Some cultures had/have one word that means both dance and music, the forms are inseparable. As a dancer taking class with live music, I just enjoyed the environment and never really over thought what was happening, for instance, the teacher/musician dynamic and the teacher/musician/administration dynamic. As a dancer, it was so uncomplicated and perfect. Then I became a teacher, and later an administrator, and now I have a whole new appreciation for the partnership!
The transition to administrator has forced me to look at the complex relationship from a new perspective. At my new organization, my colleagues and I immediately agreed that we wanted to prioritize supporting the relationship between dance and music. So how do we do it? Teacher salary + musician salary + space cost is expensive. Teachers and musicians want to be paid or earn a livable wage and studios want to pay for the cost of space operations (and there is always the dream of making a small surplus to squirrel away for growth).
Ideally, it would be great for class revenue to pay for the total cost of the class + music, but that is not a given and it is not the overarching goal of our organization. The goal of offering classes with live music is to contribute to the artistic whole and artistic development and vision, which we believe encompasses music. This brings me back to an image from a past blog post. We use it to manage earning expectations. We expect to break even or even incur losses from any items that we categorize as “Professional development” and, therefore, must strive for other category revenues to fill gaps or to obtain contributed support for those service categories.
When we first added up all of the costs for a live music class, the totals were a bit frightening, especially for a new or newly established organization (for us we are in a change management scenario and implementing new organizational processes and programs). For a well-established teacher with a fairly regularized schedule and following, the risk can be somewhat manageable. However, for a new class the risk can be quite significant. When an organization (an organizational process/program) is new, how do you begin? Who bears the risk of the significant cost? How are all of the contributors valued regarding salary?
Our organization is hoping to harbor most of the risk for our teaching artists, however, our complementary systems have to be functioning perfectly to completely protect us from damaging losses, i.e. earned and contributed revenue projections meeting all targets.
Here is a quick scenario analysis. It assumes a fixed pay rate for both the teacher and the musician and a “leftover” fee for the organization, i.e. whatever funds are left after paying the artists go to the facilities. This is only one fee structure; there is also percentage of profit model and other more creative models. The first table reflects that the musician fees are based on $50/hr for a two-hour class, which our research indicates is expected for experienced and established accompanists. And the teacher fees are based on a comparable per class salary for an adjunct collegiate positions. The second table reflects that the musician fees are based on $35/hr for a 90-minute class, assuming a lesser-experienced musician. And the teacher fees are based on a comparable per class salary for a youth teaching position. We estimated revenues based on $15 class fees, thus (5/15) = five students at $15 per student. A value in red indicates a negative value. “Org. Pot.” = organizational earning potential.
Our organizations hourly operating costs are changing due to our new organizational streamlining and better space utilization. Depending on time of year, our hourly per studio cost have ranged from $65-$125+/hr*. This means, we should be making $65-$125/hr during operating hours in the space. Obviously, this chart demonstrates that the organization only has a shot at class revenues covering costs if we are operating in the high attendance range of 20+ PAYING students per class.
So here is the next conundrum. This table assumes that all students will pay, however our organization also supports a work-study program, which allows students to take class for free. Work-study provides service to the organization that keeps overall operating costs lower, i.e. without work-study we would be forced to hire additional staff or outsource facilities upkeep, like cleaning, and thus increase our hourly operating cost. Work study, more importantly, allows opportunities to students for focused training in both dance and administrative tasks, trains personnel for future staffing within the organization, and contributes to community building within the organization. Work-study does directly reduce the focused earning potential of the class. This is felt more acutely when the teachers are paid via a percentage of profit model, i.e. what if the only people that show up to the class are work studies? How is that managed so the teacher, musician, and organization can still meet their salary and/or operating needs? That is another blog that will be coming shortly – “accounting for a work-study program.”
Above is just a small glimpse of the conversation surrounding supporting live music in the classroom. Our organization is really interested to learn how other organizations support live music in the classrooms. Below is a hodgepodge of other pieces to this ongoing conversation that we have discussed during our process.
Some contributing factors that we are pondering:
Pricing in the dance industry is fairly fixed and based on institutional support for subsidized pricing and the market standard. If you compare prices across the country (and in my experience internationally), a dance class typically ranges in price from $14-20. I mention this because a business colleague of mine asked why we don’t price the class based on the cost of the class. I told him about the market standard and the fact that…see next bullet
Professional classes are drop-in, so that touring dancers can move between cities and maintain physical conditioning and training. Dancers don’t usually want to register for a course, like in youth programming, because dancers are historically nomads, drifting from city to city for work.
However, on the topic of programming and pricing, this discussion has given us the opportunity to reflect on the holistic eco system of the organization. It allowed us to reflect on our values and vision and ask how all of the parts of the organization are supporting the vision. It allowed us to ask how and why regarding our pricing model and then recognize how all of the classes in the building are connected - everything supports everything and everyone! When one thing struggles, the other parts' success can lift it up. This has potential to allow us the wonderful flexibility to support the arts that we believe in and not just the revenue produced. It also allows us to have off periods, slow starts, or make mistakes and still protect the artists in the space.
We are currently leasing our space and expect standard rent increases over the next five years. We expect there will also be other increases in the prices of certain services. These increases will impact our hourly operating costs.
Certain professional level classes seem to require live music, the two forms still seem inseparable. Other classes can exist easier with recorded music.
There have been reports that dance class attendance is dropping nationally. I feel most of my information on this topic has ben anecdotal and I haven’t found a supportive article in a quick search, however I do notice that many new classes in our community struggle for attendance. Having said that, there are several really, really strong classes with massive followings. Also, there have been several guest artists who have drawn equally impressive numbers with short teaching stints. Thus, leading us to believe the numbers are all rooted in the specific teacher’s celebrity, personality, genre, and/or experience.
Not every musician can be a dance class accompanist; Not every teacher can easily work with a musician; both need to be experienced and compatible.
Adding live music to a class will impact the entire space. One must be sensitive to the activities taking place in other rooms of the building.
Partnerships with music institutions. This is an exciting prospect, however as mentioned in one of my other blogs, we enter conversations with potential partners with a lot of hope but no entitled expectations, i.e. everyone has their own resource restrictions and even if it sounds like a great idea, it might not be able to happen or at least not for a while.
However, there is hope that we will find a musical soul mate (or several) – musicians who are just as committed to their music having dance as our dance having music!!
Looking forward to hearing about your experiences incorporating live music into dance classrooms.
*This number is based on a 14 hour operating day. Some factors that change operating cost are air conditioning, rent increases, losses/additional costs during transition times to new efficiencies and programs.