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let’s discuss: My Ambition Made Me Strong

August 15, 2016

There are moments in our lives in which marking time becomes very simple. It boils down to before and after. When I was asked to give the keynote speech for the Iowa Thespian Leadership Day, I knew that I would be using one of those moments from my life. I knew that I wanted to talk about how our art practices can be a personal life-preserver in the face of tragedy. However, I also wanted to talk about how, as artists, we have a responsibility to provide that preservation, hope, and support for others.

Although this speech was specifically designed for a theatre audience, I feel that it works to substitute art or music throughout. I’ve included a video and the transcript here, because I hope that it will motivate you as we head back into another school year, audition season, or planning season.

My Ambition Made Me Strong | Sybaritic Singer

Iowa Thespian Leadership Day Keynote Speech: Being a Leader Through the Arts

It is such an honor to be speaking here today for the Iowa Thespian Leadership Day, which is devoted to brainstorming, strategizing, and building robust theatre programs across our state – with student leaders at every turn.

The Iowa Thespians has been a constant leader championing theatre education in our state. Theater means so much to us: it gives us a place to find our tribe, to push our limits, and sometimes to sing show tunes at the absolute top of our lungs in the halls at school. But Theatre education will give you so much more than that. It will teach you some of the most important life skills you will learn in school. How to look confident when you don’t feel it, how to empathize with somebody you totally disagree with, and how to lie convincingly about your late homework. Trust me, these are essential skills in college. The Iowa Thespians understand that theater education gives us the opportunity to showcase our skills in both performance and technical theater, and on days like today it allows us to acknowledge each other and recognize the work we are all doing.

Like many of us here today, theater education has always been a huge part of my life. Many of you may know my family connection to the IHSSA; but even when I was still in elementary school, I already looked up to the high school student leaders in theater.

My High School Theatre Idols

In elementary school, my family lived in Le Mars, Iowa and my dad taught speech and theatre at the high school there. Our family would host raucous thespian parties at our house and there would be enormous stacks of pizza and pop bottles as far as the eye could see. If this was theater, I was all in! But, my favorite part of the day was watching these talented, hilarious, beautiful high school idols of mine play theatre games together in our yard. There’s just nothing like watching the dreamy quarterback stuff twelve marshmallows in his mouth and cry out “pudgy bunny.” Those students were golden, magical in my eyes. They were confident, funny, and charismatic. I wanted to be just like them.

When I see a room full of confident, funny, and charismatic high schoolers, it takes me back to the feeling of those golden afternoons.

You might not see it now, but today is one of your golden afternoons – no matter what the weatherman says. Today is going to be a day of good ideas and even better collaborations.

What Will Be Your Impact?

But, I urge you all to understand that today is also a day of reflection. This is a day in which you decide what kind of impact you want to have in your theatre program, in your local community, and as agents of theatre in your state.

When I reflect on what theater has meant in my life, it’s not the golden afternoons that had the most significant impact. In fact, the power of the theater and of my theater education affected me most on one of the darkest days of my life.

Performing Saved My Life

I have never spoken publicly about this before. It’s difficult to bring up and certainly doesn’t make for rousing dinner table conversation. But, I think it is important. Because life isn’t all about golden afternoons. No matter who you are, how talented, how smart, how attractive, you will face some dark days. And it is at those times when the power of the theater shines the most bright.

Nine years ago, almost to the date, I was violently assaulted by a stranger while walking to my new apartment from my new job.

I had just moved to Baltimore, Maryland for graduate school and I was in love with the city. I had been accepted into the prestigious Peabody Conservatory to study opera performance. My apartment had central air, and my new job at Fogo de Chao meant I would have free meals. I was living the life.

And then suddenly, it was taken all away. Before I even knew what was happening, I was falling backwards down cement stairs, shielding my face from being punched, and then it all went black. When I opened my eyes, I was in an ambulance and they were checking to make sure I still had all of my teeth. I made it into an emergency room before I even stepped foot in my school’s performance hall. It was a record, even for Baltimore.

While I was recovering from ten staples and a potentially deviated septum my first thought was how it would affect my singing and my ability to start grad school. My second feeling was deep, existential confusion. “Why would a mugger, someone who was experienced in stealing money, target me? Clearly a graduate student? It’s the worst target ever! Graduate students never have any money!

