels such as Pinterest ads, Instagram ads, Facebook ads, and Snapchat ads and whatever other social media channels that are coming down the pike. Teachers are going directly for those channels. Here’s what that means. Well, hold on There’s one other trend that I’m beginning to see emerge That is getting more traction pedagogically.

In the past, if you were a teacher that taught group lessons it was very likely that you were ignored by parents or looked down upon by the educational establishment. That, the reigning model of teaching piano or trumpet or guitar or violin or over the last 100 years is that it’s one students with one teacher coming once a week to see the teacher. Because of social media, the acceleration, the speed with which new ideas are being propagated is increasing. More and more teachers are beginning to create their own methods.

They’re rejecting the traditional norms of our educational field and create something very unique (on their own) and they’re differentiating themselves from teachers around them. Now, because of this they are getting a disproportionate amount of students because of their ambition and what that means is that they have a little bit more profit margin they have a little bit more money What I’m talking about here is that group lessons as a pedagogical tool is really coming into its own right now. At the MTNA conference in Baltimore, I saw booth after booth of vendors, of entrepreneurs who have created technology or an app. Five years ago there might have only been a few people in the technology space trying to create and sell educational tools directly to teachers. At least half of the booths at MTNA this year was some sort of app some sort of technological tool that is being sold to teachers. Some of the tools that are now being used such as Playground Sessions or Piano Marvel Some of these tools are allowing teachers to work in groups and leverage the power of technology to evaluate children at a speed heretofore unthought of.

It would have been unimaginable ten years ago to think that we could evaluate children with accuracy, with a high degree of confidence that the child is getting a great music education with an app. I know of studios right now that are using the app Piano Marvel to do almost all of the evaluation work with kids who are at low levels. They are able to see and graduate kids at a rate of 12 per hour with just a master teacher and an assistant or two. The product that is coming out the other end of that system is not a substandard student. The product is a student that is going on to win state competitions. What this means… these three trends… gatekeepers are gone, there’s a blurring of the lines between the music academy and the small teacher, and technology… and along with this idea that group lessons are coming into their own… here is what I see happening. That teachers who are ambitious, who are working on their pedagogical skills, and who are also working on their marketing and business skills… these teachers are going to get a disproportionate number of students over the next 10 years.

If you’re a teacher that’s not working on those skills, or is discounting those skills… you are going to have a choice to make. You are either going to have to subsume yourself into a larger academy and become a paid employee. Or… you’re going to have to step up and begin to work on those direct to consumer skills skills such as marketing, persuasion, communication, and leadership so that you can go directly to those families. Because teachers that are working on those skills can go directly to those consumers through Facebook, and Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram and advertise their program which is very robust. Now at the same time because a lot of teachers are going to be moving to group lessons over the next ten years they’re going to have higher margins which gives them more of what I’ll call a “war chest” out of which to advertise.

Now, this doesn’t just apply to small studio teachers. This also applies to music schools. The #1 thing that music schools want to know is how to create more margin using group lessons and the #1 thing that is keeping them from doing that right now is their ability to “sell it” to the parents in their studio. I will tell you that this is only going to be a concern for a few more years and that the vast majority of music academies across the US (there’s over 4,000 privately held music academies across the US).

The vast majority of music academies over the next 10 years are going to be switching over to the group lesson model. This is going to make it more difficult for the private independent teacher. To compete against those larger academies. Those larger academies are going to see margin increase of 200%, 300%, 500% Where is all that money… where is all that increase margin going to go to? I will tell you where it’s going to go to… it’s going to go right back into advertising so that those schools can maintain their dominance. The price of advertising is going to go up. The amount of attention those academies will get is going to go up and those people who are not working on the softer skills of persuasion and leadership of creating a really unique program, they’re going to find it hard and more difficult to to operate at the professional level. Now am I absolutely certain this is going to happen over the next ten years? Am I absolutely certain that it’s going to happen exactly this way? I’m not Nostradamus…

I can’t say with *certainty* that it’s going to happen, but given these four trends, I firmly believe that something close to this – if not this thing exactly – is going to happen and those teachers who are preparing themselves now by investing in their own education, their own business education, their own marketing education, and investing in improving their craft,  investing into creating programs and thinking outside the box and adopting technology and leveraging it so they can see more students per hour.  These teachers will be leading the way into the future. Teachers who are not investing in themselves in that way will find themselves being rapidly left behind. They’ll be operating only at the hobby level.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. I certainly have enjoyed communicating with so many professionals.