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Riley Music Academy Blog: How to make money as a musician Article 2

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In this series of articles I will identify methods to earn money as a musician.  Yes, you heard me right, it’s tough – but it is possible!  I’ve been a freelance session musician for 15 years now and although at times money has been tight, I feel blessed to continue earning a living from music.  I want to pass on some of what I’ve learned so that more people can enjoy a career in this amazing industry.



Some musicians have a bit of a thing about teaching.  I certainly did when I started out.  Teaching is in some ways an easier option as there are a lot of institutions already in place that will have students and will always be looking for teachers.  If you want a guaranteed job in the music industry then teaching is a fairly safe bet.  You can work for schools and other education establishments, join a private music school or go it alone and work when you want to.

Now that I’ve sugar coated it slightly, lets get down to the reality!  Teaching is hard and anyone who says otherwise has not experienced the pressures and expectations.  Teaching in state education is one of the hardest jobs and my hat goes off to all that perform in this noble profession and live with the immense stress everyday.

Lets start with the basics.  You do not need any qualifications to teach music.  This is one of the main attractions and unfortunately, one of the main problems with teaching.  If you want to set up a teaching business and show students how to play guitar or drums or nose flute it really doesn’t matter if you have any qualifications.  Its exactly the same as being a musician; if you are good at what you do then you don’t need a piece of paper to prove it.  Hopefully this is encouraging to anyone reading this but beware… you will be entering a highly competitive world.  Anything that can make you stand out from the crowd will certainly help.  Here are some options:

  1. The classic teaching qualification (PGCE for UK readers) – this is a course that is either built into or completed after your university degree course.  If you want to teach in state education then I highly recommend that you consider this option.  It is the most straight forward route into mainstream teaching and it will set you up in this profession.  You can normally receive a small grant to complete the course.
  2. Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector – if you want to teach in Further Education or in a private education establishment then completing a PTLLS, CTLLS or DTLLS course will certainly help and in fact, is often a requirement for employment.  This is a normal route for professionals to move into teaching at a later date.  There have been all sorts of courses like this in the past and the goalposts have often been moved significantly.  These Lifelong Learning courses have been around for a while and seem to be reasonably stable but who knows what a future government will decide is acceptable.  These courses are almost always self funded but an employer may offer a contribution.
  3. Teaching Diploma through a music school (ABRSM, Trinity etc) – A very cool option if you want more letters after your name.  Usually completed after Grade 8 and can be a straightforward personal development plan to moving into the teaching profession.  Diplomas are very helpful if you wish to teach privately.  These qualifications can be expensive and are completely self funded.  Think of them as an investment in yourself and your future business.

All of the above are designed to give you the tools and resources to teach effectively but be aware that methods change and (if working in state education) each government will have various priorities,  with huge influence on what is learnt.  The teaching profession has such good intentions and many of my teacher friends are hard working, determined individuals with students needs at the top of their list.  Standards have changed radically and pressures are at an all time high as expectation of teachers has shifted.  You will need high levels of resilience and a complete love for what you do to achieve in this sector.  The safety and security of a state funded job is small relief from the day to day pressures you will face.  In my opinion, nobody should be put under this amount of pressure and a workforce reliant on medication such as beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors and antidepressants is unethical and a recipe for disaster!  I told you the sugar coating had gone!  This is my own view and has come from my experience working with many educators.  This does not apply to everyone but I want to make the point that long-term health is linked with your environment.  If stress is a factor (and it often is with teaching) then you will need systems in place to effectively manage it.  Medication, in my opinion, is not a viable long term solution.  Anyway, rant over.

Teaching should be a joy however and personally, I love it.  I have chosen a route which deals directly with students and being in the private sector has some advantages including:

  1. You are your own boss
  2. You can work when it suits you
  3. You can develop your methods and ideas free of constraints

The downsides would be:

  1. If you don’t teach well then you lose the student (and therefore the money)
  2. You will not be paid if you take holiday or if you are sick
  3. Most students want lessons outside of school/office hours so working can be unsociable
  4. Tax return!

If you decide to teach privately then my advice would be to get organised, focus on students goals and have a code of conduct which should include: safeguarding, competitive pricing (without undervaluing yourself or the industry – ask the Musicians Union for their current advised teaching rates),  teaching what you know (many unregulated teachers ‘claim’ to teach instruments that they have very little knowledge on.  I only teach instruments that I can play to a decent standard unless I am leading multi-instrumental workshops or teaching a specific area, such as Theory or Improvisation.  I also teach the style that I am experienced in so if a student wants to continue a classical route I always send them to a teacher that would be more suitable).  If you want credibility and long term success in this profession then these practises are crucial.

Finally, whether you go for a classic route or decide to start your own business remember to be passionate about what you do.  Passion and energy is infectious and if you want people to learn from you then show these qualities.  If they are not present then you need to change direction.

Useful links for UK readers:

Got any cool teaching tips or resources? Post below…

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