Most voice teachers and coaches say that we charge [whatever] an hour. When we think about raising our prices we tend to think of that increase based on a per-hour or per-lesson basis.
But is that “face time” with a client really all that goes into a lesson? We know that there is a lot that goes into running our studios. There’s a lot behind the teaching curtain that the students either don’t see or don’t know to acknowledge.
- your formal education
- your years of voice, instrument, and/or music study
- your performance experience
- the time you spend researching music and other resources
- your admin and prep time
- services you pay for that allow you to teach (e.g., after school care, cleaning services, piano tuning, memberships, etc.)
- planning the performance opportunities for your students
- all the stuff you do for your students & your studio
When your clients take your advice about their audition, they learn more from that audition than they would have had you not been their guide. When they bring you the song they wrote, it may be because you’re providing the only safe space for them. When they want to create a goal or hit a mark, you’re the one walking beside them as they take that journey.
If you were a lawyer…
you’d probably start your professional life working for and/or with other lawyers. These more experienced professionals would guide your thinking about how to charge for your talents, service, resources, and education.
You’d understand that when you charge for your time, that billing includes many other things. You would learn that your client was paying for the expertise they do not have. That expertise will deliver results the client would not otherwise enjoy.
The fee they pay you represents something they need and cannot get without the package of you + your resources.
As voice professionals…
and as people in the arts, we typically don’t get that sort of guidance. In fact, despite the fact that our “applied [art-form]” degree virtually ensures that we will be self-employed to some degree, we usually get no training at all on how to survive as freelance professionals.
If you did not get a degree in “applied [art-form]” rest assured that you didn’t miss any business training. Actually, being the sideman in a band probably gave you more training in learning to be self-employed than your college-degreed cohorts got.
We’re in the same boat. We’ve had to make it up as we go.
Not only that…
But we seldom get encouragement around the value of our expertise. (Even from others in our field!) If anything, we often get the message that we should charge less than we do.
It may have to do with the moniker “teacher”. The teaching profession is associated with women, so, de facto, it has historically been underpaid. Additionally (or maybe because it’s a “woman’s profession”) there seems to be a cultural assumption that we teachers, like artists, should be motivated solely by the love of our craft. We often buy into the notion that our client’s financial well-being should take precedence over our own.
What if you thought of your work differently?
I want to challenge you to start thinking of yourself as a specialized professional; someone who can provide a unique service in a singular way. Here’s a short list of ideas to help you.
- What do you call yourself and how does that make you feel? Experiment to find the title that’s most empowering to you. It might be vocal coach, singing voice specialist, voice expert, vocal magician, healing voice specialist, or something more unique.
- What do you call the people you serve and how does it make you feel? Play around with this one, too! You might see students, but you might also see clients, singers, artists, or vocalists.
- “Voice lessons” should definitely be on your website (it’s a common search term) but that doesn’t mean you have to define your work that way. Think it through. What do you actually provide? Use the words that feel professional and credible to you.
- There are practices you don’t like to do, don’t make time for, or both. They may feel like a burden (invoicing) or a luxury (singing). Doing, or not doing, these things affects the way you perceive and treat your business.
- Get better at stuff. Those skills you may avoid improving – marketing, teaching popular styles, using onboarding systems – are going to help you. They’ll help you functionally, and will also contribute to your professional mojo!
- You can’t afford to focus exclusively on your favorite kind of client right now. But if you plan for becoming an expert in a particular kind of client, you may have a studio full of that client in five years. Specialists have more cred and charge more.
- Join a group; online or in person. Join as a voice pro, as an artist, as a specialist, or as all those things. Hang out long enough to get the tenor of the group and see if it’s a good fit, and that it’s empowering.
- Make sure there’s someone in your life (that group I just mentioned, your partner, your therapist, whatever) who will support your decisions. If you say, “I need to raise my rates and I’m scared,” you need to say it to someone who believes in you as a professional.
This is by no means a definitive list, but I hope it stirs up your thoughts a bit. All change begins with a thought. Knowing your professional status (in your bones not just in your mind) will show up in how you run your studio. And around and around.