Thursday, September 13, 2018

Happening This Weekend

Several must-see events across Canada over the next few days...

On September 13-16, Tapestry Opera presents Tapestry Briefs: Tasting Shorts, an evening of 10 world premiere mini-operas paired with food and drink. Featured singers are Teiya Kasahara, Stephanie Tritchew, Keith Klassen, and Peter McGillivray led by musical director Jennifer Tung. Featured composers are August Murphy-King, Ian Cusson, Rene Orth, and Benton Roark with texts by librettists Daniel Solon, Lila Palmer, Kanika Ambrose, and Colleen Murphy.

Facebook event listing


Happening across Canada on Saturday on Saturday, September 15 is Mysterious Barricades, a series of free and live-streamed concerts in recognition of suicide awareness, prevention, and hope. Concerts will be happening in St. John's, Halifax, Sackville, Montreal, Ottawa, Montreal, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Kelowna, and Vancouver. If you can't make it in person, watch the live stream

Here's Beth Turnbull talking about her husband's suicide and the mission of Mysterious Barricades:

Facebook page with all event listings

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Worst Advice

Wise words from emilyplayscello: if you're in a position of power and giving advice to younger musicians, you can tell them about the challenges of a life in music without straight-up discouraging them from entering it. Emily's video:

Another point that Emily makes after 5:39 is that it's the younger people in the profession who will bring genuine change to the field that will make it a more supportive environment. Let's enable them to succeed.

The worst advice anyone gave me? Here are two examples:

Well-known composer:
You pay too much attention to quality of tone at the piano to ever have a career in contemporary music.
Senior administrator:
You don't strike me as the kind of person who would be interested in graduate school.
Of course we get shitty advice along the way. The important thing is to be able to recognize it and move on. But when you've spent lots of time in the profession and know the lay of the land, offer advice that people will admire you for one day.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Your Teaching Website Needs Online Registration

Here are two different scenarios playing out with parents trying to find a new teacher for their child's music lessons.

A parent is looking for a new piano teacher and all they have to go by is a phone number so they'll enter it on a list on their phone and then call once they have time to call because no one has time for phone calls any more. Then when their prospective piano teacher gets the call, they're busy so they'll have to check messages later, write the message down and get back to the prospective parent once they have phone time but prospective parent isn't answering calls so they'll have to leave a message and the next round of phone tag begins. Two days later they connect.

Let's try that again with online registration.

The parent goes to the teacher's website, clicks on the "Register for Lessons" button, enters relevant info on their child and the piano teacher gets back within a few hours and the initial consultation is set up for the next day. Done.

This is why your website needs that very basic feature - it will quite literally put you ahead of other teachers in your area in the queue for getting more students. Being more easily findable and contactable will result your studio getting more students, many of them traveling larger distances.

Both My Music Staff and Music Teacher's Helper have these features on all their packages, and are worth the investment. Best wishes for the new academic year!

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Sparks & Wiry Cries Launch Their 7th Season

Sparks & Wiry Cries is an organization that promotes the advancement and preservation of art song. Led by Martha Guth and Erika Switzer, they are entering their seventh season and this year's events feature songSLAM events in Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, Toronto, New York, Slovenia, Chicago, and Denver. Martha Guth encapsulates their mission perfectly with this quote:
Sparks & Wiry Cries was born out of a passionate desire to keep the genre flourishing, to provide opportunities for those in its community and to support the growth of new art song, because the stories we tell, and the connections we make are critical to our humanity. 
What is songSLAM? Each event is:
a unique competition for emerging composer/performer teams to premiere new art song, in partnership with Source Song Festival. In the poetry-slam tradition, audience members vote on their favorite performances, and $900 in cash prizes are awarded.
Sparks & Wiry Cries also publish an art song magazine and podcast. If you feel moved to support their activities, you can also donate.

Best of luck to Martha and Erika as they embark on Season 7. Here's a video of Martha talking about Sparks & Wiry Cries' many activities:

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

4 Choices for Building Studio Websites

In my last article I looked at why you need a website for your teaching studio. Building a website can be daunting, and in today's article I've chosen four services that make the process relatively simple to learn once you take the initiative to start.

The picture above is a slide from a talk I gave at The Royal Conservatory this summer, and it outlines four top choices you may wish to consider when building teaching websites. The prices below are accurate to early September 2018 and don't reflect future increases, decreases, or promotions.

But in reality the price doesn't matter. Once you've got a viable online presence and attract even one student for half-hour lessons for only one semester, each one of these services would have more than paid for a yearly investment.

1. My Music Staff

I use My Music Staff for my teaching website, and I run my studio using its tools. In addition to the website features, you can create a database of students, schedule them on a calendar, and tie those lessons to invoicing features, all visible on student and parent dashboards. You can also accept credit card payments, keep a repertoire database, manage downloads, expenses, mileage, publish a blog, and generate studio reports.

My Music Staff is web-based, so you're engaging with the site in a browser. However, it's a very fast and responsive site, and renders perfectly on any kind of device you're using. The MMS team have a strong Agile software development philosophy, so they iterate the service weekly with new features (their latest new feature as of late August was video streaming, among others). The price is another huge selling point: $12.95 for unlimited students and storage both in the US and Canada.

