About the Exploitation of Desperate Music Teachers

A couple of days ago, I received this job “advertisement” through a tag via my Facebook feed (I left out all information that points to the establishment, although I was very tempted to include it; companies like that actually deserve to be publicly named and shamed):

Piano/Vocal teacher wanted for busy Music Academy.
All lessons given one to one,
Evening and weekend hours available.
Music degree or equivalent experience required, with knowledge of teaching all ages and abilities.
Rate of pay is £10 per hour on a self-employed basis.

I cannot even begin to tell you how infuriated I am by ads like this. Judging by the (all but deleted) responses to it, I wasn’t the only one.
“Why?” you might ask, “£10 isn’t all that bad, is it?”

No, it isn’t all that bad for a student who wants to earn a bit of pocket-money with tutoring. These people however look for qualified professionals with a degree and experience! To top it all off, they “generously” offer all of this on a self-employed basis, which means the teacher won’t even take the £10 home since they have to insure themselves, pay tax on it, will possibly need to buy and provide their own materials etc.

If you take all of this into consideration, they basically expect a fully qualified professional with a degree and experience to work for minimum wage, possibly less, because that’s what it boils down to.

A quick check of the company’s website confirmed that they actually charge the student double of what the teacher takes home (which is still dirt cheap by the way, but strength seems to lie in numbers here). Now, don’t get me wrong:

They provide the venue and the advertising/marketing, so it is only fair they get their cut. It is a very generous cut though (if an agent or manager ever suggested they take 50% of my fee, I would have told them where to go), and one needs to ask oneself:

Why not offer the teacher employment and a decent rate of pay instead?

I’ll answer that question for you: Because they have no qualms about engaging in false self-employment to avoid paying national insurance (amongst other things) and offering the teacher decent working conditions, which would include:

Paid sick leave
Holiday pay
Pension contributions
Employment protection

This, my friends, is exploitation of the desperate at its worst, because sadly there are people out there who will work for these ridiculous rates, and therefore exacerbate the problem further. I don’t need to tell you that many of musicians’ problems to earn a half-decent income are homemade, do I?

I have been a Musicians’ Union member since I began working as a music teacher in the UK, and I can tell you the currently recommended rate for private (i.e. self-employed) music teachers. It is £30 per hour (this figure was correct for 2014, when this article was published. We are now at £33/2017). This rate does not enable the teacher to lead a swanky lifestyle. It is set at a level that enables the teacher to earn the national average if things are going okay and the books are full (!), which they often are not. As I already mentioned, we are not taking that rate home, due to the massive amount of expenses every self-employed person is faced with.

We also don’t charge for contact hours (a misconception that often resurfaces when students ask why they need to pay for short-term cancellations): Our work isn’t limited to the 60 or 30 minutes the student spends with us. We prepare lessons, reconcile them; we do administration, marketing, professional development to give students the best learning experience etc. The saying goes that for every hour you spend with a student, you work another one behind the scenes.

Back to the rates: Depending on where you live (the North tends to charge less, the South more, depending on cost of living), and on your level of experience, there is some give and take: By all means, charge a bit less if you are a newbie, or if you live in a low income area, or even charge significantly more if your clientele, experience and track record warrant it.

But for crying out loud, don’t take on work like this! Don’t support companies like that! Don’t let your kid have music lessons with a company that exploits people!

Apologies for the rant, but this is something that has been close to my heart for years, and I am quite frankly sick of people treating musicians as if they should be doing it for the love of it alone.

And I am also sick of musicians having no self-confidence and taking on every underpaid (or worse: unpaid!) job there is. By doing that, you make yourself part of the problem…

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© Petra Raspel 2014

5 Comments

  1. Wow. Must admit I have never been offered such a low rate, even when I started teaching piano 20 years ago …
    You are right to be angry – this isn’t just exploitation of the people who take the work (if indeed they succeed in recruiting somebody) but also undermines our profession as a whole.

    Like

    1. Hi Andrew!

      I think it’s actually getting worse. I have also never been offered anything this low 20 years ago, when I started out. Sadly, “job offers” like this seem to get more common these days. All the more important that people highlight the problem – and don’t work for rates like that either, no matter how dire the situation seems. There IS decent work out there, and it IS possible to earn a half-decent income as a musician/music teacher, but it is paramount that people stop supporting companies like this – teachers and clients alike.

      You are quite right to say that behaviour like this undermines the whole profession. This is not a hobby that provides us with a bit of extra income (and I wish that some of the teachers who indeed only teach to supplement their “day job” would sometimes also take this into consideration): We spent decades (!) learning our instruments, and often tens of thousands of pounds on lessons, to study at College/University/Conservatoire, and on professional development. However, I’m aware I’m preaching to the converted here 😉

      It is rather strange how some (!, not all) people seem to think that just because music is an enjoyable pastime, it has no value other than that.
      They will wake up and smell the coffee when the last musician stops making music professionally because they can’t make a living, and the world is filled with amateur musicians (nothing against them!) who can only spend a fraction of their time on honing their, and other people’s, skills…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on For The Love of Playing and commented:
    Great blog!
    Many musicians ‘train’ from the age of 5 upwards in order to use their credentials to get work, (some, even younger,) to a great cost to their parents and themselves. When you compare that to many other professionals who get paid much more, for much less training, I can’t help pondering why it is that so many people under-value music.

    Liked by 1 person

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