We Would All Understand…

Afterwards, I was nervous about walking on the street by myself. I would gasp if someone ran up behind me too quickly. When the word of the attack spread, one of my professors reassured me that, “you know, Megan, we would all understand if you decided to move back home to Iowa…”

And for a few minutes, I thought about it.

But my ambition made me strong.

Because although I learned that the world could be a terribly dark place, I also learned how much performing meant to me. I was never giving up on my dream to become a professional singer. And that guy, now spending his days in prison, wasn’t taking it away from me. I had worked too hard, and I was not going back into another Iowa Winter, not when I had a free meal a day and a performance career waiting for me in Baltimore.

My ambition made me strong.

And my education made me strong. Because I remembered the Leonard Bernstein quote that my orchestra teacher told my class on September 11th, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

And that’s a quote that coming across my Facebook feed a little too often. However, it is giving a lot of artists and musicians strength right now in the face of terrible bombings, wars, and diseases going on around the world.

Theater, art, and music make us strong.

I’m sharing this with you in the hopes that today, as you think about what is coming up for you in the next school year, you will be inspired to take the next step. To not let anyone take away your drive to reach your goals. And, that you will be making art more intensely and more devotedly than before.

Becoming Emotional and Civic Leaders

The question is not if you will have some dark days. You will. Today I want to talk about what we do with those, and how we use our passion for art to become emotional and civic leaders.

As someone who is dedicated to performance, community building, and audience experience in the arts, I’m here to tell you that there are steps that we can take to become civic leaders through the arts. I want to focus on three B’s — build your team, brainstorm, and bring to light. The fundamental nature of a leader is exposed in these three areas.

Build Your Team

The first B is “build your team”. This is the belief that we are not alone and that we cannot do this by ourselves. This is the fundamental idea that in theatre and in the arts we can truly create something bigger, something greater, than the sum of its parts.

Everyone here has been in a show with someone who shows up late to rehearsals, who rejects the ideas of others, who doesn’t take a vested interest in the project, or takes over every moment to make sure the spotlight is always on them. Don’t be that person. They aren’t really leaders.

We want to build solid teams in which people feel engaged. Members of the group participate positively and actively toward the group’s goals.

Real leaders are the football quarterback who isn’t too full of himself to play “pudgy bunny” with the rest of his castmates. Real leaders invite students from various backgrounds to participate. Real leaders invite people who may be struggling to join a supportive group. Real leaders give newbies a place to belong. Real leaders make audience members feel welcome and wanted because they’re on your team too! Real leaders know that their community reaches far beyond the outer walls of their performance space.


The second B is “brainstorm” — I hope you’re about to do a whole bunch of this today! Brainstorming is making sure that each participant of the project has thought hard to come up with creative solutions to reach a broader goal.

The rules of brainstorming are: defer judgement; encourage wild, creative ideas; build on the ideas of others; stay focused on the topic; have one productive conversation at a time; be visual; and set outrageous goals.

I play this game with my voice students in which I force them to come up with, or brainstorm, as many words as possible to describe the ideal sound they hear in their mind. We usually get to about three before they say, “I don’t know.” So, I push them. What are other qualities or characteristics you haven’t imagined yet?

Think Beyond the Limit You See

When I was assaulted in Baltimore, I was shocked. I was confounded. “How could this happen? This isn’t what my life looks like.” As I started to regain some sense of safety and confidence, I thought to myself, “if I thought that wasn’t what my life looked like… what are some other areas of my life where maybe I’m not imagining the fullness of my experience here?” These were scary thoughts at first. But, they became positive thoughts. If I know those lows, how high can I go?

I want you to brainstorm the seemingly impossible today. I want you to think of the limit you see and then ask yourself, “what would happen if that wasn’t there?” How can you be responsible for augmenting the vision of your program today?

Bring to Light

The third B is “bring to light” — believe that your work – that your art – can have an impact.

As artists we reflect our world, real and imagined, back to our viewers. We must take this charge very seriously. Culture, more specifically the arts, teaches us about family roles, thought patterns, pride, personal space, attitudes toward the environment, gender roles, biases, self-concept, and so much more. These are often difficult lessons for people to put into words. Heck, this is even difficult for parents to put into words to their children. But, when we put them into stories the impact can be so much greater.