2. Music Teacher's Helper

I discovered Music Teacher's Helper in 2007 at the Toronto MTNA conference, and this company was the pioneer in the field of integrated studio websites. MTH has most of the same features as MMS although they are app-based, so the development schedule is not as speedy as that of MMS. Where MTH excel is in the large community of teachers writing for their blog and their extensive setup guides that you can buy in order to get your studio set up to compete online. Pricing depends on the size of your studio - when paid annually, the three tiers are US$11.66/month (up to 20 students), US$24.16/month (40 students), and US$40.83/month (unlimited students).

Both MMS and MTH can provide websites, although of the somewhat rudimentary kind. If you want a website that looks genuinely fabulous and has a much wider array of content and features, you might wish to consider the next two options. Be aware that you can use both MMS and MTH on the back-end of the next two options - with a small widget, students can easily log in from your third-party studio site to see their student dashboard.

3. Squarespace

If you don't know anything about building websites but still want something that looks fabulous, Squarespace is one of the best out-of-the-box solutions, with a more sophisticated depth of content that you can offer, including online stores and marketing tools. Take a look at the template selection - there are some beautiful designs here. Pricing as of writing is US$12/month for a personal site and US$18/month at the business tier.

4. WordPress

31% of the internet runs on WordPress. Although the learning curve might be a bit higher than with other services, you'll have access to themes, plugins, and Google Apps to help you get your site started. If you want to go with, pricing options are free (with ads and limited options), personal ($60/year CDN), premium ($120/year CDN), and business ($396/year CDN). Or you can self-host your website and use WordPress's open-source tools.

A small side-note about WordPress - its lead developer is none other than Helen Hou-Sandì, a graduate of Eastman's collaborative piano program. You might remember that a while back Helen redesigned this site - I've kept the same basic design since then.

Friday, August 31, 2018

George Li at NPR's Tiny Desk

Tchaikovsky Competition silver medallist George Li plays fabulously in this NPR Tiny Desk concert, but the other hero of this concert is the studio's Yamaha U1, miked astonishingly well. I love the eclectic clutter of that performing space and heartily support a golf shirt and shorts as the official summer recital wear of 2018.

(Via Patrick Rhone)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

You Need a Website for Your Teaching Studio. Here's Why.

A few years ago I was interviewing a new student and her mom and the interview was going quite well. Towards the end of the meeting I asked if there was anything else they needed to know about my musical activities. The mom replied "No. I've read up everything to know about you online and I know all about your musical activities. That's why we're sitting here in your studio."

As it turned out, I accepted this student and she has been studying with me for the last two years. But what that really hit me in that interview was just how savvy parents can be. They know the lay of the land on the internet, they know how to navigate online services, register their kids in activities, find information about people and services, and Google things that they don't know.

Which is why I'm quite concerned about the long-term prospects of music teachers who don't feel that it's important to have an online presence, and are leery of spending the time or money to set up a studio website.

I still recall a workshop that my friend Nikki Loney (co-founder of the Full Voice series) gave in Burlington a while back. Nikki doesn't remember saying this, but I always take notes in workshops so that I remember important off-the-cuff things that clinicians say and then forget afterwards. What Nikki said that had such a huge impact on me:
If they can't find you on Google, you don't exist.
In the marketplace of today's business world (and teaching piano, voice or any other instrument, like it or not, is part of it), you need an online presence and social proof in order to show that you actually exist. Nothing too complex, just a good website, a mention here or there, a bio for a festival, a few concert programs for starters. A blog or a YouTube channel are even better because you can churn out a steady stream of fresh content which works well for building a captive audience and search engine optimization. A Facebook presence is also worthwhile if that's where your market is. 

I experienced a frustrating moment when my studio reached capacity this summer. The usual studios I send students to were also mostly full, and I feel it's important to send prospective students to excellent teachers in my area (especially ones integrating The Royal Conservatory's Certificate Program). Taking a quick look at some of the teachers in my area on a few online directories, I hadn't heard of them before and decided to Google them for more info. In most cases, I came up with nothing. If you choose to appear on online directories only without any other web presence, that can present a problem if parents can't find any other information when the Google you. They might assume you've moved, retired, or passed away. Either way they'll look for someone else that has a more substantial presence before they decide to call or email anyone. Or they'll look for the larger online presence of a music school and what their integrated programs might have to offer.

As a former President of Hamilton-Halton ORMTA, I discovered an interesting and potentially challenging situation with individual studios. Many teachers in the area who had been successful for many years were experiencing falling numbers and had difficulty attracting students in their area. At the same time, many teachers in the same area who were able to leverage their online presence had studios which were completely full.

If you're in a city or suburb of a city, I strongly feel that the old neighborhood piano teacher business model (advertising through bulletins put up at churches, supermarkets, and community centres) is no longer entirely viable, and in order to succeed in 2018 and beyond, you need to be able to attract students from much farther away in order to fill your studio. Once you can fill your studio, you'll also be more justified in raising your rates year over year. I've recently talked to several teachers over the last while who have not raised their rates in ten years because of the fear of neighborhood competition and a declining market.


One of my major goals for the coming year is to educate music teachers about how important it is to have an online presence and what it can do for you. This summer I gave a workshop at The Royal Conservatory's Summer Summit 2018 in Toronto entitled Creative Approaches to Technology in the Teaching Studio. This workshop arose out of a reticence and fear I had noticed among many music teachers regarding technology, and a desire to explain why it is important as a precursor to taking first steps in this field. Having a working knowledge of technology for me was as simple as writing a blog, running a studio website, and using cool tools to create interesting lesson experiences for my students. Over the next few weeks I'll be fleshing out many of the ideas from my Summer Summit presentation.