Why It’s Imperative For Voice Teachers To Increase Rates Now

by | Aug 11, 2022 | 0 comments

Category: Business
11 min read

Your New Rate is $500 Per Lesson… GULP.

What a treasure we have today! My dear friend, colleague, and sister from another mister is here to talk to us about some realllly interesting information she found while being amazingly curious and settling into her CliftonStrengths.

Jessica Baldwin is a voice and creativity coach at her business True Colors Voice and Artist Coaching, where she helps singers transform into Shameless Artists. She works with many voice teachers who are re-claiming their artistry, creativity, identity, and sound.

One reason I asked Jessica to share her findings in a blog with me this week was because there is just SO. MUCH. CROSSOVER. between creativity coaching and business strategizing.

Another reason is because DAMN I LOVE TALKING ABOUT PRICING. If you’ve been around here long enough, you know that I’ve been touting $100 is the new $60 for many years.

Another another reason is because there are so many misunderstandings around what pricing is and how it can and should be implemented in today’s service based businesses – and this almost always results in people undercharging while at the same time feeling like they are charging too much.

I have a conversation like this at least once a week:

them: “I don’t make enough money.” me: “One way to solve this is to raise rates.” them: “I can’t raise my rates because [insert reason].” me: “Gotcha. Another way to solve this is to create different price level offers for larger volumes of people, like classes or online courses.” them: “I hate teaching classes, I don’t want to make an online course.” me: “No problem. Let’s look at your money plans to see if we can make the most out of your current income.” them: “That won’t work, I don’t make enough money.” me: 😑

When we’re stuck in unhelpful help money mindsets, we can slap down almost any suggestion for changing our money situation.

These objections come up simply because of how we were raised to think about money, or the current relationship we have with it, or a lack of knowledge around how to use it, or even feeling unworthy or incapable of dealing with it.

Today, Jess is focusing solely on the idea of raising your rates, and some of the data that has helped her and some of her clients wake up to reality. Thanks Jess!

When the Biggest Block to Artistry Is Your Crappy Boss

Jessica: Almost always, the first creative block the voice teachers in my business face is that they’re overworked and underpaid, which leaves them no energy or time for their creativity. And since they’re self-employed, the boss who’s been underpaying them is…themselves. Oooof.

Thankfully, when they’re serious about their creative life, they get serious about making these changes. Without fail, they’re terrified, but they lose few to no students once they raise their rates. (Which means they needed to raise their rates even more, but that’s a post for another time.) Their clients begin taking lessons more seriously and honoring studio policies better, they finally have breathing room to start giving their creativity more time, and they feel silly for being afraid.

But the fear is real. I’ve been there, and I’m sure I will be again.

Take a Dose of Data and Call Me in the Morning

Data doesn’t erase the fear of raising prices, but it definitely wakes teachers up to the reality of how much time their boss is stealing from their creative life.

I recently put together updated data for new clients who are considering a rate change. Since it was already done, I decided to share it with my fellow SECOvians, and there were very strong responses to seeing these numbers, including multiple requests to create a blog post about it.

So here we go.

If Voice Lesson Rates Kept Up with the Cost of Essential Items

Two years ago, Michelle wrote a column in the NATS Journal of Singing about pricing. In it, she included a table with data from an informal poll she conducted on various voice teacher Facebook groups to see what rates teachers paid for voice lessons in decades past.

YearNew HomeGallon of GasBreadNew CarVoice Lessons
1970$23,450$0.36$0.25$3,450$20-65
1980$68,700$1.19$0.50$68,700$20-65
1990$123,000$1.34$0.70$16,950$30-100
2008/9$238,880$2.05$2.79$27,958$25-100
2013$289,500$3.80$1.98$31,352$50-250
The rise in price of voice lessons had not kept up with the rise in prices of other items from 1970 to 2013.

She points out in the column that the rise in price of voice lessons had not kept up with the rise in prices of other items.

I wanted to see what those prices would be if they had actually kept up, and I wanted to add data for 2022. I was also curious about what things were in 2020 before the home prices, car prices, and general high inflation we’re dealing with right now, so I added those as well.

