So with all the UK government cuts having now filtered their way down to the general public I thought I’d write an article on a musicians perspective. As a professional musician you have to accept that your work is patchy and inconsistent at best, it goes with the territory so to speak.
You can find yourself swamped with work all at the same time, particularly in the summer months during the wedding season and again in the run up to Christmas and the New Year. All of a sudden the work dries up in January as many people decide to tighten their purse strings after an extravagant festive season.
The beginning of the year is quite bereft of public holidays, weddings and other events that often book live music. There are no festivals to generate employment… I think you get the idea. So, what do musicians do when they’re not gigging?
Well, the simple answer is that they teach. Gigs 90% of the time take up an evening which leaves the musician plenty of time during the day to occupy themselves with other activities. Teaching is a fantastic way to supplement ones gigging income and it usually guarantees at least a small regular income each month.
Therefore this kind of employment is vital if a musician wants to make a go at a full time career in music. Where do you find work as an instrumental teacher? Well there are three main ways of approaching it. Every county council will have some kind of music service who supply the state schools in the area with peripatetic music teachers.
Lessons are given during the school term and sometimes can also include some Saturday school work. The employment given by a music service is often extremely varied as they can request that you work with small groups or ensembles as well as on an individual basis so you need to be prepared to do some work that initially is perhaps a little outside your comfort zone.
The more you take the opportunities that a music service gives you the more likely they will be to book you for more work. You’ll get to meet a whole host of musicians who also work for the music service in collaborative projects so it’s a great way of meeting new people and forging new contacts and potentially more work.
Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned government cuts many music services have either stopped recruiting altogether or even worse have been forced to reduce the amount of work that is available. This has left many previously employed musicians looking for another source of income.
The problem at the moment from my perspective appears to be that there are many more musicians looking for work alongside new entrants into the profession, usually graduates and undergraduates alike from music colleges and universities who are all vying for few positions.
The market has reached saturation point and at the moment openings are very few and far between. When a position does become available, so many people applying for one position means that your chances of standing out from the crowd and even getting an interview are slim at best.
So if music service employment is currently out of the question where can a musician find another source of income? The second option is to teach privately at home or at students houses. Private students I have found to be much more rewarding as they have often hunted down the teacher and the age ranges of these students varies enormously.
You’ll have to work much harder to find enough work as a private instrumental tutor. You need to spend money on advertising, perhaps even a website and generally try and promote yourself as much as possible. This of course takes time, which is unpaid but if you’re really committed you can find enough students to make it worthwhile.
This particular area has suffered slightly as more recently people have tightened their belts with certain luxury expenses. Music lessons are usually one of the first things anybody is going to cut down on if not stop altogether. The key to success is to not get complacent, keep pushing yourself out into the public domain.
Advertise every so often and try to keep the adverts fresh and interesting. Put flyers in the local music shop, in fact advertise anywhere you can think of, you never know who will see it. Maintain a website with regular updates and research how you can move up the search engines.
There’s no use having a great website if no-one is going to see it so you need to make sure that you’re doing everything possible to generate traffic. So you’ve done all of the above, you’ve got a great website and have some new students, brilliant, fantastic, it’s not easy but you’ve already done a great job. Well done!
Stopping here is the biggest mistake you can make because really you don’t want to rely on a single set of pupils for them to one day say they can’t have lessons any more and leave you with a financial shortfall.
In these instances it’s usually good to come to some kind of agreement or contract between you and the student about how many lessons you will teach and then, if it’s working out agree to another set. That way you can safeguard your income somewhat but still keep your teaching schedule convenient for you.
Teaching at independent schools is also worth exploring, as long as you can find a fairly decent block of work that gives you a few hours on a particular day. They are usually a little more flexible than employment through the music services so if you need to miss a week or employ a dep to cover for you because of another commitment it’s not so much of a problem.
If you have to travel quite a distance for only an hours worth of work it may not be financially viable to continue with that job. The problem sometimes arises at schools that you already teach at where you may have had a few hours teaching but due to one student leaving the school and perhaps another giving up the instrument and no new pupils coming in through the early years to replace them you may find yourself in a situation where continuing your teaching no longer makes sense.
This is part of the unpredictable nature of pursuing a peripatetic career and is something that sometimes just can’t be avoided. Always give yourself options and keep looking around for new opportunities. Getting teaching work through an independent school requires you to scour the many websites that advertise for music jobs.
www.rhinegold.co.uk is a great place to look for peripatetic work in general as music services, independent schools and others advertise for teaching jobs on there. It’s also worth contacting schools on the off chance that they have work.
In these instances try to offer something different, for example, do an interactive presentation in a school assembly (intimidating I know!), consider giving free taster sessions and be willing to go that extra mile to get the work. Showing schools that you’re enthusiastic and dedicated to teaching will greatly increase your chances of successful employment and make you stand out from the saturated teaching market.
Another option is to sign up to the many independent music teaching agencies out there. Some of these offer a teaching experience similar to the music services although generally you are not expected to conform to a strict syllabus so you get much more freedom with your teaching and you usually don’t have to work with groups of students.
Alternatively some agencies let you register with them and you create a profile on their website where potential students look through and find a local teacher. At the moment I’ve found this method doesn’t really produce the results you would get from applying for jobs directly yourself as competition is fierce and there will be many other musicians in a similar situation to you who have also created a profile.
For any potential students these websites can be a bit daunting as the number of teachers registered for even one instrument sometimes numbers in the hundreds. This is perhaps one of the most difficult ways of gaining employment as you’re in amongst a crowded group and your chances of even getting clicked on can be slim.
These websites often offer a premium service where you can have top billing in a search for your instrument. There are so many of these websites you have to measure up how cost effective it is to pay for the service versus the work you’ll generate, make sure you pick the best one for you. Don’t forget, you will be able to expense the cost of a subscription in your tax return.
Try the service on one of the websites, you may find success. Your profile that you’ve created isn’t going to disappear and if you’ve signed up even for just the free profile on as many of these sites as you can you’re more likely to get hits at some point.
Work can turn up when you least expect it and that profile you signed up for a year ago might suddenly come through for you. Just make sure when someone does get in contact that you have a clear idea of how you teach and when you speak to them you sound like you know what you’re doing.
Any links to your websites must be kept up to date and relevant along with your profile, there’s nothing worse than clicking on a dead link, a sure fire way to immediately lose your potential new student. Generating a significant presence online and locally doesn’t have to be difficult and all it takes is a little bit of effort on your part.
Do not expect the work to come to you. You must find it, if potential students can see how you do things through these agencies and your own interesting website they will pick you over the other teacher who is staring at their email waiting for the work to come in.
So, really, being a peripatetic instrumental teacher in these times of financial uncertainty and crippling cutbacks of arts funding is not easy but if you’re dedicated enough and love what you do you can make a success of it. Speak to other teachers and musicians, maintain relationships and suddenly someone will think of you when a job comes up. Just be prepared to put the hard work in and you will reap the rewards.