Why I won’t be working at Guitar Center:

At the end of August I met with the Guitar Center representative in charge of hiring instructors for their private lesson studios.  Though the course of our discussion I was able to learn the following:

Guitar Center receives $25.00 in advance for every half hour lesson scheduled.  Guitar Center pays their instructors a base pay of $8.00 an hour.  If your student shows up for a scheduled half hour lesson, you will receive an additional $6.00.  If your second half hour lesson shows up, you will receive another $6.00 for a total $20.00 of gross income possible in one hour.  If the student cancels and wishes to reschedule a lesson, the student is charged an additional $12.50.  The instructor earns nothing when the student cancels the lesson or does not show up for the lesson.  The instructor will receive the $6.00 if he teaches the make up lesson.  The instructor could arrive expecting to teach two half hour lessons.  If the students do not show, or they cancel at the last minute, the teacher will only receive the $8.00 base pay, even though Guitar Center has been paid $50.00 in advance for the hour.

In terms of benefits, instructors are able to purchase gear at cost.  This perk was stressed a couple of times during our conversation.  The instructor can qualify for health insurance if he or she is able to maintain a consistent 30+ hours a week teaching lessons.  I did not push for further details about the policy however, I wonder how quickly G.C. will drop the insurance coverage once school vacations enter the picture.

Guitar Center has struck a deal with the Hal Leonard Publishing company.  The student is required to purchase ‘a lesson pack’ with a minimum cost of $6.99 + tax to work on with the private instructor.  The pack contains 2-3 lessons worth of material.  For drum instructors, this is drum set material.  It does not cover snare drum, mallets or timpani.  (Guitar center wants to sell drum sets).   The instructor is required to spend 20 minutes of the 30 minute lesson on this material.  If the student wants to work on something like the Vermont All State audition solo, then that material may be covered in the remaining 10 minutes.  The main focus of the lesson must be spent on the Hal Leonard material, so that another lesson pack will be sold.

One of the big advertising points for GC Studios is:  “Learn to play on your schedule, not someone else’s.” Lessons are scheduled with the store’s assistant manager.  They are not scheduled directly with the instructor.  If the students “Normal Teacher” is unavailable for a lesson slot, another teacher will be assigned.  Since the student is working out of the Hal Leonard Lesson Pack, it will be ‘easy’ for substitute teacher to step in and give the lesson.  This does not take into account student/teacher personalities or established relationships.  As a student, if you wish to rent out the studio room to practice, you may do so at $9.00 an hour.

I was offered a job immediately.   I told them I would get back to them on their offer.  A few days later I sent an email thanking them for the opportunity, but I declined the offer given the pay structure outlined above.  No counter offer was made.

A couple of weeks later, I received a phone message from the store’s manager.  He asked me to come in to “the location where you had your interview” and fill out paper work for the instructor’s position, in order to begin employment at the studio.  The fact that I had declined their offer never made it to the store’s management team.  It makes me wonder how well the communication will flow between the student, the scheduling manager, and the instructor.

I appreciate a sale as much as the next person.  But I do not believe in teaching music lessons to students in order to perpetuate the sale of equipment and “lesson packs”.  Guitar Center is the Walmart of music retailers.  It is owned by Bain Capital.  They are part of the multi-billion dollar family of companies that include online retailers Musician’s Friend, Woodwind and Brasswind, Music 123, along with the instrument rental company, Music and Arts and online instrument review site, Harmony Central.  Even though some sales seem too good to pass up, please check with your locally owned music store before making a purchase.  They will often happily match online pricing.  You will be keeping local dollars local instead of loading Bain up with more capital!  That’s more important than $1.00 drumsticks.

We live in a box store country.  I miss the days of being able to shop at the locally owned Ben Franklin’s, the mom and pop drugstore, or even the department store chain Woolworth’s.  In every town we visit, the retail choices are the same: Walmart, Dick’s, Staples, Barnes and Noble, Home Depot, and now, Guitar Center.    Retail is one thing.  Music (or Art, or Sports, etc.) lessons are another.  I urge you to seek out the best teacher you can find.  You will know when they are the right match for you.  Pay them fairly for what they teach you.  Remember the years of dedication and hard work that many of them have committed to their craft.

I’ve been teaching drums and percussion privately as my main source of income since 2000.  I have worked with hundreds of students with ages ranging from 5 to 65.  I have never charged a registration fee.  I have always been fair in my pricing, if not on the low side of the scale.  Missed lessons are rescheduled with my students at no additional cost.  I focus on the goals that the student has regarding what he or she wants to accomplish.  I don’t teach out of one book or out of “lesson packs” in order to sell more product.  I want my students to be happy in what they are learning and I want them to see the progress they make due to their own hard work.  I am their coach and guide.  I am thrilled to watch my students to grow as players, as musicians and as human beings.  I would not be able to accomplish any of this at a box store.

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