Here’s what that looked like:

YearHomeGasBreadCarAverage rise in price since 1970
1970$23,450.00$0.36$0.25$3,450
1980$68,700.00$1.19$0.50$7,200.00258.05%
1990$123,000$1.34$0.70$16,950417.01%
2008/9$238,880$2.05$2.79$27,958878.62%
2013$289,500$3.80$1.98$31,352997.71%
2020$322,600.00$2.38$1.55$40,107.00954.83%
2022$378,000.00$4.44$1.69$43,338.001194.36%
If the prices had actually kept up, including 2020 and 2022 statistics.

If we take that average rise in the price of essential items since 1970, and apply it to the voice lesson rates people reported, here’s what we get:

YearAverage rise in priceVoice Lesson Rate: Low EndVoice Lesson Rate: High End
1970$20.00$65.00
1980258.05%$51.61$167.73
1990417.01%$83.40$271.06
2008/9878.62%$175.72$571.11
2013997.71%$199.54$648.51
2020954.83%$190.97$620.64
20221194.36%$238.87$776.34

If voice lesson rates kept up, they would range from $238.87-$776.34 per hour today.

$240 on the low end, y’all.

That’s how much of a pay cut we’ve collectively, continually given ourselves over the years.

If you’re responding like many in the SECO forums did, this is a mind-blowing number. (I keep hearing Vizzini from The Princess Bride: “Inconceivable!”)

I hear you. It was pretty shocking for me, too.

Take a deep breath and hear me say that no one’s going to force you to raise your rates to $240 tomorrow, but I’m hoping that seeing these numbers provides some fresh perspective if you’re completely stressing out about raising your rates $10 per hour.

But that’s more than the average rate of inflation, isn’t it?

Yup. You’re right.

If you only look at the rate of inflation in the US from 1970 to now (663.7%), the low end lesson rate would be $150 today if it was $20 in 1970.

$150

That’s already way higher than most of the voice teachers I know charge. Double in most cases.

How would your life change if you were finding a way to regularly create $150/hr of income for your services? (Remember: this can be through lessons, classes, courses, books, etc.) How many hours could you reclaim for other things that are important to you?

So why are we looking at prices instead of inflation?

The only item that actually aligns with the rate of inflation is bread. So if you were charging $150 today, buying a loaf of bread would feel about the same in your budget as it did for your predecessors who were charging $20 in 1970.

But the other three items range from a 1,200% to a 1,600% increase. That means if you charge $150 today, that house and car is gonna hurt your budget A LOT MORE than it did for your predecessor who was charging $20 in 1970.

That’s the reality many of us are living in. This is how much this stuff is actually costing us. Right now. You are currently living with these prices.

As one person in our SECO FB group said, “Now I don’t feel so bad about the fact that I can’t afford a car.” 😭 Friend, being a voice teacher shouldn’t have to mean you’ve given up the right to own a car.

And many of you are living with prices much higher than these averages! Your prices should account for that.

And why are we looking at prices instead of wages?

Michelle: The money you take home for personal expenses are your wages. Your wages should be able to cover the cost of your life. If you were working at a company who couldn’t pay you a wage that met your needs (and some wants, too!), you would find another job. You need a living wage. Step one: figure out what that is for you.

The price of a voice lesson includes your wages, but should include the full cost of the lesson.

The full cost of a lesson includes your wages PLUS pianos, sheet music, software, computers, microphones, bathroom soap, hand sanitizer, and YOUR LABOR for example.

In many music studios, these costs are relatively low*.* Therefore*,* it is easy to forget that our wage is actually NOT our cost.

The cost of a voice lesson is not the price of a voice lesson.

Clients do not pay our wage. They pay our price. WE PAY our wages, as our own boss.

If we aren’t accounting for the cost of delivering our services, then we will underprice.

I want you to feel empowered that your wage is the largest portion of your costs. In fact, payroll is ALWAYS the largest portion of costs in any company! Your labor is the most expensive ingredient – and if your price isn’t covering your salary needs and the other costs of running a business – it’s okay if you raise your price to cover costs. You know – because of inflation.

