Private Lessons Vs Group Lessons
– – – Episode HighLights – – –
Darren Siman runs a private lesson business called InHome Jams. A couple of years after, he built The JamZone which he co-founded with his wife Audra. The JamZone is a music studio that adapts an all-group business model, which has allowed him to raise an incredibly profitable business with just fewer students. Currently serving families in Dedham and Newton, Massachusetts, The JamZone offers Kidzrock, Jr. Rockerz, and bands to kids in the 4 to 17 age groups. The kids absolutely love the ensemble experience.
In-Home Business Model: The Perks and the Downsides
1. Low-Cost Startup
The reason why a lot of musicians turned business owners started doing in-home lessons is because it was a low-cost startup that allows them to immediately get going on a shoestring budget.
Teaching drums and piano to the kids start being a music teacher. You can do these without working for someone else as like an entrepreneur. Through doing these for all the years, you can build these relationships with families while doing recitals in the homes.
2. Creates a Band Feeling
“What I loved about it was my sales approach on the phone and my connection with the kids in person. I loved jamming with them and showing them how great music is because remember, I was in a band, and I wanted to show the kids how great music was to be with other people.”
The whole point of these in-home lessons was to create a band feeling. You would do everything that a piano teacher would teach, but you would always make sure that you connected and jammed while that business is still going and it’s pretty successful.
3. Cost of Driving
One of the downsides of this business model is that you could be driving a lot. You could get a hundred and some odd students, which can be very consistent, and have great teachers teaching it, but because it’s an in-home lesson business, you’ll be driving into the homes of your students.
4. Lack of Culture Culture
It’s hard to replicate over and over again. Teachers leave. Now, you have to find a new teacher for these students. There really isn’t any culture in this business model because every teacher is kind of bouncing around from home to home.
5. Not Scalable
If you’re billing for 45 minutes lessons, there are another 15 minutes where the teacher is traveling to the next lesson. It’s not really a scalable model in that sense. There’s just also some negatives to it.
From a Dream to Action
I started to want to start rock bands, but I never had the opportunity to do group classes because I was on the go teaching private lessons and I didn’t have a location. So I began asking the neighbors around who I taught and said, “Would you mind hosting a rock band?”
That worked out fine for a while. After a couple of years of having some bands at people’s homes and working on their schedules and lessons, we moved to a house. It was a studio apartment with the downstairs floor empty, and we turned it into a music studio. It became a rock and roll band studio.
I still had the music lessons in the homes, and then we started a rock band program without knowing anything about how to get new families in. I just started to slowly promote it. Before you knew it, there were 40 or 50 kids coming in there every week.
I woke up one morning. I had a dream that said, “Build a stage and studio in the garage and they will come.” Told my wife the next day about it, then we did. We have to expand.
Building The JamZone
Building a little school in our garage was kind of an out-of-the-gut feeling. Thinking it was going to be for more bands that were going to come in, but then I discovered Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz—Dave’s amazing programs.
That lit up like crazy. We probably had 75 four- to eight-year-olds coming into my house on a weekly basis on top of the 50 kids that were already in my band program.
Once again, I said I want to start something bigger and do something new. That’s when I thought about creating something called The JamZone.
Opening a Location that Resonates with Your Vision
I got to raise the garage, and parents would hang out in the driveway. They’d watch the band, and it was awesome.
This was specifically a place where we can get kids under all one roof. I did all the things I was exhausted with all my teachers running around in the homes. I wanted to manage it, have a curriculum, do a test kitchen, and build all these things that I’ve been trying out in all these different facets and bring kids together. Bringing kids together was all that this was about.
I already knew great instructors that were tried and true. I knew how to make this work. If I could make something in my house, I knew I could do it at an event or in a location.
Marketing a Startup Music School
The great takeaway of looking for opportunities in your community is where you can go face-to-face with them.
