Updated: Mar 6
Here is something I know about you:
You care about your students’ progress, and you care about them as people. As professional as you’ve made your studio, it still stings a little when somebody quits lessons. It can fill you with self-doubt.
Your nice-ness has really worked well for you. You’ve had wonderful relationships with your students, and even with your students’ families. But in some ways, your niceness is really getting in your way.
Most voice teachers and coaches believe that the thing most likely to scare away clients is a price increase. (Insert sound of buzzer here.📢) Wrong! There are things that push clients out of your studio, but increasing your prices every year is not one of them.
In this post, I’m going to lay out seven things you may be doing, and tell you why they are not in anyone’s best interest. (continued below)
Here's the broadcast if you'd rather listen!
You keep your prices low
This one little thing is something that could easily be its own (long) post!
When you keep your prices low...
you communicate a diminished value for your time and expertise to both your client and yourself
you can feel broke and desperate
you can take it personally when someone cancels their lesson
you can panic if you have a slow week
you are reticent to keep track of your finances AND/OR
you obsess over your finances
you feel you can’t take time off
If you look at these things on a week-to-week basis, they all seem pretty manageable, like something you can get past in the short term. But if you look at them over time, you can see how negatively they can affect your studio. A voice teacher or coach who places inordinate weight on whether or not a student attends their lesson this week is not a teacher or coach who has the student’s best interest first in mind. A voice teacher or coach who does not take vacations or breaks is investing in burn-out.
You may think you’re hiding your feelings from your students, but they can’t help but sense the undercurrent of fear and lack you’ve created. They may not know why they feel uncomfortable. They just do. So they quit.
You give free lessons
Show of hands: who’s done it?
Yes. We’ve all done it.
But I want to encourage you to not do that ever again. Do not give lessons away, and do not trade. It creates a losing situation for you, and a negative environment for your studio.
Why? Because people simply do not value things they get for free. In marketing, they call it “perceived value.”
There are studies about people paying for gym memberships vs. people getting the same memberships for free. Both groups started out using the membership, but those with the free membership showed a steep decline in use over time compared with those who were paying. It’s a common psychology.
In the studio, giving away free lessons will cause the voice pro to assess her clients’ other purchases, to expect overt forms of gratitude, or to apply different metrics for being a “good student.”
The free client will not (I repeat, will not) turn into a paying client. They will feel guilty and quit. Or they will continue to exploit you until they quit. If you want to give lessons away, do it through an established charity organization.
You become friends with your clients
Let’s be clear. There are friendly, professional relationships, and there are actual friends.
Actual friends are people who share the good and the bad, who listen to one another boast and complain, who attend one another’s celebrations and performances.
Your student loves you, and would love to hang out with you and talk about her most recent audition or the death of her cat, the way friends do. But if you were friends, you’d get to call her and tell her about your plumbing disaster or the fight you got into with your mother. That would absolutely make lessons awkward and probably unproductive.
You are there for your client. It is not your client’s job to be there for you. Keep your boundaries clear. Charge for your time. Not keeping these boundaries will cost you both students and good will.
You treat every student the same
You have a program. You have a system. All your students start with certain pieces of repertoire. The goal of your studio is for all your students to be able to demonstrate a certain level of understanding and proficiency with all the types of music you assign to them.
That may be how you were treated. It looks really good on paper. It seems to conform with Western academic standards of Doing Things.
If you’re an independent voice teacher or coach, and this is how you’re treating your clients, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Your clients do not come to you because they want to go forth into the world of classical, music theater, and rock and be equally stunning at all three. They came to you because they want to sing what they want to sing. They want to feel confident. They want to understand how to feel more self-assured with their singing, and perform in a way they feel proud of.
You are teaching a performance art. Whether or not they are aware of it, your students are artists who want to express themselves. They will stay longer if they feel seen, and supported in learning to sing the music they love.
You teach classical technique
You do this because you learned that good technique applies to everything. Good technique is, de facto, classical technique.
Approaching all your students this way will almost certainly divide all your students, from now until forever, into four camps:
Those who love you for introducing them to classical voice.
Those who quit lessons early in the game because it is clear to them that you don’t understand them or what they want.
Those who resent you because of the training you gave them that caused their singing to be a source of struggle for them.
Those who forgive you because of the training you gave them that caused their singing to be a source of struggle for them.
If you don't feel confident teaching contemporary music theater or popular styles, please do what you must to develop your mojo. (You could take my class, for instance!) Your students will love you for it.
You give them a lot of practice homework
You do this because you want them to get better. You know that the more they practice, the more quickly they’ll improve. You want them to improve. They want to improve. Ergo: lots of practice.
Here’s the problem with too much practice homework, in steps:
They like/love you.
They want you to approve of them.
They don’t have, or make, the time to do a lot of practice.
They are aware they have not practiced.
They come to lessons anyway
They lie (see no.’s 1 and 2) and you know they're lying, or...
They tell the truth and you gently chide them.
Bad feelings all around.
They begin to associate voice lessons with bad feelings.
They stop wanting to go to voice lessons.
You keep the bar high
They’re with you because they’re singers who want to be better singers. You assume they are serious. You know all the things that are good for voices, and bad for voices. You are the teacher, and they need to know about, and adhere to, good vocal practices. So you tell them:
Not to talk so much
Not to talk so loudly
To drink a lot of water
Not to eat cheese or drink coffee
Not to shout or scream
Not to smoke pot
To get enough sleep
To warm up before they sing
To come to every voice lesson
Because the things you’ve told them to do and be are not in keeping with who they are or how they live, they fail to live up to your directives. So they either lie to you, or endure your admonitions or lectures regarding how they have made a vocally unhealthy choice.
The key word here is choice. The choice is theirs. All you need them to know is that they'll get out what they put in. If you lovingly support them, and help them do their best within what they are able to do, they’ll stay with you longer than if they feel guilty and ashamed.
Meredith Colby, November 2021
Meredith Colby is available for private voice and
vocal coaching, as well as classes, seminars