What’s The Difference Between a Music School and a Barbershop? | EP 169

The Two Different Music School Models

There are two different music school models. I think most schools fall into either one of these different models. One model being the barbershop model, and the other being the football team model.



The Barbershop Model

The barbershop has six or eight chairs on the floor. The owner of the business is typically one of the barbers. He pays the rent, he pays the bills, and he takes a cut from the other barbers in his shop. Each barber has its own loyal following. If one barber leaves to start his own business, his customers are likely to follow him. A new barber comes in and begins to build his following.


Music schools that operate under the barbershop model are called that because a music teacher started the school. The teacher’s time filled up. The only way she could grow her business was by raising her rates or moving into a studio to bring in other music teachers. Just like the barbershop, she had to develop a scheduling and billing system to manage her business. Typically, a music school like that is comprised of independent contractors. Each teacher teaching their own unique way. Over time, if a teacher’s schedule fills up, that teacher might be inclined to leave to start her own music studio or simply take the students with them and teach them out of their home.



The Football Team Model

The other type of business model is the football team model. In a football team, you have a coach. The coach’s job is to lay out a mission or objective for the team. In the case of a football team, that objective or that mission might be to play in the Super Bowl.


The coach shares with his team a strategy that he wants to implement and turns the team into a winning team, but the coach’s job is to bring out the best in his players—to understand their strengths and weaknesses, to formulate a strategy that will take the team to the path victory.


For the coach to bring out the best in his players, he has to define expectations and hold his players accountable.


The player’s job is to understand their coach’s vision and to execute the strategy that was designed by the coach. It’s the only pathway to the Super Bowl. If the coach fails to lay out a clear vision and empower his players and try to bring out the best in them, the team most likely won’t go to the Super Bowl. If the players fail to execute the coach’s plan, the team also is likely to lose and not go to the Super Bowl.


The Football Team Model: What Your Music School Looks Like

That’s the exact same dynamic at play with the music school that’s under the football team model, where the owner functions as the coach. The coach’s job is to define a mission. Perhaps the mission is to help children develop a winning personality and character traits that will help a child in life. Their mission is to do it through music lessons. The personal goal of the music school owner might be to pay his or herself a million-dollar salary one day. That’s the owner’s personal mission, but now the school owner with the football team model lays out a strategy.


The strategy might be built around being a high-end music school, a music school for ambitious and serious music students. This music school is going to charge a premium rate. Perhaps the owner has a specific way of structuring her lessons. Perhaps she likes to divide her lessons into three sections. One section focused on warmups. The next section might be focused on skill development and comprehension. The third section of the lesson is focused on creative expression, improvisation, and ear training. Now, the owner of the music school that falls under the football team model wants all the teachers in her school to adhere to this music lesson framework. That’s the key to victory. That’s the coach’s vision and mission.



The Owner’s Plan And The Employees’ Commitment

A music school that falls under the football team model needs to have instructors that are all employees because only employees are obligated to commit or adhered to the owner’s vision. Employees need to respect the coach—the music school owner. They need to be committed to implementing the school owner’s plan.


A music school whose owner clearly lays out his or her vision and mission and defines what success looks like for the employees and whose employees are committed to implementing the music school owner’s plan and vision—that type of music school is destined to be wildly successful.


If the owner fails to communicate his or her vision or strategy or if the teachers fail to execute it, the school might be successful financially but might not be successful in executing the mission.



The Barbershop Model: Can It Be A Wild Success?

Plenty of music schools can be wildly successful under the barbershop model. That type of business needs to focus on professionalism and consistency and create a feeling of safety and comfort in their space. The teachers are the product, and the music school facilitates and supports the product; the music teachers and the law recognizes that. The law acknowledges that and calls them independent contractors. Each instructor has their own unique vision and mission. It’s just like the barbershop.


Most music schools start out with the barbershop model and it makes perfect sense. You start teaching lessons out of your home. You max out your schedule. You want to be able to make some more money. You rent out a little teaching studio and bring in a second teacher, then that teacher’s schedule fills up. You hire a third teacher. You rinse and repeat. That’s how you grow your music school.


These music schools can get big. You’ll see pictures on Facebook of these music schools where they have these balloons saying 800 students where they celebrate their 800th student. That’s a real accomplishment.


My music school only had 250 students. I can’t even comprehend what 800 students would be like. Financially, these barbershop model type of schools are relatively simple to operate, but what happens is that the owner (and this certainly happened to me) becomes dissatisfied with the barbershop model and wants something more cohesive.


As an owner, I wanted it to feel more like a community. I wanted to create social opportunities, so I started hosting Friday and Saturday night events for the students at the school. I wanted the lessons to all have a similar feel or structure. I wanted to be able to say to a parent that all of our teachers teach within a fixed framework. Each teacher brings their own unique touch or interpretation as to how to teach within that framework. I also only hire teachers that fit a certain employee avatar. I wanted charismatic, high-energy people that were good listeners and good problem solvers.