1. Be Present at Events
I’ve always loved doing town-wide events. Really, the only real promotion I could do with those events, besides sitting at a table and answering questions, was this amazing and totally original idea, and that is to bring Kidzrock and do it live at these events to connect with kids. I knew a lot of the kids that come to this event are pretty young, and Kidzrock was such a great program.
2. Booths and Flyers
I got a booth, which was a table, and I set up everything wirelessly. Got a little Roland amp. The keyboards were battery-powered. Had my instructor Steve hanging there with his guitar. The books were on the stands. I had a direct link to everybody that walked by and said, “Do you want to be a Rockstar? Come jam with the band.”
None of these kids were in our band program. They were literally kids just walking past who were getting lollipops from a vendor or a dentist. The kids were running around and making balloon art. We saw maybe 75 kids in one day. They all played, and they all took flyers for a free trial class.
3. Building Excitement
Totally, none of these kids have ever tried these instruments. We’d be like, “What do you wanna play? Guitar? What do you wanna play? Drums? Awesome. Here we go. Guys, what’s the name of the band?” “The Rockstars!” “All right. Cool. Here we go. One, two…”
Every parent is watching. Parents walking by with their kids are like, “What is going on over there?” They’d be lining up. So excited! Every three minutes just turning around. Steve was running the band. I was yapping at the parents. I didn’t have to say much because they were watching their kid.
I don’t have to say anything. I just said, “Come to a free trial class.” We built probably 50 kids over the course of a year from zero to fifty kids in the program because of these events.
No one was walking by and saw this at my house where I ran the business. It was only at these town-wide events that they would see it. There were no flyers outside of that. Those people from those events would come to my house and do trial classes. Then it would spread like wildfire because everybody knows everybody else. Neighbors are talking.
I didn’t see a lot of social media, but I saw a lot of people coming in who said they knew about this from someone else. With a great teacher and a great program Kidzrock in the house, I started The JamZone.
The only way to reach people, while the year and a half The JamZone was being built, was to do these events in this town data mass.
5. Farmers’ Market
It could be a town day, Cleveland day, Boston Day, or farmers market. There were weekly farmers’ markets, which I never did. Until I came to the datum and realized, “Oh, look. There’s ground. What’s going on on these grounds on Wednesday? Well, there’s a farmers market.”
I’m a new vendor, and I’m a new store. I talked to them. They are so supportive. I just told them I was setting up a little thing, and they let me do the bands.
The farmers’ markets were free just because they needed vendors at this event. I sat next to a grocer or a baker, and we just put our little system. We don’t talk much about it. We keep our volume to a minimum.
6. Building a Database
The JamZone is under construction. All of these is a name and a building that’s been built. No one knew about this. All the parents did was come to the Dedham Farmers Market to grab the groceries or whatever they were doing. Then, they would see their kids play. They would ask, “When are you opening?”, and we’d say “In October.” Then, I got their emails and we put up a blast. Every single Wednesday, while I was building The JamZone, somebody from the organization was doing Kidzrock at the farmers’ market.
I wanted to share with the listeners that I love this idea of you where you’re planning to open a location. I think if a music school has a location currently and they may be contemplating opening a second location, a big takeaway here is that you are collecting emails for people that could be potential clients for that new location. Maybe not all of them are going to actually convert to customers, but you’re at least building that database so that you’re not opening a location and then opening the doors and hoping that people notice you. They’ve already noticed you before the doors are open.
The Road to Group Experience
We see a lot of the same familiar faces. Probably 20% new faces every week and 80% the same. It was obvious thing that once The JamZone opened, these kids were going to come and try out the program.
We started with 50 kids all in Kidzrock. While The JamZone was being built, I was coming up with the model. Secretly, as I look back now, I was realizing that it was my way of getting out of the in-home lesson experience. Everything I was doing was anti-one-on-one music lessons, and that’s because I really believe wholeheartedly that this was going to be a group experience.