Meisner wrote, “Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” We have this incredible ability to uncover the root causes of issues. Yes, being a leader through the arts can be amorphous. It can take on many shapes and topics including a mixture of politics, values, laws, economics, and humanitarian issues. Often in our art, we express stories that pit our inner world against the world at large. This is such a unique perspective and benefit to those who witness our stories and it is our responsibility to them.

Artists Are People of Action

Dozens of voices around us will suggest that situations can’t or shouldn’t change. But, we must ask ourselves the question: are there behaviors or conditions that we simply must address in our community? Some changes can be easy and simple. Some changes take a lot of time. But, think for a moment about all the discrete actions and art works that have led to giant changes in our culture.

As agents of the theatre, we have decided to take action. We, as people, agree to live by a social contract that defines how we will behave toward one another in a community, whether you define community as a small town or something much bigger. We can help strengthen, inform, and grow that understanding of community through our art practices.

There’s a Fourth B?

None of you need me to explain the fourth B…which is, of course, Hamilton.

Just kidding. That doesn’t start with B.

Thank You, Theatre

These three B’s are obviously not just for theatre work. It is my hope that building your team, brainstorming, and bringing to light will be core principles in your life. Let’s just be thankful that theatre is the door that has opened you to all of these life skills.

I Will Go Very Far

One of the most important performing moments of my life happened in 2012 when I was singing at the final marathon concert for the Bang on a Can Festival in MASS MoCA in Massachusetts. I was singing an absolute giant in the repertoire called “Ancient Voices of Children” by the composer George Crumb. The final phrases of the piece, translated from Spanish, are, “and I will go very far, farther than the seas, close to the stars.” I remember clearer than anything, sitting backstage and pondering those words. Then realizing, that I was also recalling my assault in Baltimore. Immediately my thoughts turned to

“I am the same woman who was there that is here.”

In fact, I am the same woman who was there that is here at this very moment.

and I will go very far indeed.

It is my wish that you will go very far. That you will go beyond what you have already imagined. That you will take those visions back to your community and make great art. It is my sincere hope that you will encourage each other. That you will build your team because theatre should always be greater than the sum of its parts. It is my goal that you are moved today to bring issues to light. And that above all, when you see the violence in the world, the ugliness, that you will draw back to these golden afternoons and make your art more beautifully, more devotedly, and more intensely than ever before.

Thank you.

Thank you for being here.

Let’s have a great day.

let’s discuss: 3 Years of To-Do Lists

August 4, 2016

I am writing right now. I am choosing to write to you, and to myself, because I think it is important. A catchall of days. A compendium of how a singer spends her time. When I’m not turning breath into sound or teaching others how to count and read music and experience resonance, I am here. I am writing to us because this is what I do. But truly, this is one of my favorite things that tells me who I am as a person. As Annie Dillard wrote in her incredible book The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and with that one, is what we are doing.”

Sybaritic Singer | My Ultimate To-Do List

My Ultimate To-Do List

With a love for a quote like that, it is little wonder that I’m also obsessed with to-do lists. My Type A personality simply can’t get enough of them. I have written about my favorite form of the to-do list, which I call The 10 Minute Meeting on a number of occasions. The first time I introduce the 10 Minute Meeting was back in 2014:

We can spend our entire lives simply reacting to the incessant stimuli around us. This is one of the reasons why creatives hate email with such passion. That constant stream of communication takes you out of your zone and puts you into reply mode. You do not have to swear off email, though, to make a big difference in controlling the flow of your day. All it takes is 10 minutes.¹ At breakfast or first thing in the studio, block off 10 sacred minutes with yourself to outline your mission for the day. These precious minutes are time to make a to-do list, a GTD-style brain dump, brainstorm an important creative element, or whatever you need. The point is to do it regularly so that you have a course of action for the day. I find that it is extremely helpful for those moments when brain energy is low and you aren’t sure what to do next. Go back to your notes from your meeting and pick up a new task.

Share Your Work

I have been actively keeping track of my Ten Minute Meetings since before I first wrote about them here. I’ve tried one productivity and goal-setting app after another and nothing lights up the planning and brainstorming side of my brain better than ten minutes on the timer with a legal pad and a pen. We’ve been doing some cleaning at the house recently and I decided to compile my micro-actions into an online spreadsheet so I could recycle these old lists. I’ve decided to share that list here. Maybe you’re curious about other people’s to-do lists like I am.

