Some Books You NEED to Start Your Music Studio (and a few you don’t…) – Part Uno

When I first started teaching lessons, I had this expression on my face a lot:


There was a lot I didn’t know. How the hell am I supposed to know what to charge? Where the eff do I find appropriate contest lit? Up until that point, I had charged what I deemed acceptable to make rent and starve marginally less than I did when I was in college. Should I be keeping…records, of some sort? What are those supposed to be? I felt like there were lots of people I could consult to garner their infinite wisdom, but everyone had their own way of doing things, and it became seriously overwhelming to try to compare information. Apparently, the notion that you can actually go to public library seems lost on a lot of recent college grads, and I admit I was guilty of thinking I had nowhere to turn for direction in building my studio. 

So instead, I played my favorite game. It’s called “follow the Amazon brick road!” I quickly hopped on over to my favorite hoarder’s haven and started searching for titles. When your budget is limited, you end up spending an inordinate amount of time reading the reviews to make sure you put off the less-than-pertinent purchases for later. In hindsight, I probably could have gotten all of these through an ILL and picked them up at my local library, but I knew I wanted to own them so I could consult them, sign my name in them, cry with them, pet them, hold them…

I ended up amassing a pretty splendid little pit of resources. I started to list all of them here and I ended up cranking out a submission-worthy research article (minus the facepalm photo at the top of this post…plus a few grammar things with which APA might take issue). 2000 words: not so frighteningly undoable anymore. So I’m dividing this up into THREE useful posts…70% good stuff, plus a title or two you can maybe do without.

Sadly, I have NOT been paid, endorsed, bribed, or given an all-expense paid vacation to Cancun to talk about these. I wish. Just an honest (albeit sarcastic) music teacher’s opinion. Here’s my take…

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Teaching Music on Your Own
Karen Berger, 2010
Nothing like a taunting title to make you feel insubordinate and a little like crying. I wasn’t sold on this one, maybe because I’ve spent the last four years of my life snubbing anything that doesn’t start with “Research Methods In…” BUT. I found it on amazon for a penny (plus shipping) and ended up moderately blown away. I just had to skip over the introductory section on “what it takes to teach.” Turns out, you need to be able to play an instrument…got that one covered, phew. The rest, true to the series, was incredibly detailed yet accessible. They got bonus points for including a section on sustainability and how to deal with things like teacher burnout and student attrition. These are fairly critical topics that I wasn’t really introduced to until grad school and the aforementioned “Research Methods In” phase of my life. Important, nonetheless.

The Savvy Musician: Building a Career, Earning a Living, and Making a Difference
David Cutler

So yeah….the whole premise of this here blog is to share with others the fact that you can use you music degree in about a kabillion different ways, and have a successful career, to boot. This guy pretty much beat me to it. I actually met the author while he did a brief residency at my school and had him autograph my copy. I am a neat human being. The author is definitely a guy who thinks a mile a minute, and I’m only now starting to get what being Savvy really means. This is basically a ton of post-its on a white-board…organized into a book, in a good way. Just when I start to get stuck on creative plans for my studio, teaching, performing, or composing, a quick return to this laundry list of ideas and examples gives me a healthy dose of go-go juice. I lent this to one of my adult actress students because I thought she could use a little pick-me-up and benefit from the idea of career diversification. Even investors rarely put all their eggs in one basket (only the rich, crazy ones do, and most musicians I know are not rich, at least).  In the grand scheme of studio-help manuals, I’d say this is near the top of my list.  

The Private Music Instruction Manual: A Guide for the Independent Music Educator
Rebecca Osborn, 2004
This was my best go-to for a long while. Neatly organized, descriptive but not tiresome. This was the first text that laid it all out and showed me how to set prices and deal with taxes without pulling my hair out in strand-by-strand succession. Ten years after publication, the section on using technology in teaching is a tad outdated, but the major principles still stand. It was the first book I read, and ended up being the best all-in-one “sampler platter” on studio ownership. It hit all the topics enough for me to maybe comprehend what I was getting into, without sending me running and screaming in the opposite direction.

How I Made $100,000 My First Year as a Piano Teacher
Kristin K. Yost, 2011
This is one of those self-published wonders, which can be a hit or miss, and was basically brand new when I bought it. It’s short (72 pages), and one of those titles I kept on my nightstand and finished in a few hours. Read this after you’ve had a chance to read the practical manuals. Basically, it’s one woman’s testament to the fact that you can, in fact, make a reasonable, stable salary running a music studio, and she shows you how she did it. She wrote a bunch of uber-useful articles over at the “Dollars and Sense” section of (if you’re not following that blog, go do it. Have you done it? Ok). There’s some structure; she addresses things like studio space, image / branding, and money, but the book isn’t terribly well-organized. There’s no table of contents, so I kind of wandered around for a while before figuring out what I was reading (the Idiot’s Guide series correctly assumes that all readers are morons). What the book lacks in structure it makes up for in readability and relatability. If she can do it, so can I! GRRL POWER. All in all, less a practical manual and more of an inspirational, direct conversation with a woman who clearly is on a good path. Mad props for a creative, attractive title. Was it worth the 15 bucks I spent? I think so, but I’ll you decide.

Stay tuned for my next post…Some Books you NEED to Start Your Music Studio (and a few you don’t…) – Part Penultimate (coming soon!) I’ll talk about some more nifty titles to get you looking a little less like this:


…and a little more at ease. Happy reading!

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