1. Choosing The Right Programs
Not a lot of this was thought out beforehand. It was kind of building a car while driving it. When we opened, the two rooms that were busy were the Jr. Rockerz and Kidzrock rooms, which was a great thing to have but also a problem. My other rooms weren’t being used.
So I started to teach piano lessons outside of the Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz, which were running. I started to teach the Daniel Patterson Music Lesson Program. I used the books and taught the kids. They probably trumped up to 20 kids.
2. Why Group Lessons Only
Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We’ve said this before: Kids love music, but they don’t love music lessons. What is it about soccer being on a soccer team? What is it about being on a basketball team? Why my daughter plays badminton? She takes volleyball. What is it about dancing classes in a dance studio? What is it in karate that kids love? It’s the culture. It’s the connection with other kids altogether.
3. The Challenges in Group Music Lessons
Isn’t playing an instrument really hard to do? Surely, it takes a long time before you can do something like playing with a group.
In school, it’s really hard. They’re in a classroom with other kids. It’s the social dynamic. Music is no different than dance, karate, and basketball. These are kids. There is a time when private lessons happen, but in the beginning, from beginner to intermediate, it is about learning and the time spent on an instrument. It is about practicing in the room.
A lot of kids don’t want to practice. They practice in the room, and they get to hang out with other kids. It’s social. There’s a culture of private lessons that goes against the whole experience. It is valid because you need those skills to be able to play with others. If you’re in a room where there are four or five kids, everyone with their headphones on, practicing their piano, all on their own level, and then they stop and say “Alright. Everybody. Now let’s jam on some stuff. Let’s go into the drum room and rock out some drums. Let’s do a DJ class. Let’s hang out. What did you do today? What are your favorite movies?”
Then, the kids start bonding together. They remember music lessons. They get to hang on to other kids and learn music. Right? It is not a discipline to them. It is a place where they go and have fun. The same as basketball, and they build a team and get excited about being part of something.
There is a certain level for each instrument that were mechanically it becomes challenging. Conceptually, it becomes really challenging, but there’s every instrument, maybe not so much with brass and woodwinds, that kids are able to access quickly and experience the thrill and the joy of playing music. That social environment really creates positive peer pressure where the kids want to impress each other.
4. How to Solve the Struggle in Filling the Group Classes
One of the most common things that music school owners struggle with is filling their group classes. They struggle to persuade parents or show them the value of the group class. How do you show people the value of it from a marketing and sales standpoint? How do you handle pushbacks when a parent says “Well. Shouldn’t they really start with private lessons?”
It’s really easy. We don’t tell them as group classes because they’re individual. The kids are all on their own path. They’re on headphones. We have amplifiers where they get to plug their headphones in. They all have iPads where they play along with tracks. The curriculum is designed so that these kids are playing along with music, and they’re all on their own path.
The teacher grabs another set of headphones and listens in, and they’ve worked through the books of these pop songs. There are different age groups in the classes. It is private lessons, except the teacher is bouncing around for an hour instead of 30 minutes trying to get the kid to learn something and give them a quick assignment for 40 minutes that kids are practicing.
By practicing, I mean they are repeating their riffs 10 times along with their track, and they are learning this. All the parents want to see is “Is my kid improving? Do they love music? Are they engaged? Are they having fun in their experience?”
There’s no pressure on the parents because now they’re like, “I don’t have to tell my kid over and over again to practice. They’ve already mastered their songs and their reps are working on designing the curriculum.”
5. How to Handle Pushbacks
What I found is that most people want private lessons because that’s what everybody else is doing. That’s what they did as a child. Maybe they didn’t like their lessons as a child, but people want to go with the flow of the culture. So you’re proposing to them like, “Hey, look. You know, this is different than what you had envisioned when you initially considered guitar or piano lessons for your child. How do you help the parents see the value? If they push back a little bit or call you out on it?
