Peering Behind The Curtain Of Pay-Per-Student Teaching

Back in October, 2006 system dynamics expert Bill Harris and I released a systems model that not only maps the lifecycle of a professional musician but it explores methods to improve the sustainability of the classical music business. One component of that model defined the growing demand for private teaching and recently, I ran across a blog entry from Chicago area bassist Jason Heath examining a little known, but important, issue that is a dynamic effect from the model Bill and I developed…


Jason’s article, entitled Tainting the Academic Waters with Pay-Per-Student Teaching, examines the issues surrounding a growing trend among many small private and public universities that caused Jason enough concern to resign from two adjunct faculty positions.

Jason’s article does a wonderful job at raising awareness of this issue and it should serve as mandatory reading for any high school age student considering a career as a classical music performance major. In fact, I think Jason’s entire blog is one of the best blogs authored by a professional musician available today; it is right up there with Patty Mitchell’s oboeinsight.com. Those two blogs alone can provide current conservatory and school of music students with more information about what it is honestly like to live the life of a professional musician and what they can expect once they get out into the real world than anything they’ll learn during their years traveling through academia.

Without a doubt, Jason’s blog serves as a rare, unfiltered window into the life of a real professional free lance classical musician. Not only does it examine issues like the Pay-Per-Student subject, but it also contains a wealth of artistic focused bass issues, information about the ensembles Jason performs with regularly, general education resources, videos, podcasts, and much, much more. It is a sort of one-stop shop for anyone interested in anything related to the double bass as well as anyone interested in what it is to be a professional musician (don’t miss an amazing account from one of his Milwaukee Ballet Nutcracker performances from this year).

As such, this slow week between Christmas and the New Year is a perfect occasion to invest the time to read The Dynamic Lifecycle of a Musician, experience the system dynamics model Bill and I created, and then read Jason’s Pay-Per-Student article. For many readers, you’ll never look at the classical music business or classical musicians the same way ever again. Moreover, all of the above material should be mandatory reading for orchestra executives and board members alike.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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