Micro-Action Spreadsheet

When I create these lists, I set the timer for ten minutes and it is my intention to write out micro-actions that can be completed on that day. That’s why the ten minute element is so important. Ten minutes gives me just enough time to write all the things I know I need to get done and just a few extra moments to push me to come up with the next step. “What else do I want to get done today?” often springs to mind. Or, “What can I do today that will help with this other upcoming project?” My micro-action spreadsheet is just a record of all of the items that I wrote down; not which ones I actually completed (although given my check marks, 90% of these were.) So, this document is more of a list of how many times a certain action was on my mind more than anything else.

Keeping Track of To-Do’s

I kept a tally of how many times each micro-action showed up on the list. It made me feel good that “practice” showed up on the list more than anything else. Practice was followed shortly thereafter by “write thank you note.” In between those was “follow-up (anything.)” I think that is a pretty accurate outline for my career in singing:

  1. Practice.
  2. Follow-up.
  3. Show appreciation.

I really love seeing certain items on the list because it shows me the daily actions throughout a very full three years. Things like “quit job(s)”, “file change of address”, and “research apartments” help remind me of getting ready for the big move. Then, things like “start an ensemble”, “send performance rider”, and 41 instances of “make/check-in travel arrangements” remind me of just how committed to the work I have been recently.

Non-Business Items

Of course, the list does not include a lot of really important things. Or, there are some slight nods to things like family, friend, and personal time. It’s not that those didn’t happen. It’s just that I very rarely have to remind myself to include those as part of my business day.

I hope that you’ll share with me some of the items that regularly crop up on your list. Or, feel free to ask me about any of my micro-action is they don’t make sense. I’m happy to explain how they’ve figured into my business plans. Feel free to share in the comments below or find me on Twitter – I’m always @mezzoihnen.

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Revolutionize Your Studio: Provide Your Students with Useful Feedback

July 18, 2016

We currently live in a society in which most of the population believes that they can become famous singers. The formula, in most people’s minds, seems to be: have voice > go on reality show > strike it big > collect fat checks. As someone who has devoted their life to the study, practice, and teaching of singing, you know it isn’t that easy. But, when that is the widely disseminated view of singing, how do you provide useful feedback to your students? You must actively build trust with your students so that they believe your constructive criticism. Then, you have to give them actionable advice.

The formula, in most people’s minds, seems to be: have voice > go on reality show > strike it big > collect fat checks.Tweet:

Revolutionize Your Studio: Provide Useful Feedback to Your Students

The Critical Role of Feedback in the Voice Studio

Think back to your experience in undergrad or graduate school (be it days or years) and call to mind a student who you believed “didn’t have what it takes, vocally.” Everybody has an example of this. I know you do too.

I, personally, believe that everyone who can vibrate their vocal folds can sing. I do not believe that everyone can sing professionally. However, I do not think that everyone who takes voice lessons, or even majors in music, wants to sing professionally. Music schools need to be very clear about who they are accepting into which role and why. The problem is when music schools graduate students who have no idea where they fit into the field of professional singing. But, that is a topic for another post…

Music schools graduating students who have no idea where they fit into the field of professional singing is a problem.Tweet:

You will do your students a benevolent service by giving them critical feedback that motivates and encourages them to do better, systematically.

Become an Authority on How to Reach Singing Goals

You need your students to trust your advice and criticism. That means that you have to be a multi-faceted authority when it comes to singing. As a teacher, please stay in a curious and learning mindset as much as possible. Do new research on technique. Do spend time practicing your languages and how to teach diction to your students. Do spend time understanding the vocal/opera higher education landscape. Do spend time learning new audition and performance skills. The list goes on. The point is that your students will suffer if you, as a teacher, are disconnected and disengaged from the larger career field.

Your students will suffer if you, as a teacher, are disconnected and disengaged from the larger career field.Tweet:

Effective feedback requires that your students have clearly articulated goals. Your feedback takes into account their goal and uses that objective as a benchmark for their success. Here’s an example of giving goal-focused feedback:

You said that your goal was to get into honor choir this year (clearly articulated goal.) Here are the metrics that they judge in the audition (demonstrating authority.) Will you please rate how you feel on a spectrum of ‘just getting started’ to ‘advanced’ in these areas? You said that you feel confident about being advanced in your sightreading. I noticed that you correctly sightread 10 out of 20 measures (concrete metrics.) I would consider that intermediate. What do you think we can do to improve those skills? Here are some steps I would like you to consider (action steps.)

