The New Face of Music Lessons—Adults


Middle C Music’s Myrna Sislen, who received NAMM’s 2014 Top 100 Dealer for Best Special Event, knows a thing or two about making her store the local mecca for students of all ages. During this session at The NAMM Show, she shared her experiences with adult music lesson students—and her first-time foray into Groupon. (Note: Groupon is a deal-of-the-day website that features discounted gift certificates to local and national companies for services and products.)

The upsurge of adult lesson students. Although Sislen didn’t set out with a marketing plan to bring in adult students, she began to witness an uptick in this group. Forty-five percent of her students are now adults. She said she believes it’s due, in part, to word of mouth helping grow her lessons program.

“I’ve created a wonderful atmosphere that enables everyone, especially adult students, to feel comfortable and safe to perform,” Sislen said. “People know my store is a good place to come in.”

She mentioned that adults who want to learn to play music are sometimes reticent and have even asked her if it’s OK to take lessons. She advised fellow retailers to be patient and nurturing with this group. To that end, Middle C Music gives adult students a little gift to break the ice before their recitals: small chocolates filled with liqueur to help everyone feel at ease.

Sislen recommended that retailers hold adult recitals in the spring and fall—and that the recitals are adult-only. Middle C Music doesn’t charge for recitals, and teachers aren’t compensated for them. She suggested hosting a separate recital for each teacher, which makes for busy weekends and months in December and March.

Sislen advised retailers to record the entire recital and give DVDs to each performer, imprinted with the name of your store, website and contact information. If you plan to upload your recital videos to YouTube or post them on your website, make sure you get waivers—include it on your lesson registration form.

“We have to integrate our stores and ourselves into our communities,” Sislen said. Investing in DVDs for her students and their families is her way of giving back. She added, “It’ll pay for itself, and you’ll get back so much more.”

To Groupon or not to Groupon. Sislen acknowledged that she initially couldn’t figure out a way to make Groupon work financially for her retail business. That said, she found she could use it for lessons.

Here are some Groupon tips she learned from her first trial:

• Groupon’s cost is figured on the amount you charge on your ad. Expect to make 25 percent of the total you charge on your Groupon ad.

• Offer your Groupon lessons in the summer when it’s slow.

• Have an expiration date. Middle C Music’s offer ended Sept. 1.

• Offering two lessons will bring customers in at least twice. You can take it from there.

• Limit your Groupon to a maximum quantity of people. Sislen limited her store’s to 200 people.

• Consider widening your Groupon lesson offer to include all instruments. Sislen stated that when she does it again, she’ll open it up to all instruments, not just guitar and piano.

• Sislen priced her Groupon to include two lessons, registration fee and a lesson book. She advised partnering with a publisher to donate the books.

• Make sure your ad states “New students only” (any age).

• Groupon lesson students were allowed to use an instrument for one week before supplying their own.

• Make your Groupon students a separate entry into your customer database system, so you can track them more easily.

A total of 155 people responded to Middle C Music’s Groupon ad. At the end of summer, 40 percent of the students continued into the fall. Even after she accounted for the number who dropped out during the fall, Sislen gained 20 percent of continuing students. Her website, Yelp reviews, Facebook and Twitter traffic were all up during the Groupon promotion. She said 990,000 people in her area were exposed to her store through the ad. She was delighted that the first person who came in with her Groupon bought a $99 guitar case. Sislen estimated that less than 10 percent of Groupon users who bought her coupon didn’t use it.

She ended with two key takeaways for retailers: “Make your store a safe haven for adult students, and use Groupon. Do it. Use it for lessons, and do it in the summer.”