You Might Be Thinking…

Actually, we know you’re thinking, because we saw it on the internet with our very own eyeballs. 😄

While we know that at the end of the day, we can’t talk anyone out of an objection they’re viscerally feeling, we thought it may be worth it to explore a few common “but, but, buts.”

My teacher charged a lot less than the low end in [year I took lessons as a wee pup].

We hear you about your teacher’s rates. Ours were low, too. We’re sure most of the people who took lessons have similar stories. It’s why most of us feel guilty charging the rates needed to run our businesses, have a decent home, own a car, get decent health insurance, pay into retirement, and maybe even take ourselves out to shows and restaurants regularly and have a decent vacation at least once a year.

Your teacher would want you to have all of that. We promise. Can you imagine telling your current students that they don’t deserve to charge a rate that will allow them to have those things? Your teachers want you to have a good life. We swear.

The cost of running your business and having the life you want is what determines your prices. Not what your teacher charged. In fact, to assume that our teachers 1) didn’t have a good reason for charging what they did and 2) were in a more financially insecure place than we are is hubris.

Oral tradition tends to be the most common way people learn how to run their studios. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t. ****

On the flip side: Keep in mind that these numbers wouldn’t be shocking if the teachers who came before us had raised their rates with inflation as well. This perpetual cycle of undercharging in private music education is a great example of the way wealth and money has been demonized since the turn of the century when unethical capitalism began to rear its head with the Industrial Revolution. It could also be a prime example of the way the nuclear family, gender roles in breadwinning, and the cost of being “homemaker” before “income earner” have systemically kept the gender wage gap so expansive.

I couldn’t have afforded lessons if the price had been X. I feel like I should pay it forward.

Because so many of us experienced money insecurity, we as a profession will always want to find ways to create accessibility for those for whom lessons are cost prohibitive.

We also have to run our businesses in a way that is sustainable so we can continue offering our services without burning out and not being able to pay our own bills. We can offer group classes, create evergreen self-guided courses, get grants, create a studio donation/scholarship fund, make exceptions for those who need them, etc. as opposed to undercharging across the board for every client/service.

Also, while we know we think we’re doing our students a service by charging so little, look at the situation that teachers collectively not charging enough has created for you and your fellow teachers. You have colleagues right now who can’t pay rent. Can’t pay off their student loans. Can’t buy a car. Can’t save for retirement.

Martyrdom is doing the exact opposite of what we say we desire to do. Instead of modeling what it means to take good care of your business (and therefore yourself), you are modeling lighting yourself on fire to keep other people warm.

When we raise our rates, we create a better economic situation for our current students who will become future voice teachers. This is a super powerful way to pay it forward and benefits many, many future teachers.

My market can’t handle $300.

We’re not at all suggesting that we all suddenly charge $300 for all of our one-on-one lessons. You’re right. It’s not reasonable in comparison to the rates many of our markets are used to paying.

We wanted to present these numbers first and foremost to help those of us who are freaking out about raising our rates $10/unit for the fall.

We also wanted to help our profession collectively move our rates in a direction that is more sustainable for us and for the teachers who will come after us.

Conclusion

Your rate should serve you, your business, and your life. If you’re like many of Jessica’s clients, that life includes creative projects that you’re longing to do, and you need breathing room to make those happen. Raising your rates can help you create that space.

Reach out to Jessica when you’re ready to make the room to step into your fearless artistry. She does the “make room” work daily, with excellence. I (Michelle) cannot recommend her highly enough.

And hey, we know this blog didn’t address every economic factor there is when it comes to the how of pricing. And if you read last weeks blog, then you know there are many other factors that go into our entire industry’s role in the economy.

For more information on how to price or raise rates – like math and strategy and considerations on market, demand, revenue streams, etc, reach out and someone from the team will tell you about the resources we have within The SpeakEasy Cooperative about just that.

We’re here to help.

All Our BeastyBoss,

Jessica and Michelle

Michelle Markwart Deveaux blog signature
Michelle Markwart Deveaux

Michelle Markwart Deveaux (113)

As CEO of FaithCultureKiss Studios, LLC, I lead underestimated humans through the personal and professional development needed to create successful solo and team-based businesses.

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