This example brings me to the feedback sandwich formula for giving constructive criticism.

The Feedback Sandwich

The feedback sandwich follows three components: these are the expectations you have met, these are the expectations you have not met, and here are your next steps to consider. Notice how we started with the goal in mind. I want my feedback to my students to be tangible and transparent. This is why I used the spectrum but followed it up with the specific number of measures completed correctly and how that relates to where you are on your journey towards goal mastery. After that we have a quick discussion about actionable steps from both parties.

The whole point is that you are actually teaching your students how to break down large goals into actionable steps. It is very easy to make this connection to the larger world. Make sure your students know that this is a life skill that they can apply to any of their ambitions.

Your Students Want to Know

Sometimes teachers avoid giving constructive criticism because they simply want to encourage students to stick with music learning. But, non-stop praise can lead to distrust and apathetic feelings toward goal achievement. It is important to be supportive. But, as every Soul Cycle coach knows, the best way to be supportive is to compel your students to be better than they were before and show them how far they have come.

Non-stop praise in lessons can lead to distrust and apathetic feelings toward goal achievement.Tweet:

Here are some things that your students want to know and ways that you can provide feedback:

  • “What did I do well?”

    • Students very rarely ask this question out loud. But, they are all thinking it constantly. Share with them examples of positive work. Be specific.
  • “What are specific ways I am meeting your expectations?”

    • “This is why I am having you work on this technique exercise, sightreading example, or repertoire. Here is how you are meeting my expectations so far.”
  • “What are specific ways I can improve (right now)?”

    •  Who isn’t interested in immediate results? Find ways to suggest to students what they can change immediately as well as over time.
  • “How do I figure out what I don’t know?” and “What is a model example?”

    • Obviously, students aren’t usually thinking this during lessons. But, you can open up their world tremendously by providing them with resource links, articles/readings, videos, and audio recordings.
  • “How do I compare with the average learner?” and “Am I an above average student/musician?”

    • Be very specific about what is average for this age, skill level, and goal level. Then, provide specific examples about what would be above average. Ask your students, “what is the difference between those two?” Follow up with, “what could you do to demonstrate above average skills?” Talk openly, but positively, about these topics.

Make it Normal

Your studio should be an environment in which giving feedback is a way of life. Remember to be compassionate and caring in the way you provide your evaluation of skills. You want to instill in your students’ minds that you give feedback because you truly, deeply care about their progress. Model to your students how to receive feedback by asking them for feedback too. “Were the topics we discussed today clear?” Then, listen to them. Ask for clarification. Show them that you can absorb feedback without being defensive. This is how we learn, after all.

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Revolutionize Your Studio: Ask for Feedback

July 14, 2016

Did you know that there is Sybaritic Singer content that is exclusive to the email list I affectionately call, “The Sybaritic Faithful”? Well, there is. If you are on the list, then you would have already received today’s post in your inbox. If not, you may want to take a moment to sign up or update your settings now! Click on the image below to go to the sign-up form. After you enter your information, make sure to select “Sybaritic Singer” under the “Pick Your News!” heading.

Revolutionize Your Studio: Ask for Feedback

Revolutionize Your Studio: Invoicing with Wave

July 13, 2016

Administrative tasks are the primary complaint among private music teachers. Bookkeeping, accounting, and invoicing can be agonizing for some. In fact, I taught for multiple music store/music lessons companies before starting my studio because I simply wanted someone else to deal with the money aspect.  That is why I am so thankful I found Wave when I did. Even if you are a whiz at accounting in your business, Wave can make it easier and more time effective. Isn’t that what we’re really looking for in all of our businesses?

Revolutionize Your Studio: Invoicing with Wave

Accounting with Wave for Private Music Teachers

One of the best things about Wave is the ease of set-up. You can be processing credit card payments as soon as you start! When I started the private studio, I was using Dwolla to process online payments. For one, I’m a big fan of supporting Des Moines-based businesses. Secondly, they have a fantastic rate for credit card processing. However, the functionality of Wave won me over in the end. I can use the one site for so many aspects of the business that ease of use brought me to using Wave solely.

Connect Your Accounts

Wave safely and securely helps you connect your business bank and credit card accounts. They import three months of data to help you do your projections, reports, and breakdown of expenses.

