Life in music is a bit unbalanced.
When you are young, your passion and efforts are applauded. There is unbridled hope for what the future might bring and it seems like all of your teachers, classes, and schools know there is something exciting in store for you. As dedicated students we spend hours upon hours honing our skills and diving deep into our study all the while being unaware that our student days might in fact be our best.
Once we graduate and head out from the sheltered student enclave we are faced with a stark reality. We are one of many who excel at the same thing, there is little money to be made, and we have been ignoring the fact that making a living from practicing our art is very uncommon.
I wont go on, because you know this story. It is a story we all share.
Never before has our society had such access to on demand entertainment and never before have artists been so drowned out by the roar of global competition.
However, with our new set of challenges comes a new set of possibilities.
I created theonlinemusicteacher.com to share what I have learned about online education. How you can help people, build an audience, and earn an income. That income can supplement revenue from your existing teaching and your craft or it can provide a full time income.
It seems like we are always seeking someones permission to be successful. An academic position, illustrious reviews, recognition from institutions or individuals, they are the traditional gatekeepers of a career. Today we don’t have to ask for permission anymore. We can create our own utopia, help people that resonate with us, and build our own audience.
I first picked up the guitar as an early teenager. It soon became an obsession.
From my first chords to my first performance, I found myself diving deeper and deeper into creative studies. I enrolled in a Bachelor of Music in Sydney Australia, and later found myself at Yale University completing a Masters and Doctorate. With degrees in hand and a confident mastery of my craft I felt poised for a successful performance career.
I am happy to say that I have performed around the world. China, Peru, Australia, USA, Sweden… I won’t bore you with the shopping list, but I can confidently say I have experienced the life of a professional touring musician.
The problem is, I never made much of an income.
As a student it was completely fine to be poor. Even into my early thirties I was quite happy to live off pasta, rice, and tuna. The change came when I started to get a little older and I gained some responsibilities. You see, up until I was 31 I was more or less single and very healthy. Having no health insurance, subletting an apartment, and frugal dining wasn’t a problem. As life moved on I gained some responsibilities, some wonderful (my wife) and some not so wonderful (hospital visits). I needed to find a way to earn an income that would provide security for my changing situation.
Free Time and Some Fresh Ideas
Six months after graduating from the grandeur of Yale, I found myself living in a friends attic.
With ample free time I started to write a scale book. It was a simple, albeit detailed, project and when I had completed it I put it online where I had been dabbling in writing a blog about classical guitar.
To my surprise I made some sales and a little trickle of money came in. Enough to buy lunch today, I thought.
With my interest piqued I went on to write another book, this time one on technique. It too started to get some attention and it was good enough that there were guitarists writing to me from different countries around the world with thanks and congratulations. Someone is using my technique book in Colombia? This is amazing!
Following on from the books I made a couple of basic youtube videos on specific techniques. I was continuing to help people with their guitar playing, even when I was asleep, and my audience started to grow.
An early turning point came when I decided to create a full course. It was a video course with downloads and worksheets and it was intended for newcomers to the classical guitar. This course took people on a path and helped them reach a goal. It was a major leap in how I helped people and I was receiving great feedback on the course.
This course was sold at a much higher price point compared to my books, so every time I had a new student purchase the course I was compensated with a substantial amount of money (substantial to someone who maintained a bank account of a few hundred dollars).
It was a mix of successfully helping people, receiving compensation, and slowly building an audience of people around the world who liked what I was doing. This mix has continued until today, and I continue to learn and refine my online teaching skills.
Currently I run two fully fledged schools with hundreds of students. One for guitar and one for swing dance (a collaboration with my wife and her dance partner). I have plans for more as I feel that I can help more people.
Rocket Science vs Perseverance
One of the next projects is Powis Academy. It is a way that I can help creative artists that were in a similar position after graduating. Lots of potential, but few opportunities.
I see online education as a truly viable way for artists to make a living within the boundaries of their craft. It not only is a better route than bartending or office work, it grows as you put in time and effort. With an attentive and trusting audience you can undertake a variety of ventures that is not restricted to education.
It may seem overwhelming at first. It might seem that you aren’t equipped with the skills to undertake online education. Don’t let the initial learning curve scare you off. Success with online education has more to do with perseverance than anything else.