Why do voice lessons cost so much!?

Portrait of Harry Belafonte, singing (1954)I’ve heard parents and singers ask why voice lessons cost so much, which is interesting since I just had a European colleague ask why voice lessons in the United States are so cheap. I started thinking about this question and thought I’d share the reality of what a teacher gets paid. For this example, let’s assume that the instructor teaches 20 hours a week, charging $50 an hour and teaches 50 weeks a year. This is a little unrealistic as a work load (most teachers don’t get a consistent 50 weeks), but it gives us a nice even number to work with – $50,000. In addition to the 20 hours a week spent teaching, the teacher probably spends another 10 hours a week preparing for lessons, reading about the industry and voice pedagogy, answering emails, taking care of the books, and marketing the studio.
Now let’s look at the taxes they pay.
  • All self-employed teachers pay a 15.3% self-employment tax
  • The teacher then pays income tax at a rate of 15%.
  • Their total tax at this level comes to $12,059.
  • In Virginia, they would pay a state income tax of $720 + 5.75% (the rate for income over $17,000). The teacher’s total tax due to Virginia would be $2,414

So when it’s all said and done if you earned $50,000 a year as a single person, your take home pay would be around $35,527 (not accounting for any local taxes). That equates to a tax rate of around 29%, meaning that almost 1/3 of what you pay your teacher is going to the government.

Let’s look at one other big expense. In the U.S. you have to pay for health insurance on your own. For a single person at that income bracket, a mid-grade policy will cost around $3,204 a year (with a $3,500 deductible). That reduces the teacher’s income to around $32,323. So what’s the average hourly wage?
  • 20 hours of teaching
  • 10 hours of office work
  • For a total of 30 hours a week, times 50 weeks a year = 1,500 hours
  • Divide the take home pay of $32,323 by that amount and you get a wage of $21.55 an hour.

For a highly trained professional who likely holds a master’s degree if not a doctorate degree, that wage is rather low. Your teacher only gets to keep 65% of what you pay them. The other 35% goes to taxes and health insurance. The figures presented so far don’t even include studio rental expenses if the instructor teaches outside of the home (costs will vary). You could also add in expenses for conference and workshop attendance ($1,000-3,000 per event), both of which are critical for keeping up-to-date with the most recent scientific, pedagogic, and career information.

Hopefully you realize that voice teachers are not being greedy, they are just trying to survive. If anything, they are likely under charging for their services. The figures above do not even account for the supplies the teacher must purchase to run their business. Most teachers choose this profession because they love music and they love helping others improve their voice. They’re not trying to “take you to the cleaners” [no offense to any of you out there who happen to be cleaners :)].

~Matt

P.S. They also like Holiday gifts. Cookies are great, but gift certificates are really nice!
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3 comments

  1. Succinct and clear! BRAVO! So many expenses like studio rental, commuting expenses, ongoing professional development and more depending on where you are located. Oh, and p.s. gift cards for coffee are always welcome indeed!

    1. Thanks Susan and another excellent point! In smaller towns many teachers teach out of the home, which can be written off on your taxes. But in places where that is not possible, studio rental can really add to the teacher’s expense.
      ~Matt

  2. Reblogged this on Sara's Music Studio and commented:
    This is a pretty accurate breakdown of what it costs to be a self-employed music teacher. 35% of lesson tuition goes towards taxes and health insurance, and that says nothing of studio rent and studio insurance costs, or any other studio expenses.

    When you find a teacher that only charges $10 or $12 a lesson, you’ve probably found someone who isn’t paying their taxes.

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