After you’ve connected your accounts, it is important to categorize your expenses. This really helps when it comes to tax time especially since you are running your own business.

Wave even offers a receipt scanning app in case you’re used to paying for things in cash.

Creating Invoices

With Wave it’s easy to create invoices from any of your devices. They’ve really thought all this stuff through so you don’t have to. You are able to customize your invoices at the outset with things like a company logo, various products (or services) offered, and pricing structure. I have a number of products saved such as “Piano Lessons – 30 Minutes”, “Performance”, and “Blog and Social Media Services.” These populate a drop-down menu when you go to create a new invoice or you can add a new products while you make the invoice. You can also add customers before creating invoices or add new customers as you create the invoice.

Wave allows you to customize your invoices with company logo, various products offered, & pricing structure.Tweet:

In my private studio, I always invoice at the beginning of the month. I make it clear in the policies that invoices are expected to be paid by the fifth of every month. That means that I’m sending out invoices before the first of every month to make sure my clients have a chance to pay by their preferred method by the fifth. Wave allows you to add a deadline to the invoice so clients are reminded and you can easily see that status of each in your invoice list. I also get an email each time a client pays online so it is easy for me to update my schedule and payment spreadsheet.

Raking in the dough with Wave Accounting… figuratively speaking, of course. Tweet:

Then, poof, the payments from your clients appear in your bank account! Isn’t technology swell?

Scheduling Information Delivered with Invoices

As an active performer, it is essential to communicate scheduling information each month. My studio families all know to look to the invoice at the beginning of the month for that information. I make sure to put it in multiple places. I detail which days of the month we’re planning on to having scheduled lessons in the services item description. Such as, “Violetta July Lessons (7/6, 7/13, 7/20, 7/27.)” Then, I make a note in the footer of the invoice and in the email note when I send the email.

You can never be too clear or over-communicative when it comes to outlining scheduling details.Tweet:

In the email note with the invoice, I make sure to include two details: a short progress note for each student and a request that they let me know about any scheduling issues they may have in the coming month. I’ll write more about the short progress report in an upcoming post. The second aspect is just a helpful reminder to get families to communicate their schedule changes with you as early as possible.

Wave Makes Financial Reports Easy

One of the aspects that I like the most about Wave is that it offers me excellent reporting capabilities. I’ve been able to use my reports for financial applications because they are clear and professional. I’m able to keep unambiguous records for tax time and that is a real preventative for emotional distress.

There are plenty of online resources that offer similar business offerings. Wave just happens to be the best one for my studio. Let me know if there’s another service that you’re just over the moon about. I’m curious to know!

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Revolutionize Your Studio: Offer Pricing Tiers

July 12, 2016

People invest in services for different reasons. Some families want to give their children music lessons because they think that learning how to play an instrument is simply “what one does.” Other families believe that their children have a real desire to go on to become a professional in the field. There are even families who are begrudgingly committing to music lessons because it is required by their child’s school. Because each family and each student has a different reason for trusting you to provide excellent instruction, it is important to base your prices on benefits, not just your costs. (We already covered “what to charge” in the special email content. If you didn’t get a chance to read that post, sign up now and it’ll be winging its way to your inbox in no time.)

Be prepared: some people will always think that the price is too high no matter what you charge for lessons. Sadly, what works for Wal-Mart will not work for you. You are not a big box store. You are a boutique operation devoted to individual instruction. That is a rarer commodity these days than you think. Did you know that offering a narrow range of prices can actually help you bring in more students to your studio?

Sadly, what works for Wal-Mart will not work for you. You are not a big box store. You are a boutique operation devoted to individual instruction. Tweet:

Revolutionize Your Studio: Offer Pricing Tiers

Multiple Pricing Tiers for Music Lesson Studios

This is not a foreign concept to most studio teachers regardless of academic institution-based or private studio. Students are usually charged different prices for certain blocks of time like 30 minute or hour-long lessons. Those prices are determined in the “what you charge” phase. This post is more about how a range of prices can increase profitability for your studio as something of a messaging/marketing tool.

Before we get to the options, you must decide what you want as your backbone option for the studio. Into which lesson option would you like most of your clients to land? For my studio, I want the bulk of my students to be in 30 minute lessons. Business-wise, it is best for me to maintain the schedule and the bottom line of the studio with that being the backbone option. For others, they want to only teach hour-long lessons. If that is the case for you, you will want to structure your options so that looks like the best option for most people.

