We've all heard the (frankly, rude) adage, “those who can't do, teach.”
The truth is, a lot of widely successful and capable musicians feel compelled to share their skillset with the next generation of musicians. We think that should be applauded—not ridiculed nor diminished.
Teaching lessons is a fantastic way for musicians to fill time—and earn extra revenue—between other gigs, or can be a fulfilling career on its own.
Before everyone had a webcam and a solid internet connection, most students and music teachers were limited to whether or not they were within driving distance from each other. For music teachers, that meant a limited client pool. For students, that meant they might not have had an easy time finding a teacher who really understood what kind of music they really wanted to learn.
Now options and opportunities are endless, which is great news for students and teachers alike! In this guide, we'll tell you everything you need to make money teaching online, including what you need from a technical standpoint, how to promote your lessons, a few tips on structuring your online lessons, and more. We even bring in a pro for some real-life tips—our friend Susan Palmer of Lead Cat Press, who has been teaching music lessons online since 2009.
Why should you teach online music lessons?
Before getting into the “why” of teaching online music lessons, you should ask yourself if you “should” teach online music lessons. Taking on students is a commitment—you’re making a promise that you’ll work with them to develop their skills as a musician. So if you’re looking for a side hustle that you can pick up and drop, you should probably look elsewhere.
But if you’re looking for a fulfilling full- or part-time career in music, online music lessons are an excellent opportunity for those who have taught in-person before or those who are willing to make the commitment to their students. But why should you consider teaching online music lessons?
You can teach from anywhere
Whether you’re snowed-in or have a tour scheduled, it’s not always possible to be in your physical studio where you give traditional lessons. When you offer online lessons, you can teach from your home, from the hotel before a gig, or between studio sessions when you’re too swamped to commute.
You can work with students from around the world
Music teachers used to be restricted to their geographic area when it came to their potential students. Opening up online lessons means your students can literally be anywhere in the world.
“I published my first book in 2006,” Susan tells us. “So I got to work with some of these students who couldn't find teachers who did what I did in their area.” Teaching music online made that possible.
It's a consistent revenue source
While teaching music might not make you rich anytime soon, if you are committed to your students, you’ll find it’s a consistent source of revenue. Depending on the student (and your client roster), that could be weekly or monthly payments. When live gigs aren’t exactly as regular as they used to be, it’s nice to have some dependable income in your life.
This is the biggest benefit of teaching both in-person and online music lessons. You got into music because you love it and love to share it. What better way to share music than to teach it to the next generation, or even to your peers? Seeing someone else progress and take pride in their own development will make anyone feel good about what they do.
What equipment do you need to teach online music lessons?
Before online music lessons took off, instructors needed to invest more in starting their music teaching business. Primarily, they needed to rent studio space, ensure they had necessities like seating, amplification, extra accessories in case their students forgot basic necessities, and other things like that. The needed equipment for online lessons isn’t as hefty as a monthly rent check, but there are a few items you’ll want to make sure you have.
A reliable computer with a strong internet connection
“I think the number one thing we all need is really strong internet,” Susan tells us. Everything else comes second, even the computer. “Get the best computer you can get and you should be okay.”
But what do you do if the internet fails? You turn to FaceTime or Skype on your smartphone. “There have been times where our internet has gone out and I've taught on my phone. It's not ideal, but I've had to just use my phone and I have students who work with me and they're on their phones as well.”
At least one webcam
Most laptops these days come with a built-in webcam, and that might suit your needs just fine. However, you might choose to upgrade to a nicer webcam with higher resolution, as those built-in webcams often have plastic components that look cheap and grainy. Plus, desktop computers don’t always come with webcams.
If you want to get fancy, you might look into getting a second webcam that you can pan between. For example, you can have a webcam trained on your face while you’re speaking with your student, and another overhead webcam that shows your fingers at the piano.
A USB microphone or audio interface (depends on the instrument)
With online music lessons, it’s important to hear and be heard. Most laptops (but few desktops) have built-in microphones that are okay in a pinch, but you’ll likely want to invest in something a little more advanced.
USB Microphones like the Blue Yeti are a great choice for acoustic instruments. Meanwhile, an audio interface like the Onyx USB interface is ideal for electric instruments, since you can plug your electric instrument and microphone directly into the computer and control volume levels more easily.
A headset or headphones and vocal microphone
A headset is a piece of gear that Susan highly recommends. The built-in mic is convenient and the headphones eliminate any feedback or echo during the online lessons—and if you’ve ever been on a Zoom call you know just how distracting echo during a video call can be.
Video chat software
You’ll also need to find a video chat software that works for you and your students. So, what is the best platform for teaching music online? There isn’t a single best platform. Susan recommends using FaceTime because it’s so simple for her students, but other teachers might prefer to use Zoom or Google Hangouts.
A way to get paid
When it comes to teaching online music lessons, you can set your own rates. When we asked Susan how she sets her rates she told us that teachers should consider a host of factors, including their own location, education, skill sets, and years of experience.