Transitioning Along With The Growing Pains

I had to transition from the barbershop model to the football team model, but within that transition comes growing pains. That’s where a lot of music schools get stuck. They want to start running their business more like a football team. They assert their leadership and the staff resist it. It creates friction and tension. The music school owner becomes emboldened—starts implementing new policies and starts instituting all these teacher meetings and training. The teachers and staff at the school are maybe a little taken aback. None of this stuff existed when they started. It was the barbershop model. The teachers taught their way and now they feel like the owner’s trying to control them, trying to tell them what to do. Perhaps they feel like “The owner doesn’t trust us” or “The owner doesn’t think our way of teaching is good enough”. A feeling of resentment can begin to settle in. That tension between the teachers and the owner can become toxic and spread to the whole staff within the organization.



Laying Out Your Expectations

It would’ve been a lot easier had you hired your teaching staff and all these expectations were shared with them during the interview and hiring process where the rules and regulations, policies, and frameworks were all in place, but it doesn’t always work out that way. It takes time to get all those things in place and yes, it does mean that your staff has to acclimate to these changes.


One of the big changes for me is when I began to share with my staff my vision, my marketing message, and my brand language. I talked about how I wanted our music lesson to help kids. That playing instrument was really about a vehicle to help kids build a greater sense of character and confidence and a sense of individuality. That was more important than the actual music lesson. My school initially didn’t function as a team and I was trying to get us to function more as a team with me as the coach defining the strategy and the plays. I wanted my teachers just to kind of follow along and buy into this and agree to implement the plan. With my staff, I said, “Going forward, we’re going to have these ongoing training.” I’m going to observe them in their lessons. I implemented a program where the teachers observed each other in their lessons. Then we had a meeting where I shared with everyone or the teacher shared with everyone their thoughts on observing the other teachers teach. Like I said, ideally, when I onboarded a new instructor, I would’ve shared with them this whole approach or explain to them the culture of the music school and how everything is operated. Many of them would’ve probably still been a little taken aback because most music schools operate under the barbershop model. Many music schools exist in a retail shop, and that’s certainly how I got started.



Something More Cohesive

I was an independent contractor doing my own thing. I didn’t really have a manager. There wasn’t any sort of cohesive vision. By trying to turn your music school into the football team model, not only are you going to potentially face resistance within your teaching staff, but new teachers coming in might have some reluctance because that’s just not how it’s typically done, but it will benefit the school the more cohesive the teaching experience is. More importantly, it will benefit the child because she is now in a music school where not only her teacher has a specific mission and plan, but all the teachers do. Every aspect of the music school is in line with the mission.


A music school that operates like a cohesive unit, like a football team, can really elevate a music school both financially and from the perspective of making a greater impact in the world.


Tug of War: The Coach Vs The Players

Music teachers who work in an environment like that are much more likely to find greater meaning in their job. They understand that this isn’t just about teaching music lessons. It’s about having an impact, changing kids’ lives. What often happens in music schools is the owner becomes emboldened. They feel empowered and they want to transition. They want to change the culture of the teaching staff to operate more as a team. They feel this sort of tug of war of power with their teaching staff. The school kind of winds up—existing with one foot in the barbershop model and one foot in the football team model. The owner (the coach) is trying to lead the team, but the instructors aren’t buying into it.


I once had an instructor say to me after one of our meetings, “Look, Dave, I’ve been teaching a long time. Just let me teach my way. You just do things your way.”


I realized at that point that I had failed as a leader in terms of explaining to him what this business was about. I also realized that this employee didn’t respect me. Who says that to their boss, “Hey, don’t tell me what to do. I’m going to do my thing. You do your thing.” Making any change in your culture begins with getting buy-in from your employees. I was able to ultimately get buy-in from my employees. I had a meeting with them, I shared our marketing language and I asked them, “What do you guys think about this? We’re talking about transforming kids’ lives. How does music transform your lives? Do you feel that music has that ability? Yes, you’re teaching them music, but is there a way in the process of how you instruct? Is there a way to potentially focus on the process and to share with the child’s parent the life skills that they’re developing through the process?”


Your Music School Has A Greater Purpose

I ultimately was able to get my staff excited about this new approach, to not necessarily teach but to communicate—communicating with the parents. I felt like I hoped that it gave my teachers a greater sense of purpose shifting from the barbershop model of independent business entities in your business. Each contractor is their own unique business entity, trying to transition from an employee model into the football team model, where the team is functioning as a cohesive unit can be a challenge. The key is to make your employees feel heard and that their opinions are valued. Then, you consider their opinions. At the end of the day, you’re the coach. You call the plays, but the players on your team have to believe in you and your ability. They have to respect you. They have to be clear on what your mission is.


It’s a mission that gets them excited. That’s really what it means to be a mission-driven business. The mission is the rally cry. Your teaching staff knows it. They’re motivated by it. It’s always being reinforced in meetings, reinforced in your marketing. Teachers might not initially like this change in the culture, this change in your leadership, but they’ll eventually get used to it. The more consistent you are with it, it’ll be much easier next time you hire a new instructor through the onboarding process. You’re making them aware of how you do business at your music school, what the culture and community is like, and what the staff is like.


—that your music school isn’t like all the other music schools; that your music school has a purpose.


It’s at that point that the new instructor can ask themselves whether they like this purpose or not.


If it doesn’t really resonate with them, if it’s something that they don’t believe in or adhere to, then your music school isn’t the right place for them.

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