Option 1

Listing your prices for lessons based on blocks of time – 30 minutes or an hour – presents the choice to your clients as “What do you have time and budget for now based on your limited knowledge of the benefits of voice lessons?”

Option 2

When you start to provide a range of options, you are able to direct your clients to what would be best for them and use their desires to help your income. Furthermore, with this range of options, you are able to lead their eye to your backbone option. That is the one that keeps your studio at an even keel.

Here’s an alternative to option one that helps with your messaging (keep in mind these prices are made-up numbers used as an example):

Diva Town Voice Lessons

  1. Group Lessons (group lessons offered by voice part, once a week, day TBD from 6:00-6:30pm, ideal for beginning voice students.) – Price: $15 per lesson
  2. Individual Voice Lessons (30 Minutes, once a week, ideal for early high school students.) – Price: $30 per lesson
  3. Advanced Voice Lessons (60 Minutes, once a week, ideal for HS junior and seniors and other advanced students.) – Price: $60 per lesson
  4. Select Voice Bootcamp (1 week of exclusive, daily lessons; ideal for advanced students with busy schedules) – Price: $350 per week

With this type of breakdown you are able to message to your budget buyer as well as your premium buyer. When they are able to see a range of prices they can gravitate to the option that best fits their needs without being confused. Notice that I didn’t just list the time blocks and the price.

With this tiered pricing system you are able to message to your budget buyer as well as your premium buyer. Tweet:

By adding specific information, I’m guiding them to make decisions based on age, skill level, budget, schedule availability, and more. At this point, you are definitely beyond asking them if they want voice lessons and you are into asking them which level of voice lessons they need. You aren’t pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. Your clients are going to be aware of your marketing but they will be more appreciative of your ability to direct them into the right option for their child.

Subscription Add-Ons

As a lesson teacher, you are essentially creating a music education subscription service. The idea is that you want them to keep coming back for lessons month after month. Having a solid idea of how many subscribers at each level you need each month will make your teaching income more reliable and give you some data when it comes to marketing to new clients.

As a lesson teacher, you are essentially creating a music education subscription service.Tweet:

After you’ve established that base of recurring clients, you may be wondering how you can possibly improve your revenue without raising your prices. An extremely happy client is likely to buy other things from you. Important note: before you consider marketing complementary services to your studio, make sure that you are providing a top-notch service to all of your students. It is imperative that you treat each student like your “best” student before encouraging them to sign up for other offerings. Once you have done that, do some brainstorming around what extras your students need. Can you offer a Show Choir Audition Bootcamp? Would they benefit from a Banish Stage Fright Workshop? I am certainly not advocating for any snake oil salesperson here. Sometimes there is simply not enough time to cover all of these things in a 30 minute lesson. This is an opportunity for them to focus on one goal in a concentrated setting.


Experimenting with price is one of the easiest ways to create better sustainability in your income and overall business. You will want to do some of the experimenting behind the scenes and in a “testing” capacity so that you are not changing prices on your clients too often. Even changing prices annually can make some clients jump ship. Before you go toggling prices haphazardly, experiment with offering more options and see if that gives you the bump you need.

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Revolutionize Your Studio: Language Bootcamp

July 11, 2016

Language learning is a must for the classical singer. Being believable in multiple languages can be the deciding factor in an audition. Giving your students a real advantage in the world of classical singing can truly come down to your ability to unlock these types of learning capabilities. As a teacher, you do not have to be fluent in every language (though it helps) but you must be fluent in giving your students the resources they need to excel.

Not every one of your students will be able to jet off to Middlebury for a summer immersion experience. What can we do to provide our students with language learning essentials to help them with their repertoire? Let’s revolutionize our studio with a language bootcamp!

Revolutionize Your Studio: Language Bootcamp

Teach Your Students to Sing in Multiple Languages

Learning languages for singing is more about a deep understanding of the pronunciation and sounds of the language. As your students progress, you will encourage them to develop a better understanding of grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. However, for studio purposes we start with diction. This is great. Every language hacker recommends starting with immersing yourself in the sounds of the language before going on to things like learning colors and verb conjugations. It is also important to note that our primary singing languages for the voice studio are Italian, French, German, English, and Spanish (although Spanish is not always considered in the traditional list.) This is simply a starting place. Clearly, there is a wealth of repertoire in languages other than those already listed. We would be remiss to not assign that repertoire to our students as well.

