The six-figure piano teacher
At a time when many musicians have struggled to get by, Ayana Webb’s income went past $100,000 a year, from piano lessons. An achievement that is all the more impressive given that not a single lesson involved meeting her students face-to-face.
From New Jersey, on the eastern coast of the USA, Ayana started young on the piano. Her dad and grandmother gave her some basic teaching from the age of four. By the time she was nine, she was taking more formal lessons. And like many youngsters, she hated it. “I couldn’t be bothered with it,” she says with a laugh. “I just wanted to go out and play and be a kid!”
Yet music was always there, in her life.
In her teens, she sang in choir at church. Then in college, she realised she wanted to go deeper on it. But to graduate with a music degree, she had to take piano. Again. She laughs. “I was like, ‘I just can’t get away from this piano situation!’”
This time round, however, she took it more seriously. She was 19 when started learning to play professionally. By 22, she was funding her way through college by teaching piano, getting her first students by walking around her neighbourhood, putting flyers through doors.
“I was making $37 an hour. Which was cool, because it gave me some financial stability. But as I got into my mid 20s, that wasn’t really serving me anymore. I needed to figure out a way to scale my income, to teach piano but not in a way where I’m having to see 40 students a week. Because that could be very tiring.”
Swapping time for money
So in 2015, she started exploring the idea of doing courses online. Building her first course was easy, she says. She just used the same lesson plan for her in-person teaching. “Getting it up online wasn’t a problem for me. It was the marketing!”
In her first year, Ayana’s online course attracted just one paying customer, and she was still caught on the treadmill of exchanging time for money. Then she remembered Jermaine Griggs, and his company Hear And Play. He taught gospel piano played by ear, which was very different to her classical lessons, which rely on sight-reading music. But she had taken some of his courses in church, so knew they were effective. And he had since built it into an eight-figure business.
“So here’s another musician, who’s making a killing with music courses. There’s no better combination than to learn from somebody who’s teaching the same instrument, and successful with it. He took me under his wing, and then I used his practices, fine-tuned them for the way I work, and created my own system. And come 2020-21, I hit my first six-figure year selling piano courses!”
It’s about money, she says, but also time. “The biggest benefit is not just teaching what you love, but also automating it. People spend so much time trying to market organically, to generate sales. Why not just automate it, so the system generates the sales for you? Then you have the time to travel, and do the things you really enjoy.”
Building the machine
Her website The Musical Webb isn’t particularly slick or well-designed. And her piano courses are not hugely expensive. The most basic starter course costs just $37; her flagship course covering all the fundamentals of piano and theory is $99; and her most expensive course is $300. She sells these via carefully targeted ads on Facebook, Instagram, and sometimes YouTube, finding people who are already actively searching for and buying lessons.
Once people have bought one of her products online, they’re offered a $35 monthly membership which gives them access to all her courses, so they can learn at their own pace. “That’s where the real money comes in.”
The courses go over every aspect of playing the piano, from the basics to advanced levels. Each student can choose what they want to focus on. “They have access to exercises to strengthen their sight reading, their technique or their rhythm.”
Her ad spend has grown to an eye-watering $30-40,000 a month, but she says that’s not the figure to concentrate on: she makes that back in a week. The only time you should lose money on advertising, she explains, is when you’re testing whether your ads are effective, using small budgets of $10-20 a day. You only scale up on budget when you’re confident it works, to pull in new students. “So by the time you’re spending $500-1,000 a day, you’re spending on an ad that’s making that money back.”
Meanwhile, Webb’s own input is minimal. She has new courses ready to upload, but says there’s so much pre-recorded material up there already for students to choose from, that she feels no urgency with those. Instead, she’s made a couple of road trips over the summer, spending time with friends in New York, and working on new projects.
“The only thing that I have to do is just to make sure that the machine is running smoothly. I just wake up and check, is the ad doing well? Because then everything else from that point is automated: the email follow-ups, the way my students access their courses and manage their own accounts.”
When you realise what is possible, it activates this part of your brain that goes, ‘Well, if I can do this. If things are happening on this level, then what other things could I do on the next level?’
Could anyone do this?
All creatives should be looking to build multiple income streams from their work. To build security in a fast-changing world, we need to be open to new ways of earning, and learn from the success of others.
Ayana passed that goal of $100k a year from piano lessons during the pandemic, a time when many musicians couldn’t even play live. She claims you can do it too – with one important proviso. You need to know how to teach, as well as how to play. “I know a lot of musicians who can play really well. But when it comes to languaging that skill to someone else, that can be a challenge for them.”
She suggests starting with private, face-to-face lessons first. “Experience teaching different skill levels, people with different learning styles, and also with different age groups, and use that to put a curriculum together that works. That way, you’re building an online course that’s already been tested and proven.”
After that, it’s simply a case of finding your course platform – Thinkific, Teachable, and Kajabi are the main ones. And an email platform such as Mailchimp, ConvertKit, Mailerlite (the one I use) or Keep (Ayana’s choice).
The intricacies of setting up a marketing funnel, automating your emails, using online advertising well and building a machine that works are too much to go into here. There are endless free resources online explaining these. And Ayana has just set up The Automated Course Creator, a premium course explaining how she did it.
This is no get-rich-quick scheme.
Setting it up takes determination, and hard work. It took Ayana five years and a lot of hard work to hone her system, create the lessons, and get past that $100k a year figure. But now she can’t wait to do more.
“I can’t even describe how it feels! Gratitude is probably the one word that I can use, because I spent so much time trying to get to this point.
“But it does something to you, on a spiritual level. That mental limitation that most people put on themselves gets removed, because you’re seeing results. You’re seeing the lifestyle that you’ve spent so much time to build manifest itself in front of you.
“When you realise what is possible, it activates this part of your brain that goes, ‘Well, if I can do this. If things are happening on this level, then what other things could I do on the next level?’
“For me, it goes even beyond just music. I think the biggest takeaway is that you can build a course on pretty much anything. If I can make six figures teaching piano, then there’s a likely chance that you can, if you want to do courses on painting, on art, or on sewing. Use me as an example of what’s possible!”