The parents are coming in through the studio. I’m not talking to them on the phone at this point. I’m saying just come to the studio and do a free class. When they walk into the room, they are walking through a Kidzrock room where there are kids rocking out. They are moving past another room where kids are rocking out. They’re passing a rock band room where kids are rocking out. They’re passing the DJ room where kids are all together. They’re looking in and are going, “Wow, all the kids are having fun.” They’re high-fiving each other. They finally get to the piano room, and they’ve already walked through this whole culture.
They may feel a little silly. If they asked me a question about why is my kid not doing private piano lessons? We’ve disrupted in a sense this part of the industry where we’re going group, but it’s so obvious that our culture is all kids running around, high-fiving, playing music, and having a great time that we don’t often get that request. Occasionally, people will ask us. Honestly, the ones that asked us are usually not our clients. It’s hard because, at some point, you have to find who is in your tribe.
6. Showing the Value of Group Lessons through Your Sales Effort
Parents have that other option. If I was at a dance school, and I had a room where they were doing private dance classes, he would almost have to go against what was already there. I have another business, which is all private lessons. If I had a studio, I could do the private lessons there. So obviously, it’s somewhat hypocritical. If I’m running a private music school, as someone who has run this version and feels like this naturally fits my personality and my mission, I would say every kid who’s a beginner student should take lessons in this method where there are four or five kids in a room. I position the group as a starting point in the private lessons.
7. Recognizing the Importance of Private Lessons
Kidzrock is designed to meet the child where they’re at in terms of their attention span and their ability. If you look at when any individual child’s playing in Kidzrock, it’s very simple. If you’ve got four or five kids on different instruments, that very simple idea creates this larger sound, and the child’s more responding not to their own playing, but they’re responding to the total sound that the group makes, which is much more exciting.
It is exciting; it is fun. Everybody’s having a great time. They take water breaks together, they make their own band name, they switch instruments, and they’re so excited to be there. It is a social thing.
Private lessons are important at a certain level. People who own a music school should not differ between private lessons and group lessons. They should look at it like this: We adopt a version of learning music where kids are in a room together. In my case, they’re all on their own path, however. Their piano group classes, where everyone’s playing together the same thing, are for beginners and up to intermediate. There is a time when private lessons happen as well.
8. The Group Music Lessons From a Financial Standpoint
It is very hard to offer private piano lessons and then offer them to the same exact audience group piano lessons unless you’re saving money, which kind of goes against the whole thing. It’s almost like if you’re going to start a rock band class, which is obviously going to be with a group of kids, you can also do a piano class, you can do a drum class, you can do anything you want in a group dynamic.
The owner of the music school has to want to offer this and they shouldn’t ever feel like they’re going against the grain because it’s only in our minds that we think this is happening because parents don’t know. They took piano lessons when they were kids. They’re coming to your school because maybe their kid hated the piano lessons they were taking with another teacher. Just give them what you offer, and let them come in.
Do an experiment. Open up a piano class on Saturdays, and see what happens. To me, It’s obvious what works from the business model. It’s from my heart and from my gut. From a financial perspective, from hiring a team, it’s so obvious that the same teacher will probably teach 25 students in a private lesson. They’re teaching 80 kids a week in the group classes. The margins are much higher, which is a great bonus. I can run a music school of 200 kids with four instructors.
9. Student Growth
We’re 200 kids right now, and it’s all 90% word of mouth. Our summer camp has like 120 kids on top of that. We’re at 40% capacity, and the only reason we’re not at definitely 5% capacity is because I have four staff. If I opened up a fifth person, there are rooms available.
Say there are 50 to 60 kids on their schedule. The reason we’re not growing faster is because we’re at the capacity of where our instructors are. I’m kind of letting it and watching and learning the systems, training the team, and developing managers within the team members so that they have ownership and I can then open up another location and duplicate.
10. Space and Rooms
The space is 1300 square feet. The front room, which used to be a lobby during the pandemic, became a Kidzrock room. Now, I’m trying to turn it back to a lobby for Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz. The second room is a Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz room. The third is a large room which we made into a band room. We have electronic drum sets around the perimeter, and we run our drum classes there as well.
