Q: Damian, here’s a question that might not apply to all, but it would definitely apply to many who are trying to make a little side money by teaching. I live in a rather small rural community surrounded by a number of moderate-sized towns. What, if any, suggestions would you have to make the prospect of learning bass guitar more appealing to the masses? Seems like everyone and their dog only wants to play the traditional six-string.
A: This is a tough one and may force you to get a little creative. I’ve found that local bass students fall into two categories: First, the kind found through local music stores are quite often younger students who may or may not really want to be there. My (brief) time spent teaching in a music store led me to feel like it was more of an after-school program. Almost none of my students really wanted to do anything beyond learning their favorite tune (which they often had zero interest in trying to figure out on their own but, rather, just wanted me to transcribe and teach to them) and the parents were treating it as a babysitting opportunity, often showing no real interest in how they were doing and rarely helping to enforce any kind of actual practice regimen at home.
The other type of student is the one who really loves music, wants to be a musician, and is willing to work to get there. This student is a much rarer bird, at least until you become a teacher who is known in the area and can attract students to you.
When I first started teaching as a way to supplement my income, I tried everything. Craigslist, posting flyers in stores and coffee shops… you name it – all with no real satisfying results to speak of. Most of my teaching schedule grew right alongside my career and reputation within the local music community (the more people hear you play live, the more potential students you may meet after gigs).
Within a small community, you may have to get a little creative or find a collective. I find that many younger students are drawn to the “school of rock” style workshops that are popping up everywhere. You may consider becoming a part of any of those that exist in your community or even starting your own program with reliable, talented, and motivated local musicians.
Outside of that, you might think about how to foster students online. You could, for example, record a few videos demonstrating the kind of things you might approach in a lesson, or even record a few actual entire lessons. Then, using a dedicated YouTube channel or your own website, have the videos available to see and engage people wanting more via Skype or any other online meeting platform. The trick then becomes one of exposure. How do you get people beyond your local network to see what you have to offer?
Advertising: it might be worth throwing a few bucks at dedicated ads on popular music and/or social networking platforms.
Bass community/forums: Reach out to people online. Be an active member of the bass community online. Share what you have to offer. It’s a big world out there and it doesn’t take that many people to get going and if you’re good at what you do, word will spread!
I wish I had a hard and fast “how-to” type of response but, living in a small town can be a tough place to launch a career as a player or teacher, and like I said, will often depend on you getting creative as to how you reach out beyond what’s in front of you.
Spread the word locally. Spread the word online. Have something online that you can point to that may immediately draw someone in. Show them why they should come to you specifically for instruction.
Readers: This would be a great time to let your fellow readers know how you go about attracting students in your town. How did you make it happen? Please share in the comments.