A Quick Note from Megan: There are affiliate links in this post. When you click or buy from them, you support the blog and I couldn’t be more grateful. Thanks!

Getting Used to the Sound of the Language

Aural skills for singers is not relegated only to identifying intervals and cadential patterns. Aural skills can also be applied to picking up sounds of different languages. During your language bootcamp, it is advisable to brainstorm as many ways to listen to the language as possible. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Repertoire Recordings

    • Encourage your students to find recordings of their repertoire and to take notes on the pronunciation specifically. If your students are younger or just getting started, they may not know about the resources that you know about. It is okay to suggest different platforms, beyond iTunes, wherein they can find recordings of classical music.
  • Internet Radio

    • Listening to radio stations from around the world can help language bootcampers become more accustomed to the sound of different languages and different accents. There are plenty of internet radio apps that provide access like Isn’t the internet great?
  • Films

  • Language Learning CDs

    • My go-to crash course in listening to another language has always been the inestimable Pimsleur audiobooks/cds. Buy your own or borrow them from your local library.

International Phonetic Alphabet – IPA

International Phonetic Alphabet (or IPA) is the saving grace of classical singers learning how to sing in a foreign language. A healthy and robust understanding of IPA can cut down on time spent teaching, learning, and re-teaching/re-learning pronunciation in the studio because it offers clear guidance on how to produce different sounds.

When working on a short lesson schedule, it can be difficult to squeeze in teaching the introduction to IPA. I highly recommend finding a resource that you like and assigning your students to watch/absorb it outside of lesson time during their regular practice schedule. Here’s a very basic video series that I find helpful:

Most of us also have multiple diction textbooks from our undergraduate and graduate school experiences. Keeping them handy and assigning worksheets from those textbooks can be very valuable. Obviously, English diction worksheets are just as important to classical singing as the worksheets in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Some of the texts that I prefer are:

Take Your Language Learning to the Next Level

To really bootcamp the bejeezus out of your languages, you will want to move beyond training your ear to hear the sounds of the words. You, and your students, will want to learn basic vocabulary words and into an understanding of the grammar. When I explain why it is important to understand grammar and sentence structure to classical singers, I remind them that we don’t react to a joke unless we’ve reached the punchline. Do not be the one singer on stage who doesn’t get the joke.

There are so many resources when it comes to language learning, it rather surprises me that we’re not completed surrounded by polyglots. We can continue to use textbooks and workbooks from our classroom days. But, we can also use apps and websites with built-in gaming functions to turbocharge our relationships with languages. Here are some you should investigate:

  • Duolingo
    • Duolingo is language learning backed by the power of gamification. Listening, reading, speaking, and learning. It’s all here — for free.
  • BBC Languages
    • Whatever your learning style, you can find something in BBC Languages that will help you with your language learning. BBC Language resources are available in over 30 languages for learners of all levels, and BBC News is also provided in multiple languages.
  • Memrise
    • Their tagline is “Learning, made joyful. We make learning languages and vocab so full of joy and life, you’ll laugh out loud.” How can you turn that down?
    • Beginners’ lessons use flash cards for learning new words and phrases, but advanced lessons involve writing and answering questions that will be reviewed by native speakers on the site.
  • Open Culture
    • This is goldmine of resources for language learning. Check it out. You will not be disappointed.

The DIY Language Learner

The power of flashcards compel you. There are so many resources out there and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. However, the best resource for language learning is the one that is the most compelling to you and/or your students. This can be as simple as writing out the text of your repertoire, the English translation, and the IPA onto a flashcard. It doesn’t have to be flashy graphics and gamification unless you want that. When making a bootcamp schedule for yourself or your students, pick the things that will move the needle the most.

One more thing…

I wanted to share this Art of Charm Podcast episode with you. Featuring Gabriel Wyner, the Art of Charm guys cover some great language bootcamp stories and hacks in this episode. It is well worth a listen.

Structuring the Bootcamp

I love a good bootcamp. How would you structure your ideal language bootcamp? For you? For your students? Tell me all about it in the comments below. Plus, feel free to add any resources that you find particularly useful that didn’t make it into this post. I am always curious! Love short and sweet answers? Tweet me your thoughts @mezzoihnen.

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