The next room is our DJ room slash mini office. We have five computers, and we do Ableton production and DJing beginner DJ classes. The back room is our lesson lab, where we will have our guitar classes and our piano classes.
It’s not under 2000 square feet. It’s a relatively small space, but there are 200 kids cycling through it. Sometimes, it feels like we should have more. When you put five kids in a room even in that small office space, or in our band seven kids in a room, it does not feel as full. I need more kids. I almost feel like I need another 100 kids, and that’s only 1300 square feet.
11. How Pricing and Timeframe Works
I never thought, “Let’s discount music lessons and make them into group classes.” They’re gonna pay whatever the membership fee is. It’s kind of arbitrary, but over time I put a number associated with piano lessons or any lesson program as 199 a month. That’s an hour class of whatever instrument they’re joining on a monthly membership. Pop Piano, Rock Drumming, Guitar 101, and the DJ and production class—all those four classes (all have cool names), they’re 199 a month. Then, we move into band classes, which are 229 a month. That would cover an hour and a half.
The lesson classes need to be an hour. Don’t make them 40 minutes because the kids need time to practice and tap time off and hang out and be kids. The band’s an hour and a half. Let them hang out to their instruments, learn some new songs, and be able to take a break in the middle. This is all about the social connection. Kidzrock in this location is 149 a month, and Jr. Rockerz 179 a month.
Kidzock’s got forty-five minutes, while Jr. Rockerz is an hour long, which is the perfect amount of time. Don’t go any longer for Kidszock, and don’t go any longer for Jr. Rockerz.
In my case, you’re in Jr. Rockerz at nine years old. You’re doing Coverbandz Rookies. You’re not necessarily performing, but you’re joining and playing songs. We’re training the kids as we go on through the Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz programs to step up. From 10 years old up, if you’re in the band program or you’re in the performance program, you’re auditioning your way up through different programs. Then, you’re in the teen program at some point.
It’s all performance-based. None of the lesson programs are doing any kind of performance. They’re all there to learn the tools to get in a band.
12. The Challenge in Bringing Private Lessons into Groups
The students that are in private lessons are kids that sound like they’ve already established some foundational skills. Rarely, I have tried to get people out of their house. I have not had success getting kids out of their house and into The JamZone. There were just very few of our in-home lessons.
The private lesson is like its own world. Parents want this concierge thing to show up at their house, and they want to do it for 45 minutes a week. Then, they want to go off and do their thing. Some of them come to summer camp, and I try to get them to come to The JamZone as much as I try to.
Someone tells me, “You’re killing your other business model if you’re getting them out of your private lessons into your group classes.” It is really its own thing. People come to us with private lessons. Phenomenal! That means they’re gonna play harder parts in the band.
It’s harder once people have established a routine with their music lessons, whether it’s group or private. Say, “Now, we want you to do more. You’re doing private lessons. Let’s try to get you in a group.” Parents just often don’t want to deal with the hassle.
13. The Purpose of Group Lessons
People don’t see the purpose of it. It’s a hard sell because it’s not in the mission. It’s still an a la carte. I don’t tell them you have to do band and lesson like the School of Rock model. I’m not the biggest fan of the School of Rock curriculum, but they created this model where you take a lesson and you’re in a band. I think that model makes sense.
In our case, if you want to do piano lessons, cool. If, you want to do band, still okay. I now for next year want to start pushing to say, “To get into this band program, you need to also take Pop Piano, Guitar 101, or any of the music classes.” When I started running the business like any other business owner, I didn’t want to lose the business, so I didn’t want to tell them it’s $350 minimum membership with an art class or $299 or whatever it is to join our program.