As for actually getting paid, you could use a tool like PayPal or Venmo, or you could use something like the commerce tools already built into ConvertKit—the latter of which is especially ideal for selling pre-recorded lessons or ebooks.
How structured do your lessons need to be?
After you get together the logistics of the equipment for your online music lessons, it’s time to think about content. For a lot of teachers, that’s a question about structure.
Some teachers, like Susan Palmer, favor a more structured approach, while others take a “hang out a play songs” approach. “Ultimately, it depends on what the student wants.” Susan tells us. “I have a highly structured path that all of my students follow. And I think that's really important because I like to make progress with my students quickly. I want to make sure that they learn something that's helpful at every lesson.”
Susan wants to stress that there’s nothing wrong with less structured lessons and likens it to cooking. “Sometimes I just want to learn how to cook a specific food—I don’t want to learn the essence of cooking, just how do I make the pizza?”
Ask yourself what and how you want to teach, and ask your students what their goals are. If you find yourself in a situation where your teaching style might not be a great match for a student, and you’re not helping them reach their goals, it might be time to help them find a teacher that’s a better match. “I do that myself,” says Susan. “If I don’t feel like I’m making as much progress with a student as I’d like, and I could see them benefitting from another one of my colleagues, I’ll help them find that better fit.”
Can you pre-record lessons or ebooks?
Pre-recorded lessons and ebooks are a great option for teaching music online. Susan started using pre-recorded lessons to accompany the lessons in her first book in 2006. Since then, she’s released fairly regular video content, including lessons, practice material, tracks for musicians to solo over, and more.
“I think pre-recorded video lessons are great for students to get a general idea of how a teacher teaches,” says Susan, who doesn’t sell her pre-recorded lessons. Instead, she offers her video lessons for free as a mix of marketing materials, general goodwill, and a resource for her current students. ”If we get to the end of a lesson and a student's like, ‘What's this thing about the circle of fourths,’ and I can reply, ‘Let me send you this link I made.’”
“Pre-recorded video lessons are great for students to get a general idea of how a teacher teaches.”
— Susan Palmer
Other online music teachers offer pre-recorded lessons for sale in the form of structured or unstructured online courses. Some of these sites are niche, like Six String Country, and others aim to have something for everyone, like Pickup Music.
Despite the seeming popularity of pre-recorded lessons on those dedicated sites, Susan tells us that she still sees more people gravitating towards one-on-one lessons versus the pre-recorded lessons. The big reasons? Accountability and pacing.
“No online course can be well paced for every single person,” says Susan, “Plus, everybody has different questions that come up. And honestly, a lot of students and myself, we think we're good at something. And then we go to a teacher and realize, oh, that's not right.” That’s not something students get from pre-recorded lessons.
How can I promote my online music lessons?
When we asked Susan Palmer what has worked for her in terms of promotion, she keeps her cards close. “Doing good work, that’s the root of it.” But we have a few suggestions for the budding online music teacher.
Social media is a great place to start the promotion for your online music lessons. You can get an early start on your personal profiles, but consider building separate professional business profiles to take full advantage of each platform’s promotional features, including analytics and ads.
Whether you’re focused on one-on-one lessons or you’re planning on selling subscriptions to pre-recorded content a la Masterclass, an email marketing platform like ConvertKit can help you get the word out about your online music lessons. Here are a few ideas for promoting your online music lessons with email:
- Building an email drip campaign that leads students through a series of lessons.
- Offering periodic discounts to paid pre-recorded lessons
- Posting links to new free lesson videos to popular songs
Having a dedicated website is a great resource for yourself and your students. Susan Palmer uses her Lead Cat Press website as a sales tool for her books, a promotional tool for her lessons, and a resource guide for her students. It’s essentially a hub for her content and shows potential students that she’s a reputable instructor that they can trust to guide them as they learn guitar.
If you’re just getting started, you don’t need a website as advanced as Susan’s. You can start with something more basic. For example, you can use ConvertKit’s landing page builder to create a simple website with contact information and an email sign-up form. You can even collect email addresses for your email list in exchange for a free pre-recorded lesson or ebook.
Offering a trial lesson
Though we believe you should always get paid for your work, some instructors offer free trial lessons as a promotional tactic. “When it's not pandemic-times, I'd always teach one or two classes a month for free,” Susan tells us. “But every teacher needs to make that decision for themselves.”
Word of mouth
As Susan said, doing good work is her best promotional tactic. We took that as a way of saying word of mouth from current and former students and a solid reputation is one of the most tried-and-true methods of finding new students. Make sure your current students feel appreciated and taken care of and they’ll tell their friends.
Let’s get teaching
Making the decision to start teaching music online shouldn’t be taken lightly. Remember when you started learning music and how hard it would have been if your teacher hadn’t been committed to your growth (or how much easier it would have been if they had been).