14. Why Instructors Play a Major Role in Success
Our instructors at The JamZone are so amazing and so incredible that the success of our program is due to these four instructors. Any music comes down to the instructors. We can talk about programs—Kidzrock, Jr. Rockerz, Rock Band, DJ class, or whatever class you want. If you don’t have an instructor who is a rock star and who connects with these kids, and really is exceptional, it will be very hard to be successful.
In my case, I have the best team of guys that are crushing it with the kids. All I see on Facebook is this: If a parent puts in a little note in their mom’s group and says, “Who do you recommend?” They all say The JamZone. Every word is like, “The instructors are great. The instructors are great. The instructors are great.” They don’t know piano classes versus private lessons versus group classes. All they say is great, great, great, great, great. The instructors are amazing.
The group classes are secondary. Our offerings are secondary to our instructors. I want to tip my hat to them because without these people, there would be no JamZone and there would be no success.
If you ask the parents what they appreciate most about the music school, they’re not going to talk about the quality or the content of the lesson. They’re going to talk about the relationship their child has with their teacher, as well as the parent’s relationship with the teacher, which really then boils down to the music school owner.
The key to your success is your ability to identify through the interview process who fits the bill, and it’s easy to be seduced by a music teacher’s resume. They went to Berkeley and they studied with this person. Music schools do this all the time. They list the teachers’ credentials on the website. The parents really don’t care. It might be reassuring to a parent that the teacher has these qualifications, but at the end of the day, it’s all about “How does this teacher make my kid feel? Does my child value the relationship? Is this teacher inspiring my child and as a role model?”
15. The Teacher and the Program Should Go Hand-in-Hand
At The JamZone, 100% you need the great programs and you need the culture for the teachers to succeed. Without those people, you can’t be successful. So they really go hand-in-hand. Everyone should make a point to express their appreciation and their love for their teachers. It’s easy to take them for granted and orderly. I’m sure all of us can relate to this where you have one teacher that becomes toxic, and you’re like, “Oh my God! I can’t get rid of them.” All of a sudden, that toxic teacher would always reveal to me how much I value my other teachers. Those teachers that really believe and love what they do are a godsend. I don’t care if they teach karate, basketball, soccer, or math. We know who our great instructors were.
16. Managing the Administrative Tasks
If I were gonna say that if you can find four amazing instructors that you really believe in, you can teach 200 kids and you don’t have to go look for new teachers every month because someone’s leaving, someone’s going on tour, or someone realizes it’s not the job for them. I’ve been through both ends of it because I run the private lesson business as well.
There is nothing like answering one or two emails a day in a music school of 200 versus 30 emails. How do I reschedule this? How do I do this? The way we built our group program allows amazing instructors to reach out to most families and have limited admin needs.
One of the weakest points or vulnerabilities that all music schools have is that we can’t operate eight hours a day. We were limited to four to five hours a day. We’re an after-school and weekend youth enrichment program. Groups allow you to reach more kids within that time.
17. The Overall Better Experience
And I think that’s the difference between the private lessons. It’s a huge thing. Once again, I don’t want to bash private lessons. I just think those business owners that have a private lesson program, if they believed that they could do the same amount, the same quality work in the group format, then they probably would start offering more group classes and fewer private lessons and bash through those doors, have their private lessons, and make a group room.
There are plenty of successful music schools, like wildly successful, that do only private lessons. Such a high value in business. A lot of these wildly successful music schools have maybe somewhere between four to six hundred plus students.
It’s very heavy on the admin. That’s a lot of parents you’re dealing with. It’s a lot of families, a lot of rescheduling, and a lot of back and forth.
My question is, “Is there variance if it’s compared to something like what we do at The JamZone? Being in both worlds, I’ve been in the private music lesson world and I’m in the group world as well, I would argue that what we do in the modern music context is superior to that lesson. I’m arguing it because I’m in both worlds, and I feel like the experience on a group base is more. It’s an overall better experience, and it doesn’t have as much stress on the child and allows learning to be done so in a very fun way with other kids.